Remarks at the Korea Society Annual Dinner

Stephen W. Bosworth
Special Representative for North Korea Policy 
The Korea Society Annual Dinner
Washington, DC
June 9, 2009

Thank you for inviting me to speak here tonight, and thank you, Evans [Revere], for your kind introduction. I am honored to be here with my favorite boss, the Honorable Dr. Henry Kissinger, the Honorable Governor Sonny Perdue [Georgia], the Honorable Governor Bob Riley [Alabama], His Excellency Ambassador Kyung-Keun Kim, His Excellency Ambassador In-kook Park, and Mr. Chong Mong-Koo, Chairman of Kia Automotive Group. I would like to acknowledge the Korea Society for the wonderful work they have done throughout their history in fulfilling their goal of promoting greater awareness, understanding, and cooperation between the people of the United States and Korea.

The past few weeks have seen a tremendous amount of action on North Korean issues, including the April 5 Taepo-dong 2 launch and resulting UN Security Council action and the May 25 nuclear test and additional missile launches, which will be followed again by a unified response again from the UN Security Council. In addition, two American journalists have been detained in North Korea for several weeks and have even been sentenced to imprisonment. We urge the DPRK to release these young women on humanitarian grounds.

Before we focus on the current situation in North Korea, I would like to look briefly at the East Asia region as a whole, highlighting the close cooperation of the United States, the Republic of Korea, Japan, China, and Russia as we work together towards the common goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. In my remarks this evening, I would like to expand on the importance of our relations with our two alliance partners, the Republic of Korea and Japan, and with China and Russia; to comment on the current situation in North Korea; and to lay out a vision for a Northeast Asia that is at once peaceful, prosperous, cooperative, and secure.

In the twentieth century George Kennan identified Northeast Asia, together with Western Europe, as the two regions of primary geopolitical importance for the United States. Kennan’s observation about Northeast Asia seems increasingly prescient in the Twenty-First Century. Just as events in Europe greatly influenced global developments in the world in the Twentieth Century, so we look to Asia as a harbinger of what the Twenty-First Century will bring. With sixty percent of the world’s population, the world’s second and third largest national economies and an increasing percentage of global trade, Asia has evolved over the past few decades into a strategic center point, both economically and geopolitically.

For reasons of history and national interest, the United States regards itself as a resident power in East Asia. Our interests in the region are permanent and profound. They center on our relations with our two alliance partners, the Republic of Korea and Japan, and, increasingly, with China. Our relationships with South Korea and Japan both began with formal military alliances, which continue to serve as a foundation for increasingly expansive bilateral ties. Both alliances have evolved, based on shared values, to encompass a wide range of issues, including a common commitment to political freedom, economic prosperity, and regional and global cooperation.

Republic of Korea

Let me start with the Republic of Korea. Our relationship with South Korea was strong when I was the U.S. Ambassador in Seoul. It has grown stronger still over the past decade. And our close cooperation with South Korea, demonstrated again over the past few weeks, exemplifies how the security relationship between our two countries continues to anchor our broader bilateral ties. What began with a stronger nation protecting a weaker one has evolved dramatically, a sophisticated economy as South Korea has become a developed country with a highly capable military and a global strategic perspective.

Our military alliance is now a more balanced partnership, with the ROK military ready to assume primary responsibility for South Korean defense. In 2012 South Korea will assume wartime operational control of its troops, a significant step that demonstrates our true partnership. Working in concert with our partners in Seoul, we are realigning our troops, consolidating our bases, and shifting command responsibility to the ROK’s armed forces while enhancing our capacity to defend the Peninsula in time of crisis. Our mutual goal is for the United States to field a more tailored force, with a smaller footprint that creates less of an impact on ROK civilians, but which still provides the deterrent necessary to maintain peace on the peninsula. We are in the process of relocating U.S. military bases away from the centers of large cities and fielding a leaner, more flexible fighting force.

It is worth noting that the U.S. – ROK Alliance has matured to the point where we are equally concerned with working together to provide to others the security our countries have enjoyed for the last fifty years. U.S. and Korean forces have worked side by side in international peacekeeping and military operations in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. An ROK warship is working with U.S. and other like-minded nations to prevent piracy in international waters off the Horn of Africa. That we are able to look beyond our own security needs is a mark of the maturity and increasingly global nature of our alliance.

