Mullen Flies To S. Korea As Tensions Mount

ABC News' Luis Martinez reports:

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen will leave tonight on an unscheduled trip to South Korea and Japan to meet with his counterparts as North Korea’s recent provocative actions continue to dominate the region’s focus.

In announcing the trip, Mullen’s spokesman Captain John Kirby said the Obama national security team decided late last week that Mullen should head to South Korea. He says no one should read into the purpose behind the trip, which is intended to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the alliance with South Korea.

Following a meeting at the State Department late today with the Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that Mullen would also be visiting Tokyo.

In her statement, Clinton said Mullen would lead a delegation to “enhance coordination on strategic deterrents.” The unprovoked artillery barrage on South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island and North Korea’s revelation that they have secretly built a new facility for enriching uranium has heightened tensions in Asia.

Kirby said the US is always looking for new ways to cooperate together with the South Koreans, but said the trip shouldn’t be read “as correcting a deficiency or trying to move in a different direction, the purpose is to reaffirm our alliance.” He wouldn’t go any further in characterizing what the talks in Seoul this Wednesday would be about other than saying they would prove useful to the South Koreans in showing them the U.S.commitment to their defense.

He also said it wouldn’t be right to characterize the trip as an “emergency trip” because if it was, Mullen would have left sooner than tonight’s planned departure. Kirby characterized the situation on the Korean peninsula as remaining tense, but “nobody thinks it’s an emergency situation, it’s at a relatively stable level given the unprovoked artillery attack a few weeks ago.”

Like other officials in the Obama administration, Mullen recently urged China to “step up” and use the leverage it has on the North Korean regime to contain its “reckless behavior.” China has called for a resumption of the regional Six Party Talks, a proposal the U.S. and South Korea have rejected because it could be seen as rewarding North Korea’s bad behavior.

That theme continued today as Clinton said, “We first need an appropriate basis for the resumption of talks. Any effort, of course, must start with North Korea ceasing all provocative and belligerent behavior.

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