Singapore: The United States and its Asian allies demanded North Korea pay a price for the alleged sinking of a South Korean warship, even as Washington acknowledged diplomacy may have no effect on the reclusive regime.
US, Japanese and South Korean defence chiefs met in Singapore to weigh punitive steps against North Korea as the UN Security Council prepared to take up the crisis triggered by the sinking of the Cheonan.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates told his counterparts on Saturday that "it`s important we have a unified front to deter further provocations," his press secretary, Geoff Morrell, told reporters.
But in an interview with the BBC released on Sunday, Gates acknowledged the US and its allies had few -- if any -- effective options against the reclusive North, short of military action.
Gates said: "As long as the regime doesn`t care what the outside world thinks of it, as long as it doesn`t care about the well-being of its people, there`s not a lot you can do about it, to be quite frank, unless you`re willing at some point to use military force.”
"And nobody wants to do that."
While condemning North Korea`s alleged torpedo attack that killed 46 South Korean sailors, Washington and Seoul have called for calm and avoided talk of a military response.
Given the North`s volatile reputation, it is "possible there are other provocations to come”, Gates said.
North Korea has angrily denied responsibility for the sinking of the warship and warned of retaliation if it is hauled before the UN Security Council.
To counter the threat posed by the North, Seoul was considering deploying Patriot anti-missile batteries on its territory, Hong Kong`s Sunday Morning Post reported, citing un-named South Korean officials.
Such a move risked angering China and still needed to be approved in budget and policy reviews later this year, the paper wrote.
Gates on Saturday said the US military planned to bolster its missile defence weaponry in the region, "tailored" to the needs of US allies.
Tensions are running high on the peninsula after a multinational probe last month concluded a North Korean torpedo sank the Cheonan, triggering trade reprisals from South Korea and threats of war from the communist North.
In his speech to the Shangri-La security conference in Singapore, Gates said the US administration was looking at "additional options" against the North, apart from UN diplomacy and planned military exercises with South Korea.
He did not specify what the new measures might be.
South Korea laid out its evidence against North Korea over the incident in meetings with defence officials gathered in Singapore, seeking to pile pressure on Russia and China -- which have yet to pin blame on the North.
In a speech apparently aimed at Russia and particularly China, Gates warned of the risks of inaction and said countries in the region could not tolerate Pyongyang`s "reckless" acts.
After his meeting with the South Korean and Japanese ministers, he said: "To do nothing would set the wrong precedent."
South Korea on Friday formally asked the UN Security Council to respond to the sinking, after President Lee Myung-Bak called the attack on the Cheonan corvette a "military provocation".