TOKYO — U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says anti-U.S. protests and violence in the Muslim world, sparked by a privately-made video, will likely continue but he says it appears to be leveling off. Panetta has begun a week-long visit to the Asia-Pacific region.
He arrived in Tokyo looking to help ease tensions over territorial disputes between China and its neighbors. But in a briefing to reporters, the questions were largely about anti-American violence across the Muslim world after the posting of a video, made in California, that is offensive to Islam.
“There continue to be some demonstrations, but it would appear that there is some leveling off on the violence that we thought might take place," said Panetta. "Having said that, I think we have to continue to be very vigilant because I suspect that what we have seen, that these demonstrations are likely to continue over the next few days if not longer, and I think we are going to have to be vigilant in watching those areas and make sure that our personnel and our people are protected.”
The Pentagon has moved two Navy ships to the coast of Libya, where an attack on the U.S. consulate last week killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador. Marine rapid response teams have also been deployed to Libya and Yemen.
A third team was sent to Sudan, but was turned back by the Sudanese government. Panetta said Sudanese authorities believe their own forces can provide sufficient security to protect the U.S. Embassy there.
For now, the defense secretary says there are no plans for further movements.
“I think our approach right now is not to do anything until we have been requested by the State Department," said Panetta.
Panetta visits Asia as tensions rise over territorial disputes between China and its neighbors in the East China Sea and South China Sea.
“I am concerned that when these countries engage in provocations of one kind or another over these various islands that it raises the possibility that a misjudgment on one side or the other could result in violence and could result in conflict, and that conflict would then have the potential of expanding," said Panetta. "
Panetta is to meet with Japan's defense minister and others on Monday to discuss the disputes and offer reassurances of U.S. support for dialogue.
Later, the U.S. defense secretary goes to Beijing, where he will urge Chinese leaders to engage in a process with its neighbors to peacefully resolve territorial disputes.