A Pentagon spokesman said the U.S. military is not working on any specific response to North Korea's attack on a South Korean island Tuesday, but is consulting with South Korea's military about steps that could ease tensions rather than increase them. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was to speak to his South Korean counterpart to discuss the situation.
The Pentagon spokesman, Colonel David Lapan, said that in addition to the ministerial phone call, the U.S. military command in Seoul is in close contact with its South Korean counterparts. But he said there is no particular plan for a response or for any increase in the joint U.S.-South Korean deterrent force, which includes 25,000 U.S. troops.
"I wouldn't say that we are looking at anything in particular at this point," said Lapan. "We are still monitoring the situation and talking with our allies. I wouldn't say that there's anything that's been initiated because of the incident."
Lapan said any military incidents on the Peninsula increase tensions. He indicated that U.S. and South Korean officials are taking a cautious approach, concerned that a military response, even after several North Korean attacks and provocative statements, might only make the situation worse.
"We are mindful of the tensions on the Peninsula and what actions may either exacerbate or calm them. So, it's too soon now to tell what actions may be taken as a result of this."
Separately, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell declined to speculate on why North Korea launched the attack. He told the MSNBC news channel the Pyongyang government is "extremely unpredictable," and said "they do things that you could not possibly have predicted in a rational world." Morrell also said it would be difficult to put any more sanctions on North Korea than it already has. And he added, "This is a regime that is determined to bypass the sanctions, to not abide by its international obligations."
Colonel Lapan said no U.S. troops were involved in the South Korean military exercise on the island that was attacked Tuesday, but he said Americans have participated in that event in past years. And, he said, there is no plan to cancel expected joint naval exercises off the Korean and Chinese coasts, not far from the island that was attacked. Both Pyongyang and Beijing have said they would see such an exercise as an aggressive act.
"We and the Republic of Korea, throughout the year, conduct exercises," said Lapan. "We always point out that these are not offensive in nature. They are to exercise our inter-operability with the Republic of Korea. And, they should not be seen as directed in a threatening manner at anyone."
Lapan said there is still no firm plan for when the naval exercise will be held. U.S. officials have said it will include an aircraft carrier, which is among the largest and most capable warships in the world.