Roundtable With Korean Journalists

Press Availability
Kurt M. Campbell
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Seoul, South Korea
February 5, 2010

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: So this is on the record. Terrific to be back in Korea for periodic consultations on a range of issues. Obviously big developments in Asia in general, and close coordination with ROK friends about every aspect - on North Korea, on Six-Party, briefings about -- discussions about a whole host of Asian issues. I’m happy to take any questions, and please just -- I’ve got your identification so that’s fine, and I’ll try to answer relatively quickly so I’ll be able to take as many questions as possible.

EMBASSY: Mr. Kang, do you have any questions for Assistant Secretary Campbell.

QUESTION: I would like to ask a question about the inter-Korean summit. North Korea’s position is that it prioritizes the normalization of ties with the U.S. first. That obviously means that the normalization of the ties between the U.S. and North Korea will have an impact on the inter-Korean summit. So, what is your - the U.S. government’s stance - on the peace negotiation that North Korea is talking about and what kind of impact do you think this will have on the inter-Korean summit?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Thank you. Let me say that the American perspective is, as we say in English, “first things first.” What’s most important right now - at the top of the list, no distractions - are for the resumption of Six-Party Talks and the return of North Korea to that framework. And as part of that action, we need to see North Korea accepting and recommitting to the steps they took in 2005 and 2007. Until those steps are taken, the United States will not be prepared to either ease sanctions nor to begin discussions on other issues, like an establishment of a peace regime.

However, once North Korea comes back to the Six-Party Talks and recommits to their statements and positions of 2005 and 2007, then it will be possible to conduct bilateral discussions on a range of issues and also to think about next steps in terms of other matters associated with the maintenance of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. It’s so important for us not to be distracted. And we need to focus on the central issue, which is the resumption of Six-Party Talks.

EMBASSY: Mr. Park, Chosun Ilbo.

QUESTION: According to the Quadrennial Defense Review published yesterday, after the USFK servicemen’s term of service here in Korea is extended from [the] current one year to three year[s] in the future, it is likely they will be sent to the areas of dispute elsewhere in the world. So, could you elaborate on this point?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: What’s most important to underscore, as part of the QDR and other major statements as part of the United States’ policy, is that our fundamental responsibility is the maintenance of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. And what the QDR underscores is that, in recent years, the United States - in partnership with the South Korean government - have taken enormous steps, quite frankly, to improve our deterrent capabilities and our joint military capacity to deal with challenges on the Korean Peninsula. So, any modest flexibility that is created has to be in the context of a very secure and deep commitment on the part of the United States to the security of the Korean Peninsula. And our commanders here and our decision-makers in the Pentagon understand that “Job 1” on the Korean Peninsula is deterrence and maintaining a strong capability on the Peninsula. And the QDR, in no respect, alters that fundamental truth.


QUESTION: Both Koreans and the members of the press are not clearly understanding what that “modest flexibility” means.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: First of all, I think the desire would be in an emergency - like an earthquake elsewhere or - the possibility for the ROK and the United States to deploy together outside the Korean Peninsula, to be able to do those tasks together. The general trend in military policy is for the ability to flex and to maneuver to urgent challenges that confront both the United States and Korea. However, that is only after a very strong and durable framework of deterrence and strong military commitment on the Korean Peninsula. So this is in no way a reduction of our military capability on the Korean Peninsula, but simply an ability over a short period of time to respond to urgent challenges elsewhere.


QUESTION: There are many speculations about the inter-Korean summit meeting. Even President Lee Myung Bak said that it could take place [by] the end of this year. So, what is the U.S. Government’s position on the inter-Korean summit meeting?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: First of all, we could not have more confidence in the administration of President Lee Myung Bak, and our coordination on North Korean issues is extremely strong. And we have been closely consulted by the South Korean Government on their proposals and prospects for high-level dialogue with the North Koreans, including the prospects and possibilities of a summit. Just as Korean friends expect a high-level of coordination from the United States, we expect and have been very gratified by strong communication with South Korean friends about what they hope to accomplish in North Korea. And it’s very clear that anything that’s undertaken in terms of high-level dialogue with the North be in close consultation with the other Six-Party partners and that North Korea needs to follow through on its commitments on denuclearization steps on the Peninsula.

EMBASSY: We’re already running a little over time. So...

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: It’s ok. A couple of other questions.

EMBASSY: If you can make your questions...

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Their questions are fine. It’s the answers that are the problem (laughter).

EMBASSY: Mr. Lee from Dong-A Ilbo. Ok.

QUESTION: According to the Minister of National Defense here in Korea, the timing of the transfer of OPCON in 2012 would not be so appropriate. So what is the United States’ position on the transfer of OPCON? And another question is that since last summer the UN sanctions on North Korea have continued and as a result of that we are hearing that recently North Korea has conducted its currency reform and the economic situation there has been somewhat in trouble. So what do you think is the impact of these sanctions on North Korea?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Thank you. Let me take the second question first. We believe that the sanctions that have been implemented through the UN- through UN security resolution 1874 and others - have had an impact in North Korea, particularly on some of the elite in terms of access to hard currency and some of the steps have impeded actions associated with provocative enterprises associated with exports of military contraband and the like. And so we do think that these sanctions have begun to bite in North Korea.

