"Rhetoric is not enough at this point," Gates said at a roundtable with reporters, according to a transcript released by the Pentagon. "I think there need to be concrete actions by the North to demonstrate that they're truly serious about negotiation and engagement at this point. They could have a moratorium on missile testing, a moratorium on nuclear testing. There are several areas where they could take concrete actions."
Gates was discussing a barrage of peace overtures from North Korea in recent weeks after tensions heightened last year to the highest level since the Korean War with the shelling of a South Korean front-line island and the torpedoeing of a South Korean warship, killing 50 people, including two civilians.
In its most recent proposal for unconditional inter-Korean dialogue, Pyongyang Monday called for a meeting of working-level officials later this month to prepare for possible ministerial-level talks.
Suspicious of the North's history of creating tensions to win economic aid, South Korea proposed that the sides hold talks to discuss the North's shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and the torpedoeing of the Cheonan.
Seoul, Washington and Tokyo insist that Pyongyang apologize for the provocations before any resumption of bilateral or multilateral talks.
China, the North's staunchest ally, has called for an early, unconditional resumption of the six-party talks that also involve the two Koreas, the U.S., Japan and Russia.
"We consider this a situation of real concern and we think there is some urgency to proceeding down the track of negotiations and engagement, but we don't want to see the situation that we've seen so many times before, which is the North Koreans engage in a provocation and then everybody scrambles diplomatically to try and put Humpty-Dumpty back together again," Gates said. "We would like to see are some concrete actions by North Korea that show that they're serious about moving to a negotiation and an engagement track."
The chief U.S. defense official said he had discussed North Korea with Hu.
"We spent some time on North Korea and the importance of some concrete measures on the part of the North Koreans to demonstrate they're serious about proceeding with negotiations and exchanges,"
he said. "The U.S. government recognizes and appreciates the constructive role that the Chinese have played over the last several months in dampening tensions on the Korean Peninsula. All of the evidence that I've seen suggests that the Chinese used their influence with Pyongyang to be restrained in response to any South Korean exercise activity."
North Korea will be high on the agenda during the upcoming summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and Hu in Washington on Jan. 19. Other mutual and global issues include the Chinese currency yuan's revaluation and Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Gates, who flew to Beijing Sunday to mend military ties, strained since early last year due to the Obama administration's plans to sell more than US$6 billion in arms to Taiwan, also expressed concerns over North Korea's missile and nuclear capabilities.
"The first is, with the North Koreans' continuing development of nuclear weapons, and their development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, North Korea is becoming a direct threat to the United States, and we have to take that into account," he said. "I don't think it's an immediate threat, no. But on the other hand, I don't think it's a five-year threat. I think that North Korea will have developed an intercontinental ballistic missile within that timeframe, not that they will have huge numbers or anything like that, but I believe they will have a very limited capability."
North Korea, which detonated nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009, is believed to be behind nuclear and missile proliferation in Iran, Syria, Pakistan and several other countries, as arms sales are considered one of its major sources of revenue. North Korea has for years been under U.N. economic sanctions for its nuclear and missile tests.
Online whistleblower WikiLeaks recently revealed a U.S.
diplomatic cable in which U.S. officials insisted that North Korea had sent Iran 19 advanced missiles that "could clear a path toward the development of long-range missiles" with the capability to hit Western Europe.
North Korea also revealed in November a uranium enrichment plant that could serve as a second way of producing nuclear bombs, aside from its existing plutonium program, despite Pyongyang's claims it is producing fuel for power generation.
David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, has said that North Korea could have developed nuclear warheads small enough to be mounted on ballistic missiles with the help of China or Pakistan.
Albright noted the seizure of a computer in Switzerland in 2007 that contained a modern nuclear bomb design from the network of A.Q. Khan, a Pakistani nuclear scientist suspected of having provided uranium technology to North Korea in exchange for missile technology.
"It could have transferred from Khan to North Korea, and it could have been China," he said.
China is under intense international pressure to persuade North Korea to refrain from heightening tensions and pursuing nuclear weapons programs.
China, the major provider of food, oil and other necessities to its isolated, impoverished communist ally, has been reluctant to sanction North Korea as any instability could result in a massive influx of North Korean refugees across their shared border or a unified Korean Peninsula under South Korean and U.S. control.
게이츠 "北, 미사일.핵 실험 유예해야"
(베이징)__로버츠 게이츠 미국 국방장관이 11일 북한 이 대화에 앞서 선행해야 할 '진정성 있는 행동'으로 미사일과 핵 실험의 모라토리엄(유예)을 주문했다.
게이츠 장관은 방중 사흘째인 이날 베이징(北京) JW메리어트 호텔에서 한 기자 회견에서 북한의 남북대화 제의에 대해 중국과 의견을 나눴냐고 묻자 이 같은 견해를 피력했다.
그의 이런 언급은 북한의 무조건 대화재개 요구에 남한이 성의가 결여돼 있으며 진정성 있는 조치를 선행해야 한다는 태도를 보이는 가운데 나온 것이어서 주목된다.
게이츠 장관은 최근의 한반도 위기 상황과 관련해 대화가 필요한 시점이라면서 도 북한이 대화에 나서려면 진정성 있는 행동을 선행해야 할 필요가 있다고 지적했다.
게이츠 장관은 북한의 잇따른 도발로 인해 남한의 인내력이 약화되고 있다는 점 도 언급했다.
그는 북한의 핵무기 개발에 관한 우려를 표시하는 한편 북한이 향후 5년 안에 미국 본토에 닿을 수 있는 대륙간 탄도미사일(ICBM)을 개발할 수 있을 것이라고 전망하며 이를 미국을 향한 '직접적 위협'이라고 규정했다.
그러나 그는 "비록 북한이 ICBM을 손에 넣게 될지라도 그들은 매우 제한적인 능력만을 갖게 될 것"이라고 덧붙였다.
이어 그는 "(연평도 포격사건 이후) 고조된 한반도 위기 상황을 완화하고 북한을 자제시키는데 중국이 건설적인 역할을 했다"고 평가하면서 중국의 건설적인 역할을 강조했다.
게이츠 장관은 이날 후진타오(胡錦濤) 국가주석을 면담했다고 밝히면서 "미.중 양국 군(軍) 현안과 북한문제 등에 대해 매우 우호적이고 친근한 분위기에서 많은 대화를 나눴다"고 덧붙였다.
그는 "후 주석이 스텔스 전투기인 '젠(殲)-20(J-20)'의 시험 비행을 했다고 확인하고 이는 미.중 국방장관 회담과는 관계 없이 미리 계획됐던 것이라고 말했다"고 공개했다.
그는 이어 중미 관계가 냉각된 계기가 된 미국의 대만 무기수출 문제와 관련해 "우리는 '하나의 중국 원칙'을 갖고 있으며 대만의 독립을 지지하지 않는다는 입장을 밝혔다" 면서도 "우리는 우리의 정책을 바꾸지 않을 것"이라고 말했다.