Remarks With First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yong at ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Antony J. Blinken
Deputy Secretary of State
Seoul, South Korea
October 6, 2015

VFM CHO: (remarks in Korean)

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. It’s wonderful to be back in Korea and to be with my good friend, the Vice Foreign Minister. I want to apologize to all of you for being a little bit late. It’s simply a reflection that we had a lot to talk about. Let me just say that I started the day here in Korea at the DMZ. I had the opportunity to have lunch with Korean and American soldiers, sitting side by side, and to me seeing them together was the very embodiment of the Alliance that joins our countries. It was a wonderful way to start the day, but also a reminder of the serious concern we have about North Korea’s actions and the possibility of a provocation and I’ll come back to that in a moment.

But let me say too at the outset that, as I think you all know, in recent weeks and months, in Washington at the White House, we’ve received Prime Minister Abe of Japan, President Xi of China, and very soon now, President Park of South Korea. This is evidence of the importance that President Obama attaches to the rebalance to Asia, and to the fact that our interests in the United States are so fundamentally joined here. And at the very heart of that rebalance is our Alliance with South Korea. I think that during the visit of President Park, we have many achievements to celebrate in the work that we’ve done together in recent years but we also have, as the Vice Foreign Minister said, an agenda for the future, new horizons, new frontiers, where the United States and Korea are working together. I think what we’ve seen that’s so extraordinary is that a partnership that began and that was forged in war, and a commitment to each other that came from that, and that focused in the first instance on the Korean Peninsula, expanded to work together throughout the region, and now increasingly is about work that we’re doing together around the world. This is a reflection of Korean leadership that we greatly value and greatly appreciate. So we’re very much looking forward to receiving President Park in Washington. We admire her leadership. We value tremendously the partnership. Thank you.

QUESTION: What kind of message can we expect Presidents Park Geun-hye and Obama to send to North Korea during their upcoming summit?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well I think, as you heard from the Vice Foreign Minister, we are absolutely united in solidarity with regard to the challenge posed by North Korea. First, the statements that North Korea has made about the possibility of a missile test in violation of the UN Security Council resolutions, we hope that they will rethink that idea, but if they don’t, it’s very clear that there will be strong actions taken by the international community. Indeed, the last time that North Korea made such a provocation, the Security Council resolution that resulted made it very clear that there would be strong measures taken in the event of further provocative actions. We are united with the United States and South Korea, but also, I believe, with Japan. We’ve had conversations with Russia and with China and all feel strongly that not only should North Korea not take this step, but it must return to meaningful efforts at denuclearization.

But let me just add this if I may. Some people have expressed skepticism about the willingness of the United States to engage in meaningful negotiations with North Korea and I have to tell you that we remain open to such negotiations, provided they proceed on a credible and authentic basis. And the best evidence of that is the agreement that was recently concluded with Iran. I think this demonstrates, more powerfully than anything, that the United States is very open to engaging on these issues and to getting results, but the reason it worked with Iran is that Iran made the important decision to freeze its program, to allow international inspectors in, and that produced an interim agreement and as a result of that, we had the time and the space to be able to negotiate a comprehensive agreement. I think there’s an important lesson to be learned from that experience, and we hope that North Korea will look at that. Finally, I would just add that with regard to our openness and willingness to engage, I think you’ve seen in recent months that the United States has restored diplomatic relations with Cuba, we did the agreement with Iran on the nuclear file, we welcomed to the White House the leader of the Vietnamese Communist Party, and so three countries with whom we’ve had very challenging relations, Iran, Cuba and Vietnam, we’re in a different place that we were as a result of our willingness to engage. And finally, I think that we strongly support President Park’s efforts to improve relations between South Korea and North Korea. Our hope is that that can be pursued as well.

VFM CHO: (remarks in Korean)

QUESTION: Does Washington have the official position of South Korea possibility becoming the next member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that was struck yesterday?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well first of all, we’re very pleased that we were able to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We think it’s going to make a very important difference going forward, both in further opening up trade and investment and creating more growth, and doing it with the highest possible standards, and also as a strategic proposition. It further grounds the United States in this region, and that’s important. And as we’ve said, and as we discussed briefly today, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss this with South Korea going forward.

QUESTION: (Question in Korean)

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: I would just add on the global issues, I think what we’ve seen recently is extraordinary generosity and leadership from Korea as demonstrated at the United Nations meetings just a week ago. The contribution that’s being made by Korea to peacekeeping operations is very significant and very important. Similarly, on global health, Korean leadership is greatly valued and we’ve seen that demonstrated again by the contributions that are being made. And similarly on development assistance in different countries around the world. This is something of great value and great importance to the United States and as the Vice Foreign Minister and I have said, I think what you’ll see at the summit meeting with President Park is a focus beyond the immediate problems and challenges we’re facing, on this increasingly global partnership. Thank you very much.