Washington, DC –
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good morning. I want to start by welcoming my friend and my colleague, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, back to Washington, who is here along with South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo. We had a very productive what we call 2+2 meeting this morning – it is the third such dialogue that we have conducted – during which Secretary Hagel and I restated the degree to which we are deeply committed to building on today’s discussions and reinforcing the very close partnership that we have with the Republic of Korea.
It is safe to say – and everybody reiterated this today – that the U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance is stronger than ever. And thanks to the agreement that Defense Minister Han and Secretary Hagel signed yesterday, it’s about to become even stronger. This new agreement is going to serve as a blueprint for how and when South Korea will assume wartime operational control of the combined forces. And the goal of the agreement is to ensure that as South Korea continues to build up its own defense capabilities, our combined forces will be ready and able to provide the best possible defenses for the Korean people.
Our shared security is at the heart of the U.S.-ROK alliance. But ultimately, I want to make it clear that our alliance is about much more than that. It is the linchpin of security, stability, and prosperity in Northeast Asia and increasingly beyond there. Today, for instance, we discussed a number of important issues where our partnership is not only valuable, but it’s really essential.
Obviously, at the top of the list is the subject of North Korea. Secretary Hagel and I reiterated that the United States remains committed to a peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through authentic and credible negotiations. We remain open to dialogue with North Korea, but there is no value in talks just for the sake of talks. North Korea must demonstrate that it is serious about denuclearization, and we need to be certain that it is prepared to live up to its international obligations and abide by international norms of behavior. In the meantime, we will remain vigilant against the clear threat that North Korea poses.
We also spent time today discussing our shared efforts on a number of other issues. We all understand that infectious disease in Africa, extremism in the Middle East, and territorial aggression in Eastern Europe pose threats that extend far beyond those regions. And both South Korea and the United States believe that our alliance will not only deepen our – not only deepen as we continue to step up our efforts to address those threats, and we will do so because we share a sense of responsibility about international leadership and the importance of these challenges to the norms of international behavior.
We were very grateful to hear from both Foreign Minister Yun and from Defense Minister Han that South Korea intends to continue cooperating closely with us in regard to these international efforts, and in fact wants to step up its efforts in a number of regards.
For example, we are very pleased that South Korea has announced that it will send additional healthcare experts to assist the international response in West Africa on top of the experts and supplies that it has already sent. And last month, as part of the global response to ISIL, South Korea contributed another $4 million in humanitarian assistance to Iraq, bringing its total contributions today to more than 5.2 million.
The Republic of Korea has emerged as a key global player dedicated, as the United States is, to universal values like human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. And as we discussed today, I pointed out it was only a few years ago that the Republic of South Korea was a recipient of aid; but because of its own ingenuity and its own commitment to growth and development and stability and democracy, now the Republic of Korea is itself a donor country assuming increasing responsibilities willfully and effectively on a global basis. And we welcome that and we’re grateful for it.
I mentioned that our alliance has, in fact, never been stronger. But given the staggering range of challenges that we face today, neither has it been more important. And with the help of our new ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, who I will have the privilege of swearing in later today, we look forward to continuing our work with our South Korean allies and with our friends for many years to come.
Minister Yun, I’m delighted to turn the floor to you.
FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. (Via interpreter) First, I’d like to thank Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel for hosting the 2+2 meeting in Washington today. This year, the 2+2 meetings have been held for the third time from 2010 to 2012, and this is the first one since the Park Geun-hye administration. In 2010, we had focused on our response to North Korean aggressions. Today, we were able to focus on our alliance beyond the Korean Peninsula, on global issues as well. This demonstrates that the Korea-U.S. alliance has gone beyond serving as a linchpin for peace and stability on – in Asia-Pacific region. It is now a global partnership.
Through two summit meetings since the Park Geun-hye administration, we have been able to establish the fact that our relationship is the best ever since 1953. It is the strongest alliance in the world as well. I believe that this is based on mutual trust as well as continuous development at an adaptation of our relationship. Today, we were able to discuss various issues ranging from our alliance management as well as North Korean nuclear issues and other global issues as well.
