Outgoing US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta noted Tuesday that North Korea continues to be a "serious threat" to the United States and Washington must remain prepared to face future challenges posed by the communist nation.
Panetta made the remarks while delivering his farewell speech to the Pentagon workforce, representing the entire Defense Department, shortly after North Korea carried out its third nuclear test ignoring international warnings.
"We saw what North Korea has done these last few weeks with a missile test and now a nuclear test. North Korea represents a serious threat to the United States of America. We've got to be prepared to deal with that," Panetta said in his speech.
"We're going to have to deal with weapons of mass destruction and the proliferation. We're going to have to continue with rogue states like Iran and North Korea," he added.
Panetta also thanked Pentagon's civilian employees and the military for their commitment to accomplishing the department's mission since he was sworn in as the 23rd secretary of defense on July 1, 2011.
"I'm a believer that our fundamental mission here at the Department of Defense is very simple. It is to protect and defend the United States of America and to keep our country safe. And because of your great work, and because of everything you do, we can say with pride that we have kept our country safe," he said.
Incidentally, President Barack Obama has nominated Chuck Hagel,a former Republican Senator from Nebraska, as the next Defense Secretary after Panetta confirmed his plans to retire. The powerful Senate Armed Services Committee is due to vote on Hagel's confirmation later on Tuesday.
Panetta's farewell speech delivered in the Pentagon courtyard came just hours after North Korea confirmed carrying out a nuclear test. Earlier, international monitors reported unusual seismic activity consistent with a powerful underground explosion near the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in the north-eastern part of North Korea.
The nuclear test evoked strong condemnation from most members of the international community, including Pyongyang's immediate neighbors South Korea and Japan, the United States, the European Union, China and Russia.
The UN Security Council has condemned the nuclear test, and had pledged to impose sterner punitive measures on the reclusive communist nation for defying repeated international appeals to refrain from carrying out such provocative acts that threatens regional and international peace.
by RTT Staff Writer
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