Remarks at Republic of Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Daniel R. Russel
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Seoul, South Korea
March 17, 2015

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Thank you. Well I’ve had some very good meetings today and I want to begin by saying that the best meeting I had, I had last night with my good friend, Ambassador Mark Lippert. I’m very proud to call him a friend and a colleague. We think that his bravery under fire, his courage and his steadiness, reflected the best of the United States. We also think that his deep affection and respect for Korea has shone through brightly throughout this crisis. By the same token, the tremendous warmth and the outpouring of sympathy and support, for Ambassador Lippert, for his family, for the U.S. Embassy throughout this affair has given a vivid demonstration of the strength of the U.S.-ROK Alliance and the depth of the friendship between the American and Korean people. So I am proud of Ambassador Lippert and I am proud that the President selected him to represent the United States here in Korea.

Now over the course of the day I’ve had the opportunity to discuss a number of issues with both Foreign Ministry and Blue House colleagues. High on my agenda is the planning for the planned visit to the United States by President Park and a series of high level engagements between our officials in the run up to that. We were able today to discuss a range of bilateral issues both on security and the strategic side, but also on the economic and people to people side. I can attest that our alliance is in very solid shape and our agenda going forward is a positive one.

More broadly, picking up on the very successful visit to Seoul by President Obama last April, we have seen and are proud of a tremendous degree of cooperation and progress on a range of global issues. We are working together to address transnational threats such as Ebola and other pandemics. We’re working together on climate change and the environment and clean energy, and we’re working together to address the threat and the scourge of ISIL and radical extremism. We’re also working on a regional basis with respect to Northeast Asia, and I note with interest that my friend and colleague Liu Jianchao from China and Mr. Ihara from Japan are also here in Korea today. It’s significant that the diplomatic world is now congregating in Seoul where there is a lot of good business to be done. But we also talked about the agenda more broadly in the region including with respect to ASEAN and the East Asia summit.

Lastly, let me just say that I expressed my strong appreciation to the Korean government for the very serious way that they are handling both the investigation into the attack on Ambassador Lippert and the serious way in which they are addressing the security needs of American citizens and of our Embassy writ large. I have received good assurances of continued close cooperation and believe that we can count on the Korean authorities to continue to ensure that this isolated issue is handled in a way consistent with justice and will leave no negative impact on our very healthy bilateral relations. So with that, we’ll take one or two questions.

QUESTION: What do you think about China’s concern about THAAD deployment in Korea?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Well, I find it curious that a third country would presume to make strong representations about a security system that has not been put in place and that is still a matter of theory. Now, you can see from my suit that I’m not a military officer. I’m not an expert on ballistic missiles. But I do know that the Republic of Korea and the United States face a significant threat from North Korea’s growing ballistic missile program. It’s a program that North Korea is pursing in violation of international law and our military authorities have a responsibility to consider systems that would protect the Republic of Korea and its citizens, protect the United States from that threat. How they do it, when they do it is something that the experts will have to determine, but I think that it is for the Republic of Korea to decide what measures it will take in its own alliance defense and when.

QUESTION: Has there been any mention of the THAAD deployment today?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: I’m not here, nor am I qualified, to discuss the issue of THAAD deployment. The issue is very much in the public domain now because of the comments of our Chinese colleague yesterday. That is not part of my agenda. Other questions?

QUESTION: South Korea seems to be moving to join the AIIB. Would Washington would be comfortable with that decision?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: The U.S. goal, and the Republic of Korea’s goal, I would say, based on my conversations, is essentially the same. Mainly, we would each like to see expansion for economic and financial support for the infrastructure and needs of the Asia Pacific region. And we would like to see that done in ways that are consistent with the principles, the standards, the good governance, and the transparency that have become hallmarks of truly multilateral development banks. So, our messaging to the Chinese consistently has been to welcome investment in infrastructure, but to seek unmistakable evidence that if this bank is to be a multilateral development bank, that it takes as its starting point, the high-water mark of what other multilateral development banks have done in terms of governance over the past few decades, so every government can make its own decision about whether the way to achieve that goal is by joining before the Articles of Agreement are clarified, or by waiting to see what the evidence looks like as the bank starts to operate.

QUESTION: The relationship between Japan and South Korea, could you talk about this issue?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: I never pass up the opportunity to consult with my colleagues in Seoul or in Tokyo about the prospects for further improvement in the bilateral relationship between Japan and Korea and prospects for an expansion for trilateral cooperation with America’s two best friends and closest allies in the region. Today, as always, I inquired and exchanged views with the Korean officials about where things stand. I asked about the prospects for an upcoming trilateral foreign ministerial meeting which will involve China. And I also, as I always do, made clear the U.S. view, that we will work to support the improvement in bilateral relations between Japan and Korea because we are a friend of Korea and we are a friend of Japan. Because tension between those two friends constitutes a strategic liability to all of us and because the United States sees a need for these two major democracies, two major economies to fulfill every opportunity available to them in the 21st century. Now, it’s not lost on us that 2015 is an important year of many anniversaries and I was able to exchange views and to consult with my Korean colleagues, as I do when I’m in Tokyo or in Washington with Japanese colleagues as well, about the state of affairs and ways in which the United States, in an appropriate manner, can be supportive of the steady improvement of relations. President Obama has spoken clearly, and I would say eloquently, on this issue and on the need to deal with the sensitivities and the legacy of history in a way that creates progress for the 21st century. Let me stop there and say thank you all very much.