In today’s meeting, we were able to express elation about the progress we’ve made within the last one and a half years, and we were able to reach a successful agreement on the defense cost-sharing special session last year. And yesterday, we were able to reach agreements on conditions-based OPCON transfer as well. Currently, Korea-U.S. nuclear agreement is likely to come to a successful conclusion. If that happens, we will have had the most successful agreements on most of our major issues.
On the other hand, there are other areas on which we need to see cooperation – cyber security as well as space projects – and I think our efforts are moving beyond these forces and into the new horizon. Recently, North Korean nuclear missile threats as well as other challenges have reinforced the fact that the combined defense readiness between Korea and U.S. will be the most effective in deterring aggression from North Korea and promoting peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. And the unpredictability and the fluidity of the situation in Korea help us agree that we need a comprehensive, multidimensional response.
And I believe that denuclearization, human rights in North Korea, as well as a conducive environment for unification is the holistic approach that we also need to focus on. And to that end, we have to create more creative ideas on how to bring this about. We need to be able to ensure a safe life to North Koreans and bring about real human rights compliance in the country. By doing that, we’ll be able to create an environment conducive to unification, and I believe denuclearization will act as the engine in bringing this about.
Historical, territorial, and maritime issues have threatened Northeast Asia’s security environment. Since the Cold War has ended, this has been the most tense situation in the Northeast Asian region. Based on the Korea-U.S. alliance, we’ll be able to create an environment that will be able to create real solutions to these issues. In particular, the rebalancing of the Asia-Pacific region is going to contribute to peace and stability in Northeast Asia.
Finally, our alliance has moved beyond just the Korean Peninsula. We are very happy to announce that our alliance is contributing to resolving global issues. We are happy to report that we are collaborating on stopping the spread of the Ebola virus as well as other global issues. We will be sending more aid toward that area and considering this more than a health issue, but a serious issue to security in the world.
On another front, we are fighting ISIL and foreign terrorist fighters, and to that end we agree to the UN resolution and look forward to a thorough implementation. And since the joint statement on the 60th anniversary of the alliance, through these meetings we were able to add substance and detail to the vision and roadmap of the Korea-U.S. relationship. And I hope that, based on mutual trust, we’ll be able to improve on the already good relationship between the two.
Minister Han and I look forward to be able to reciprocate the warm hospitality to Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel on their next visit to Korea. Thank you.
MODERATOR: From Abigail Williams with NBC News.
QUESTION: First, Foreign Minister Yun, is it true that North Korea has closed its border citing Ebola fears?
And to Secretary Kerry, if true, how will this and the recent release of American Jeffrey Fowle impact negotiations over the release of the other two detained Americans? What does this – and what does this signal about internal politics in North Korea given Kim Jong-un’s 40-day absence?
Also, are you in a position to confirm reports --
SECRETARY KERRY: I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Sorry, one more. Are you --
SECRETARY KERRY: I hate to do this to you, but can you repeat the first part of your question? Because it got swallowed up. I couldn’t hear it.
FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: From the beginning, yes.
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah. From the beginning.
QUESTION: Okay. If true that North Korea has closed its borders citing Ebola fears, how will this and the recent release of American Jeffrey Fowle impact negotiations over the release of the other two detained Americans, and what does this signal about internal politics given Kim Jong-un’s 40-day absence?
Also, are you in a position to confirm reports that IS militants have used chlorine gas on Iraqi troops, and how will this change U.S. strategy?
FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: (Via interpreter) In recent months, North Korea has shown very unique behaviors. On the one hand, it is using continuous aggression, but on the other hand, they’re looking for dialogue. In the past few weeks, North Korea has launched aggressions on the DMZ as well as on maritime fronts, and they have fired at some of the flyers that were sprinkled in balloons. Just one month ago during the Asian games, high-level officials, however, visited Korea, and they proposed a high-level talk. So what they speak and what they do seem to be inconsistent. But for the second high-level meetings that we proposed, if North Korea accepts and if we are able to have the talks, then I believe we can find a path to improvement of relationship for peace on the Korean Peninsula as well as an environment conducive to unification. We are making various efforts to try and provide that kind of an environment.
