Panetta: ‘We’re Within an Inch of War Almost Every Day’
The United States is prepared for “any contingency” when it comes to dealing with North Korea, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told CNN.
“We’re within an inch of war almost every day in that part of the world, and we just have to be very careful about what we say and what we do,” Panetta said Wednesday on “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.”
During a wide-ranging interview at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked about Syria, the Secret Service and North Korea. The two were in Belgium for meetings to prepare for a NATO summit in Chicago next month.
Panetta’s assessment of North Korea followed last week’s launch by Pyongyang of a long-range rocket. Despite the failure of the launch — with the rocket breaking apart 81 seconds after liftoff, it drew condemnation from the United States and countries in the region.
When asked whether the threat posed by North Korea kept him awake at night, Panetta said: “Unfortunately these days, there’s a hell of a lot that keeps me awake. But that’s one that tops the list.”
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Since the failed rocket launch, there has been speculation that North Korea would carry out a nuclear test — something it did before following a failed rocket launch.
Panetta said a nuclear test would be considered a provocation and “worsen our relationship,” though he refused to discuss specific action the United States would take in response.
International leaders had urged North Korea to cancel the launch, but Pyongyang refused to back down, insisting the operation is for peaceful purposes.
North Korea said the rocket was designed to carry an observation satellite, though the United States, South Korea and Japan said it was a cover for a long-range ballistic missile test. The use of ballistic missile technology is a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874.
Kim Jong Un, the grandson of Kim Il Sung, became the new head of the secretive regime in December, following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il. The leadership transition has added to uncertainties about Pyongyang’s intentions.
“We really are waiting and watching to see whether he can be the kind of leader the North Korean people need. If he just follows in the footsteps of his father, we don’t expect much other than the kind of provocative behavior and the deep failure of the political and economic elite to take care of their own people,” Clinton said.