By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 23, 2010 - The Defense Department affirmed its alliance with South Korea and is closely monitoring the situation on the Korean peninsula in the wake of today's North Korean artillery attack on South Korea.
"We will honor our alliance obligations to the South, and ... we are determined to promote peace and security on the peninsula," Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today in an interview on MSNBC.
The attack on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong is reported to have killed two and injured at least 15.
Secretary of Defense Gates Robert M. Gates is monitoring the situation closely and will be in contact with his South Korean counterpart this morning, Morrell said.
"We take this very seriously, just as we took the sinking of the Cheonan earlier this year very seriously, [in which] the North murdered some 40 South Korean sailors," Morrell said.
Morrell said Gates responded to a reporter's question yesterday about North Korea by saying, "To any question beginning with 'Why?' with regards to North Korea, my answer is the same: I don't know."
North Korea's government is extremely unpredictable, and "they do things you could not possibly have predicted in a rational world," Morrell said.
Morrell said U.S. sanctions in place against North Korea have been strengthened since the March sinking of the Cheonan.
"It's hard to pile more sanctions upon the North than are already there," he said, "and yet it seems they are not foolproof. But we've always known they aren't foolproof."
North Korea's government "is determined to bypass the sanctions [and] to not abide by its international obligations," the press secretary said.
North Korea's irresponsible behavior also is "demonstrated by the fact that it's trying to be a proliferator of weapons, that it's dealing with countries that are also under sanctions ... unfortunately, this is not out of keeping with their belligerent and unpredictable behavior," Morrell said.
The Defense Department views North Korea's actions "with concern," Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan told reporters today.
The North Koreans "certainly increase tensions on the peninsula," Lapan said, "and so any type of military incidents between North and the Republic of Korea are viewed with concern, because of contributing to instability in the region, and especially on the Korean peninsula."
Meanwhile, he said, the U.S. government is monitoring the situation and conferring with allies.
"At this point it's premature to say that we're considering any [military] action," Lapan said.
The White House issued a statement earlier today strongly condemning the attack and calling on North Korea to halt its belligerent action and to fully abide by the terms of the Armistice Agreement.