Our political alliance with the Republic of Korea is strongly buttressed by our growing economic ties. To that end, in 2007 the U.S. and Korea concluded negotiations for a free trade agreement. Recognizing that a sound free trade agreement could offer benefits to both countries, President Obama and President Lee committed to working together to chart a way forward at their meeting in London on April 2.

Most important are the strong ties between the people of the United States and the people of the Republic of Korea. More than 100,000 students from Korea enrich American classrooms each year. This makes them the largest group of foreign students studying in the United States [Tufts and Fletcher]. To encourage more students to take part in similar experiences, last year the Governments of our two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the WEST program. WEST – Work, English Study, Travel – allows Korean young people to come to the United States to study English, work at a professional internship, and travel on a single visa. Nearly 200 Korean students and recent graduates are currently in the United States taking advantage of this opportunity.

A small, but increasing number of Americans are choosing to study in Korea. The State Department now offers grants for students from the secondary through post-graduate levels to study Korean. The Fulbright Program offers recent college graduates the opportunity to teach English abroad for a year in select countries through its English Teaching Assistant Program. The program in South Korea has been the most successful in East Asia. Alumni of this program and others like it are part of a growing cadre of the next generation U.S. - Korea studies experts. In another important development beginning January of this year, Koreans were permitted to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program which allows South Korean citizens who enter the U.S. for personal travel or business to stay up to 90 days without a visa.

When Presidents Lee and Obama meet next week, they will chart a vision for a U.S. – ROK relationship that is based on strong bilateral cooperation, but aims to expand cooperation to address challenges around the globe ranging from the global financial crisis to combating global climate change.


Likewise, nearly fifty years have passed since the United States and Japan signed the Treaty on Mutual Cooperation and Security, the foundation of our strategic alliance, in 1960. We share a strong and vital relationship based on shared interests, values, and a common vision for the future. As the leading democracies and economies in the world, the United States and Japan have shared interests that cut across a range of difficult issues. From our shared commitment to peace and stability in the Asia – Pacific region to our efforts to push for economic growth in the midst of a worldwide financial crisis, and from our work to counter the scourge of terrorism to our shared interest in mitigating the impact of climate change, it is clear that the issues that face us today are more global in nature than ever before.

These transnational issues cannot be resolved by the United States or Japan alone, nor even by the international community that does not include leadership from both the United States and Japan. The U.S. – Japan alliance continues to evolve to adapt to the global nature of these challenging issues. We are strengthening communication, collaboration, and coordination between our two nations and others. Japanese support to Operation Enduring Freedom has been important to the coalition mission in Afghanistan. Japan’s dispatch of two Maritime Self Defense Force vessels to the Gulf of Aden is an important step in the fight against piracy. Of course, the United States continues to strongly support Japan’s efforts to ascertain the fate of its missing citizens who were abducted by the North Koreans.


As China has become a global economic power, its political and diplomatic influence increased as well. It is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and is a key member of vital regional and international institutions: APEC, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the G-20, the WTO, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Accordingly, the importance of United States – China relations continues to increase as well. When President Richard Nixon (and Secretary Kissinger) made their historic visit to China in February 1972, it would have been hard to imagine the breadth and depth of issues that we now discuss bilaterally with China on a regular basis.

The Obama administration is determined to grow and build a positive, cooperative relationship that reflects the increasingly complex and comprehensive nature of our relations with China. We currently convene over fifty bilateral dialogues and working groups spanning subjects from aviation to counterterrorism, to food safety and non-proliferation. When President Obama met with President Hu Jintao on the margins of the G20 summit in London in April, they agreed to seek to build positive, cooperative and comprehensive relations. Many of the major challenges facing the world today cannot be successfully addressed without the involvement and assistance of China. We are planning to launch the Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington this July in order to maximize opportunities for bilateral cooperation that can be better revealed by a strategic, whole of government approach to the relationship. Secretary Clinton’s February visit to Beijing and Treasury Secretary Geithner’s visit last week helped lay the groundwork for this new dialogue, which will be based on mutual respect, cooperation and a long-term perspective.

North Korea

Against the backdrop of a prosperous and dynamic region, North Korea presents a stark contrast. President Obama came into office committed to a willingness to talk directly to countries with which we have differences and to try to resolve those differences. This commitment to dialogue was communicated directly to North Korea in the President’s first days in office. Since then the Administration has repeatedly signaled a desire to pick up on the progress made by the Six-Party process, to continue bilateral dialogue and to work toward denuclearization and a normal relationship with North Korea. To date, we have had absolutely no positive response to these signals.

