By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, Dec. 6, 2010 - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will fly to South Korea tonight for high-level consultations with defense officials there, the chairman's spokesman, Navy Capt. John Kirby, said today.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen will consult with South Korean defense leaders and demonstrate the strength of the U.S.-South Korean alliance. The chairman will participate in meetings in Seoul, the nation's capitol, Wednesday.
Mullen's visit is the result of "an interagency decision made late last week," Kirby said. The visit comes as tensions remain high on the peninsula following the North Korean artillery strike on Yeongpyeong island last month. The attack killed four South Koreans -- two civilians and two Marines.
The discussions will focus on the alliance and new ways to cooperate and improve interoperability, Kirby said. Army Gen. Walter L. "Skip" Sharp, who leads United Nations Command in South Korea, is to participate.
Mullen is to meet with new South Korean National Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and Army Gen. Han Min-koo, the chairman of the South Korean military. He also is to meet with other members of the South Korean national security team.
The visit is intended to reassure South Korea "that we continue to stand by them in defense of their territory," Kirby said. "This [visit] is not meant as a message to anybody. But, that said, we've made it very clear internationally ... that we are there to stay, we are committed to that alliance, and nobody ... should mistake our resolve."
Kirby said this is not an emergency consultation.
"If it was an emergency meeting I suspect he would have been on a plane a lot sooner than tonight," he said. "Obviously the situation remains tense on the peninsula, but I don't believe anybody thinks we're in an emergency situation. In fact, things are at a relatively stable level, given the unprovoked artillery attack ... and South Korea's restraint."
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen