Interview With Chosun Ilbo and Kyunghyang Shinmun

William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary
Mr. Lee Ha-won, Assistant Political Editor, Chosun Ilbo and Mr. Son Je-Min, Political News Reporter, Kyunghyang Shinmun
Seoul, South Korea
October 16, 2012

DEPUTY SECRETARY WILLIAM BURNS: Thank you very much for this opportunity today. I’m delighted to be in Seoul for the U.S.-ROK strategic dialogue and to have an opportunity to meet with Foreign Minister Kim, Vice Foreign Minister Ahn, National Security Adviser Chun, Minister of Unification Yu and, shortly, Defense Minister Kim for discussions on a wide range of bilateral and global issues. Let me first emphasize the obvious: The alliance between our two countries has never been stronger. Our alliance matters enormously to the United States, and it matters enormously to security and prosperity throughout the region. We’ve significantly expanded our alliance into a meaningful global partnership, working together to halt DPRK nuclear development and coordinating actions to address Iran’s nuclear program. Today’s strategic dialogue was another opportunity to work together to meet common challenges, and to realize common possibilities. We’re clearly on a strong trajectory and we’ll continue to work closely with the ROK as it transitions to a new administration and as we move through our own election.

Our alliance has been a linchpin of security and prosperity in Northeast Asia over many years, regardless of political transitions because our strategic partnership is based on common values, shared interests, trust and decades of cooperation. The U.S. remains firmly committed to the security and defense of the ROK. The ROK’s government’s recently announced revised missile guidelines reflect the seriousness with which we take our mission of maintaining stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the region. The United States and the ROK also enjoy one of the world’s most vibrant economic relationships. The implementation of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement is expected to increase exports by billions of dollars annually for both sides. Our growing economic relationship creates mutual prosperity and supports our strategic commitment in Asia.

We were immensely pleased to have the KORUS FTA enter into force in March. We’re seeing early successes in unexpected areas like American blueberries and cherries, which I understand were big sellers here this past summer. For many products, consumer prices in Korea have fallen and sales are up significantly. And we think the best, of course, is yet to come. We’re proud of our enduring people-to-people relations. Per capita, more ROK students study in the United States than any other country. We appreciate the ROK government’s strong support for bilateral exchanges including Fulbright and the Work, English Study and Travel program.

As we both approach presidential elections we can share a sense of accomplishment at the modern democracies we have built. Still, the world has many challenges, and we see the ROK as an important global partner that embraces the responsibilities of leadership in the 21st century. I look very much forward to your questions. Thanks.

REPORTER Son: Let me go first. Since you just came from Japan I’d like to ask about the Japan-Korea relations issue. Mr. Abe Shinzo has reportedly said that he will try to change the interpretation of rights of collective defense in the constitution. What is your comment on this?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: The only comment I’d offer is that the United States attaches a great deal of importance to our alliance with Japan, and we attach a great deal of importance to the trilateral coordination which we’ve strengthened considerably in recent years with our partners and our allies in both the Republic of Korea and Japan. It’s very important for the three of us to continue to send a unified message to the DPRK about our resolve. And we think it’s an extremely important part of our rebalance toward Asia and the Pacific to continue to focus on that trilateral coordination. So we had very good discussions in Japan about security issues as well as a range of others, but one thing I tried to highlight is the value of the three of us working together.

REPORTER Son: Does it mean that you approve his remarks on the rights of collective defense?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: I think Mr. Abe can explain his views directly himself. What I can comment on is the attitude of the United States toward the significance of our alliance with Japan and particularly as I said toward the significance of our trilateral cooperation.

REPORTER Lee: What position are you asking South Korea [to take] regarding the dispute regarding over Dokdo?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: The policy of the United States has been clear, consistent and unchanged for many years on that issue. We do not take a position with regard to the question of the ultimate sovereignty of those particular geographic features. What we do emphasize is the importance of dealing with these kinds of issues in a calm, measured way, to deal with them through dialogue. The Republic of Korea and Japan have handled these kinds of issues responsibly over many years, and we hope and expect that they will continue to do so. There’s a great deal at stake in Northeast Asia and across the Asia Pacific region today. Cooperation between the Republic of Korea and Japan and between the Republic of Korea, Japan and the United States is crucial for regional security and prosperity. That’s why we will continue to emphasize the importance of dialogue and diplomacy.

REPORTER Lee: Well, besides the new missile guideline negotiations, I think there are a lot of issues which should be done in the near future. I think one of those issues is the nuclear agreement issue. So, Secretary, can you explain where the two countries are located in the process of negotiation, and what’s the prospect of these negotiations?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: We’ve attached a great deal of value to civilian nuclear cooperation between the United States and South Korea over many years. The existing 123 Agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation between us is due to expire in March of 2014, and so with that in mind we’ve been working through several rounds of negotiations to produce a successor agreement. And I think we’ve made significant progress. I don’t mean to minimize the challenges which lie ahead. These are complicated issues. But we recognize the growing role that South Korea is playing in the global nuclear energy market, and we welcome that. We also welcome South Korea’s strong leadership in nonproliferation. Certainly the ROK’s role in hosting the Nuclear Security Summit earlier this year was a clear reflection of that leadership. So we’re confident that we can sort through these questions, and we need to look carefully together at the science and the economics of some of these issues, particularly those related to reprocessing and see if we can’t find practical, scientifically-based, cost-effective ways of addressing these questions that also minimize any potential proliferation concerns.

REPORTER Lee: Well, can I analyze what you are saying is a kind of a green light to the South Korea’s position, and is there any possibility that your country’s position will be changed?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: No. The negotiations are the place where we need to sort through these questions. As I said, there are some complicated issues to sort through together. But based on the record of civilian nuclear cooperation that we have built up together over many years, I’m confident that we will be able to overcome them in succeeding rounds of negotiations. The challenge is to find ways to address some of these issues that minimize proliferation concerns. We have embarked together on a joint study of the fuel cycle and I think that becomes a very good vehicle for addressing some of these questions – difficult questions – about pyroprocessing and other issues.

REPORTER Son: What is your assessment on North Korea’s new regime since Kim Jong-un has come into power. Is there any signal of change as many North Korea observers say, you think? And the second one is the efficiency of the Six-Party Talks. There are many skeptical voices on it. And also, U.S. government has always expressed concerns on North Korea’s WMD program is a direct threat to U.S. security. But many people think U.S. doesn’t seem to be so desperate as they say. Shouldn’t there be something more you should do than now?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: We would welcome any meaningful steps by the DPRK to meet its international obligations, whether with regard to denuclearization or improving the well-being of its own people. The United States remains deeply concerned about the risks to regional security and peace posed by the DPRK’s nuclear ambitions and ballistic missile program, and posed by the DPRK’s continued failure to live up to its international obligations. The United States also remains deeply concerned about the human rights situation inside the DPRK. We look forward to continuing to work together very closely with our partners in the ROK. We remain firmly committed to stability on the Korean Peninsula and to the defense of the ROK. The only other thing I would add is that economic reform or steps in that direction are no substitute for denuclearization.

REPORTER Son: Six-Party Talks?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: We remain committed to working with our Six-Party partners, but as I said the test for us is meaningful actions, tangible steps by the DPRK, which are long overdue, to live up to and to fulfill its international obligations with regard to denuclearization.

REPORTER Son: Secretary, what kind of relationship would the United States want South Korea to have with China? Very recently in South Korea there are a lot of, a kind of a controversy regarding the “values alliance”, which was agreed between President Lee Myung-bak and President Hu. So I am wondering what kind of opinion do you have?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: We have been very clear in encouraging the healthiest possible relationship between the ROK and China, just as we seek the healthiest possible relationship for ourselves with China. China is obviously an extremely important player in the international system and, we look to build a strong and stable relationship built on mutual interests and mutual respect. We welcome that same kind of relationship for the ROK with China. We believe there’s a great deal that we can do working together. The DPRK is one clear example; we’re sending a strong, unified message of international concern about the nuclear and ballistic missile programs. That’s essential for the United States, for the ROK, for China, for Japan, for Russia, for all of us involved in the Six-Party Talks.

REPORTER Lee: Yes, well, regarding the FTA, well, the opposition party, they are now announcing that if they win power in the presidential election they will ask to renegotiate of the FTA. So what would be the response of the United States regarding that issue?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: We obviously believe that we’ve negotiated with great effort over a number of years a strong free trade agreement that serves the interests of both of our countries, and that is likely to result in billions of dollars of additional exports, additional trade between us, with real benefit to Korean consumers as well as to American citizens. And so we believe the challenge now is not renegotiation. The challenge is implementation in an effective way of the treaty that we’ve produced together, and we believe that that’s going to contribute to continued prosperity for our two countries and continued prosperity across the Asia-Pacific region.

IO ANDREW YOUNG: Mr. Lee, Mr. Sung, thank you very much for your time.