And then on your first question, let me answer that in a couple of different ways. First of all, both of our military establishments have taken important steps in terms of commanding control and logistics and the like on the path towards an OPCON transfer - number one.

Second, we have enormous confidence in the capabilities in the South Korean military and in the judgment of the senior leaders here in South Korea.

It is also the case that we have heard some of the concerns mentioned by senior military and other officials in South Korea. And as a strong partner of South Korea we take some of those concerns seriously. And at this juncture we think the most important steps will be to reassure our partners of the seriousness of our commitment now and into the future.

And I would just conclude by saying that this is a matter for further high-level dialogue between our two countries. And we will do nothing to undermine the security or confidence of our partners here in South Korea.

EMBASSY: Mr. Lee from Yonhap, since you are representing the others who are not here.

QUESTION: Last year you talked about [a] “comprehensive package” and my question is: Is there content of that “comprehensive package” - do you have it as concrete steps? And [the] South Korean government has also been talking about the “grand bargain.” So, how much have you been consulting each other on the content or the elements of the “comprehensive package” or [the] “grand bargain.” And in the “comprehensive package” I believe is included a peace regime or peace agreement. North Korea’s stance is that it wants to reach this quickly. Do you think that the Six-Party Talks and the negotiation for peace agreement can go together?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: First of all let me say that the Governments of the United States and South Korea have had very close consultations on, shall we say, a comprehensive approach should North Korea come back to the Six-Party framework. And these incentives are political, they are financial, they are humanitarian and they are technical in nature, and they would come into play if North Korea took strong and clear steps towards meeting its denuclearization commitments. Now other aspects of diplomacy are possible. But the essence of the Six-Party Talks will remain on these fundamental issues associated with nuclear matters relating to North Korea. And if we ever start to make real progress on nuclear and human rights and other issues, then it is possible to imagine a variety of diplomacy running concurrently. But I must also say we’re quite a distance from that point today, and we are still waiting for a clear sign from North Korea about returning to the Six-Party Talks.

I’m going to take two more questions. Thanks.

QUESTION: You are in charge of the countries in [the] Asia-Pacific region. It seems from our perspective that the U.S.-Japan relations and the U.S.-China relations, these days, seem to be in discord. In your capacity as the Assistant Secretary for the Asia-Pacific region, how would you assess the U.S.-Japan, U.S.-China, and U.S.-Korea relations?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Let me just say that the United States is extraordinarily pleased by the current status of U.S.-ROK relations. We know that we need to do more, hopefully later this year, on trade-related issues. But at a political and strategic level - with the G20 upcoming - with very powerful personal chemistry between our two leaders, I don’t think the U.S. could be more pleased with the current relationship with South Korea. And our alliance, quite frankly, in the current context is a source of deep reassurance for the United States.

We’ve had a change of government in Japan, really, the first change of government in over half a century. And so it is only natural that we have challenges associated with working through a range of policy issues. But ultimately I’m confident that the United States and Japan will maintain its critical relationship because the truth is both of our countries need each other. And we hear wherever we go in Asia, a strong desire for the maintenance of the U.S.-Japan security relationship and partnership going forward. And currently we’re taking strenuous steps to ensure that the U.S.-Japan partnership remains as strong over the course of the next fifty years as it was over the last fifty.

The U.S.-China relationship is probably the most complex bilateral relationship on the planet today. We will inevitably have areas where we need to work very closely together, and, also there will be areas where we will have disagreements. As a diplomat, it’s important for me to remember that we must not get too high or too low. And recognize that this is going to be a relationship that requires persistent and intense effort. And it is true that we have some challenges directly ahead, but I’m confident we’ll get through them. And that’s simply because the relationship is too important not to.


QUESTION: Two questions. Does “modest flexibility” include your plans regarding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? And [the] second question: In your book, Hard Power, you were adamantly opposed to maintaining the current status of the North Korean issue. Rather you said that this North Korean issue has to be resolved through tough sanctions. But some people nowadays are saying the U.S. is not interested in the complete dismantlement of nuclear programs or weapons. Rather it’s more focused on preventing proliferation.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Thank you. On the second question, I think the United States during the Obama Administration has been very consistent about what our goals and ambitions are when it comes to North Korea. And they are both, simultaneously, a dismantling of the nuclear capabilities and also prevention of proliferation. These are both urgent and important tasks and ones that are in no way inconsistent with one another.

And on your first point I want to underscore that the most important element of our defense relationship is to maintain the capability to deter aggression and fight to win on the Korean Peninsula. And we understand that fundamentally. And any modest flexibility applied in Asia or elsewhere has to be seen in that context. There is no desire on the part of the United States to walk away from our commitments on the Korean Peninsula.

The United States and South Korea are in the midst of the largest effort to secure a long-term commitment on the Korean Peninsula to ensure the peace and stability here - at the top of the list. So I would urge South Korean friends to look at the totality of our commitment when it comes to the Korean Peninsula and our historic desire to maintain a very strong deterrent capability.

And you will note that there are other parts of the QDR which talk about the substantial increase in military capabilities in the Asian-Pacific region - in Guam, on the Korean Peninsula, in other parts of Asia - that frankly would apply to the maintenance of stability on the Korean Peninsula.

Thank you all very much.


ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Sorry. He cut you mid-question.

Thank you. Thank you all very much.