In fact, North Korea’s actions and statements run directly counter to the objective of regional peace and security. They have renounced their Six-Party commitments to the disablement of their nuclear program and, through their missile and nuclear tests, have defied the UN Security Council, and violated the provision of UN Security Council Resolution 1718. As President Obama said in response to the May 25 nuclear test, “North Korea is directly and recklessly challenging the international community.” This is a challenge that the international community must meet. We call on the DPRK, therefore, to refrain from further provocative actions, to uphold its commitments, and to abide by its international obligations. North Korea will not find international acceptance unless it abandons its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.

Last week I participated in an interagency trip, led by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, to consult with our Asian partners in response to North Korea’s recent statements and actions. Our discussions were very productive and reinforced our unity and coordination with our allies and partners in dealing with the challenges coming from North Korea. North Korea’s nuclear threat is not a problem for the United States alone. It is a threat to the ROK, Japan, China, Russia, and the broader international community. Therefore, we must all be a part of the solution aimed at maintaining peace and establishing lasting stability in the region.

We have also conducted intensive consultations here in New York at the UN Security Council. Discussions at the United Nations are ongoing, and Ambassador Rice continues to work with her colleagues in the Security Council to craft a strong, unequivocal, and unified response to North Korea’s violation of its obligations under a binding Security Council resolution, which we have all agreed is required.

The United States shares with our allies, the Republic of Korea and Japan, and with China and Russia a fundamental interest in improving security and stability in the region through the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. This basic goal of the United States, the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, remains unchanged. I cannot envision a situation in which we would modify that goal.

North Korea has announced its withdrawal from the Six-Party Talks, but we and the other participants in the talks are committed to work through the Six-Party process to implement the principles of the September 2005 Joint Statement. Notwithstanding North Korea’s recent actions, we and our partners in the talks remain open to meaningful dialogue and serious negotiations. As we have indicated to Pyongyang, the United States also remain open to bilateral dialogue and negotiations as part of the multilateral effort. North Korea’s recent actions to develop a nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile capacity require that we expand our consideration of new responses, including our force posture and extended deterrence options. However, the North Korea claim to be responding to a “threat” or a “hostile policy” by the United States is simply groundless. Quite to the contrary, we have no intention to invade North Korea or change its regime through force, and we have made this clear to the DPRK repeatedly. We are convinced that negotiation and dialogue are the best means to achieve the goal of complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Future negotiations, however, need to establish the irreversible steps that North Korea must take to go beyond the impermanent disablement actions previously taken. In short, we remain ready for serious negotiations with the North Koreans.

Though denuclearization is vital and remains our prime and most necessary objective, it should not be the exclusive focus of our talks. North Korea should be shown a clear path towards acceptance in the international community. In joining the international community, North Korea must live up to international standards, particularly with regards to respecting the human rights of its own people.

The Northeast Asia of the future will include a denuclearized North Korea, a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula to replace the Armistice of 1953 and normal, interlocking relations among all countries, including the DPRK and the United States. It should be a region of open borders and a free flow of communication, ideas, and travelers. No nuclear weapons will threaten the region, and economic cooperation and integration will provide all with opportunities for prosperity.

Before North Korea began backing away from its commitments and then taking a series of provocative actions, the Six-Party Talks had made progress toward achieving this vision. It provided a platform for engagement and dialogue that helps to build mutual trust and understanding. Each member of the Six-Party process was able to raise issues of concern and seek common ground. Each of us will continue to have differences and disagreements with North Korea, but we all understand that negotiation and dialogue are the best tools to solve them. Building a foundation of mutual trust and transparency will facilitate continued growth and prosperity in the region and make it possible for the people of North Korea to share in it. By continuing to threaten and alienate its neighbors, North Korea will deny itself the security and respect it claims to be seeking. For our part, the United States will of course do what we must to provide for our own security and that of our allies. It is North Korea that faces fundamental choices. It can remain in the darkness of its cave and see the world only as shadows on the wall. Or, it can come out into the light and join the international community. We will welcome the day when North Korea chooses to come out of its cave, and we will be prepared to receive them.