By Larry Shaughnessy
U.S. military officials are anxiously awaiting North Korea's announced ballistic missile launch, which they described to Congress on Wednesday as part of the regime's "coercive strategy" to antagonize, provoke and then try to win concessions.
April 15 will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Song, the founder of communist North Korea and the grandfather of the current North Korean leader, who has said there will be a missile launch around that date, in violation of numerous U.N. resolutions and the most recent agreement with the United States.
North Korea has designated the entire year of 2012 as a year of strength and prosperity in celebration of Kim Il Song's birthday.
By Adam Levine
Eleven countries, including Japan and European nations, have significantly reduced their Iran oil purchases and should not be subject to new U.S. sanctions, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress Tuesday.
The countries are Japan, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom, according to a State Department statement. FULL POST
By Elise Labott
Senior U.S. officials are trying to figure out where to go after North Korea's announcement that it would undertake a satellite launch using ballistic missile technology, senior White House officials said.
The announcement took the Obama administration, as well as the other countries involved in the six-party talks, by surprise and raised serious questions about whether the new Korean leader is any different from his father. FULL POST
By CNN National Security Producer Jamie Crawford
The new regime in North Korea is not yet ready to come in from the cold, but the United States still stands ready to engage, a senior State Department official said Thursday.
"Right now we are in the closest possible consultation with South Korea, Japan and working with China to try and get a sense of what's taking place in terms of the succession," said Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
As to whether the United States has been able to glean any sense of policy priorities of the new leader, Kim Jong Un, Campbell said it was still too early to tell. "It is probably too early to make any clear determinations about the ultimate character of this new leadership inside North Korea," he said.
"I think we have made very clear (to North Korea) our preparation to have a different kind of relationship" if they are ready to take the necessary steps on nuclear nonproliferation and other issues required by the international community, Campbell said.
CNN's Chris Lawrence reports on whether the death of Kim Jong Il could make North Korea a bigger military threat.
By CNN Pentagon Producer Larry Shaughnessy
South Korea's defense minister said Friday he expects more provocations from North Korea in 2012, during a session with his American counterpart.
"Next year, I believe that the possibility of North Korea conducting additional provocations is ... very high," Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin told reporters at a joint news conference with U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
The regime is planning a nationwide, year-long celebration in 2012 to show North Korea is "strong and prosperous" and also to honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Song, the founder of the communist nation. The current regime is run by his son Kim Jong Il.
That event, along with the ongoing transition from Kim Jong Il to his son Kim Jong Un, is why the South Korean defense minister is worried about more problems from the North in the new year.
By Pentagon Producer Larry Shaughnessy reporting from Seoul, South Korea
The pace of North Korea's planned regime change from Kim Jong Il to his twenty-something son appears to have slowed at the moment, two senior U.S. military officials said Thursday.
"The accelerated rate of the succession process has slowed because there's probably not the same sense of urgency, because Kim Jong Il's health doesn't appear to be deteriorating as it was some time ago," one of the officials said.
The officials briefed reporters traveling through Asia with U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Both officials spoke on the condition that their names not be used.
Kim, the father, has been seen in North Korean news reports traveling around the country and visiting China recently, a big change from 2009 when he was thought to be ill with cancer.
The slower pace does not appear to be a reflection of any lack of confidence in the son, Kim Jong Un. FULL POST
By Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty and National Security Producer Jamie Crawford
The State Department Wednesday defended its purchases of books authored by President Obama for gift-giving abroad and for placement in U.S. embassy libraries around the world.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters it is "longstanding practice" to allow embassies to buy books, "to put them out in libraries ... give them to contacts, which they think will help deepen understanding of the U.S. political system, of U.S. political figures and leaders of U.S. history, U.S. culture."
The purchases, she added are "done in strict accordance with government procurement standards."
By Pentagon Producer Larry Shaughnessy reporting from Seoul
The closer U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta gets to North Korea, the harsher his tone about the communist regime becomes.
Wednesday, even before he arrived in Seoul for three days of meetings with military leaders, he wrote an op-ed piece for one of South Korea's largest daily newspapers calling North Korea a "serious threat."
"Pyongyang has demonstrated its willingness to conduct provocations that target innocent lives. The North continues to defy the international community as it enhances its nuclear weapons and missile capabilities," Panetta wrote in the opinion piece published in Chosun Ilbo.
Recalling the start of the Korean War when he was a child, Panetta wrote, "Thanks to the heroism of the U.S. and Korean forces, however, the North's invasion was repelled." He neglected to mention smaller contributions by 15 other members of the United Nations, including Great Britain, Canada and Turkey, and ignored Communist China's role in preventing the U.N. forces from overrunning the North completely, leading to the current division of the peninsula. FULL POST
By Pentagon Producer Larry Shaughnessy in Tokyo, Japan
If there's been one theme U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has tried to hammer home at every opportunity during his weeklong tour of Asia it is this: "The United States, as a Pacific nation, is and will remain a Pacific power in this region. We will always maintain a strong presence in the Pacific."
Those assurances come from a defense secretary facing major cuts at home.
"It's no secret that the United States faces some very tough fiscal decisions back home," Panetta said Tuesday during a news conference with the Japanese defense minister. "But let me reassure the people of Japan: The one thing that we have agreed upon is that the Pacific will remain a key priority.
I will continue to strengthen our forces in this part of the world."
So if the Department of Defense has to make cuts, and it's clear it will, how will the American military be strengthened in the Far East? Perhaps by looking to the west.
The U.S. military will be out of Iraq by New Year's Day and the mission in Libya with NATO could be over by Halloween. Even in Afghanistan, where no one is claiming victory, America's troop presence is shrinking; 10,000 troops are to come out by the end of 2011.
Panetta called it a "turning point after a decade of war." FULL POST