BRUSSELS, Belgium, June 11, 2009 – Because it comes from what he called “an unpredictable regime,” bellicose rhetoric from North Korea needs to be watched closely, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.

North Korean officials have said that all agreements – including the armistice that halted the Korean War in 1953 – are null and void, and have threatened acts of war if the United Nations goes forward with sanctions.

North Korea reportedly tested an atomic weapon last month and has launched a number of missiles. The country has withdrawn from the Six-Party Talks with China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and the United States.

“It’s a very unpredictable regime, so it is probably not wise just to dismiss out-of-hand the rhetoric,” Gates said. “I think we will just have to see. I think everyone is watching very closely.”

But Gates also said intelligence does not indicate warlike changes in the North Korean military dispositions. “I don’t think that there has been a commensurate change in the posture of the North Korean military that would suggest an intent to undertake operations,” he said.

Intelligence information indicates that North Korea is not mobilizing troops or moving troops and equipment, the secretary said. “[North Korean] military operations are pretty routine at this point, so that’s a source of some comfort,” he said, “but again, they are so unpredictable you can’t completely discount them.”

Officials repeatedly have said that the preferred solution in North Korea is diplomacy, and that U.S. officials will work with allies to bring the North Koreans back to the negotiating table.

Gates is here to attend a conference of NATO defense ministers.

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