SECRETARY KERRY: I can’t tell you how their decision will or won’t affect anything with respect to the other Americans who are being held. They have made some statements about their expectations of what the United States should do with respect to that. We’ve made it clear that no apology or other statement is in the offing. They need to release these people because they’re being held inappropriately. And our hope is that they will recognize the goodwill that could be built and the gesture that it would offer to the world of their willingness to try to open up a different diplomatic track. So our hope is for the humanitarian reason alone that they will behave differently and see fit to release these people. We’re grateful that Jeff Fowle was released, back in Ohio now. We’re delighted with that. But we are still deeply concerned about the other two Americans who are being held.
With respect to the chlorine, you asked me am I in a position to confirm it, and the answer is no. I am not in a position to confirm it, but I can tell you that we take these allegations very, very seriously, in particular, the most recent allegations about the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon. Chlorine by itself is not on the chemical weapons list, therefore it was not among those things removed under the agreement we reached with the Russians and the Syrians’ regime.
But when mixed in certain ways and used in certain ways, it can become a chemical weapon that is prohibited under the chemical weapons agreement. And therefore these allegations are extremely serious and we are seeking additional information in order to be able to determine whether or not we can confirm it. The use of any chemical weapon is an abhorrent act. It’s against international law, and these recent allegations underscore the importance of the work that we are currently engaged in. It will not change our strategy. It obviously can affect tactical decisions within that strategy, but our fundamental strategy remains absolutely clear and we are step by step bringing the coalition further and further down the road to being able to shore up the Iraqi army itself and to take measures against ISIL.
We’ve said in the beginning this will take time. And it will evolve, as it is, day by day as General Allen and our teams are working to come together; important meetings have been held during the course of this past week; and I expect to see further progress over the course of the next weeks.
MS. PSAKI: The final question will be from Shim of Yonhap News.
QUESTION: Okay, my name is In Sung Shim from the Yonhap News Agency in Korea. I have a question to you, the first to --
(Via interpreter) North-South Korea relations are improving and U.S. alliances stronger. I believe the Six-Party Talks is most important in continuing this trend, so I would like to ask for your opinion on that and --
The U.S. prepared to reduce its military presence in Asia if North Korea rejoining – if rejoin nuclear negotiation. Can you be more specific what it means – (inaudible) --
And one more last question. Can --
SECRETARY KERRY: What was the second part?
QUESTION: Second, do you have any plan to talk or negotiate with North Korea about that?
QUESTION: Yeah. Nuclear negotiation. And then one more last question is: Can you visit North Korea and to meet North Korea leader Kim Jong-un, if they release two – I mean two – the other detainee – American detainee?
SECRETARY KERRY: Can we what?
QUESTION: Can you go – I mean, can you visit --
SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, can I visit? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yes. Can you visit North Korea and to meet North Korea leader Kim Jong-un if they release the other two American detainee? Okay, thanks.
SECRETARY KERRY: Do you know something about an invitation that I – (laughter) --
FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: Should I first?
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah.
FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: Okay.
(Via interpreter) On the prospects of the Six-Party Talks, the North Korean nuclear development, as well as its efforts toward economic development, these have to be given up. As stated in our joint statement, we need to have a clear stance on their nuclear policy, North Korea’s denuclearization, and a halt to the sophistication of its nuclear weapons. All of these have to be real. It has to lead to real solutions. To that end, between Korea and U.S. and between Korea, U.S., and China, we have had many talks with the governments. We have had many talks. And Secretary Kerry has also recently reiterated that in order to advance these – a resolution to these issues, we need to be able to generate more creative ideas. So we will have more consultations on that.
SECRETARY KERRY: So let me make it absolutely clear that the mere entering into talks is not an invitation to take any actions regarding troops or anything else at this point. It would be way too premature to have any thought or even discussion about such a thing. The only purpose of entering the talks is to come to an understanding regarding, first, the denuclearization, and then following the denuclearization, obviously, whatever relationship might be appropriate. But it is entirely premature to be talking about any troop reductions or anything else at this point in time, as it is also premature to have any thoughts about visits at this point in time.
The first thing you have to do is come to a competent, real, authentic set of talks about denuclearization, and that is the prerequisite to any other possibilities thereafter.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all very much, appreciate it.
FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: Thank you very much.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Thank you, sir.