By JOHN BANUSIEWICZ
American Forces Press Service
SINGAPORE - Defense Secretary Robert Gates said today he'll provide assurances during the "Shangri-La Dialogue" Asia security summit of the U.S. commitment to help South Korea and other Pacific nations deal with continued provocation from North Korea.
Speaking with reporters traveling with him shortly before landing here for his fourth Shangri-La Dialogue as defense secretary, Gates noted the March 26 sinking of the frigate Cheonan, which killed 46 South Korean sailors.
"An important element this time will be to reassure the South Koreans of our support as they face these provocations and a [North Korea] that seems even more unpredictable than usual," he said.
The conference also provides a chance to touch base with other partner countries of growing importance, Gates said, adding that he's also looking forward to a second annual trilateral meeting June 5 with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts.
"I think we all have a lot to talk about at this point," he said.
The secretary's schedule for tomorrow includes bilateral meetings with his Indonesian, Vietnamese and South Korean counterparts and India's national security adviser. He'll also meet less formally tomorrow with New Zealand's defense minister.
On June 5, Gates will deliver a speech at the conference's first plenary session. Later, he'll meet informally with Mongolia's defense minister, and in addition to the trilateral meeting with Japan and South Korea, he'll have a bilateral meeting with Singapore's defense minister and meet with Singapore's president afterward.
The secretary said the Shangri-La Dialogue, which is hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and similar opportunities for partner nations to get together aren't intended to reach concrete solutions to specific problems.
"I think these meetings are more about getting a deeper understanding of positions of other countries and their thinking on these issues," he said. The time pressures and relatively short length of such meetings, he explained, don't allow for protracted negotiations or getting into the details of problems that concern the participating nations. Rather, he added, the meetings help in providing a framework for solving problems as the nations involved share their positions.
In addition, he said, the forming and strengthening of personal relationships at such conferences is beneficial.
"I think you establish the kind of personal relationships that then allow you to pick up the phone, or when you have a bilateral meeting in Washington or in a capital, that allow you to address these problems more effectively," Gates said.
Gates noted that his presence in Singapore is an important signal to regional allies.