Interview With KBS Reporter Choi Jae-Hyun

James B. Steinberg
Deputy Secretary of State
Seoul, South Korea
January 26, 2011

REPORTER: I would like to begin this interview with North Korea nuclear issue.


REPORTER: We are very concerned about North Korea’s uranium enrichment program. Is the U.S. Government, how much is the U.S. Government concerned about the issue? And, is the U.S. Government considering sending it to the U.N. Security Council?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: I think we are deeply concerned about the North Korean uranium enrichment program. We have had a concern for a long time about this. This has only been reinforced by the recent revelations, but it is not news to any of us. The North Koreans themselves have said that they are pursuing this for a long time. We have had evidence that suggests that they are moving this direction. We think this is especially dangerous, not only because it increases the risk that North Korea can extend its own nuclear capabilities, but also because of the danger of proliferation, both of enrichment technology, and of highly enriched uranium. So, this is a priority for all of us, it is something we have discussed at length today in my meetings with Minister Kim and Ambassador Chun.

I think we are both determined to make clear that the North Koreans are not entitled to having a uranium enrichment program, even though they claim it is for peaceful purposes. The enrichment program is prohibited by two Security Council Resolutions as well as North Korea’s own commitments under the 2005 Joint Statement. And we are going to look for every opportunity, in New York and elsewhere, to make clear that this is not acceptable. And that if North Korea is interested in moving forward, it is going to have to stop this program; provide access to the international community to confirm that it is not pursuing uranium enrichment. And that will be an important priority I think for us going forward.

REPORTER: And, are you considering sending it to the U.N. Security Council?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Again, I think we will look for every opportunity, including the Security Council and elsewhere, to address this. Because I think we need to make clear in our public statements, in our bilateral engagements with our friends in South Korea, as we made clear in our meetings between President Obama and President Hu, that this is inconsistent with North Korea’s obligations. I think that there are a variety of platforms, including the Security Council, where we can make that point.

REPORTER: And if it is brought to the U.N. Security Council, then do you think the Chinese Government will agree on that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Obviously, I cannot predict what the Chinese Government is going to do. But I think what was important in the Joint Statement between President Obama and President Hu was the unequivocal statement by the Chinese Government that the uranium enrichment program was inconsistent with North Korea’s obligations as well as its commitments.

REPORTER: And, I understand that both the United States and South Korea share the idea that the inter-Korean talks should go before the Six Party Talks resume. And that position, is that position still effective?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Absolutely. It is our clear position that we have stressed and have made clear, that we support the priority of moving forward with North-South dialogue. I think we have been successful in convincing other key countries, including China, that that’s important to do that. We have also stressed in the Joint Statement between President Obama and President Hu that we are very supportive of the approach that the government here has taken and the proposal that they have made on mil to mil talks with North Korea. We do believe that in order to move forward with the broader dialogue, it is important for North Korea to re-establish some sense of confidence and trust and the sincerity of its willingness to engage with South Korea. So that’s been a firm position of the United States and we continue to hold to it.

REPORTER: And when do you think the Six Party Talks will resume?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Again, I can’t speculate on that –

REPORTER: And what are prerequisites for the talks?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: I think we have made clear that there are important necessary steps that the North needs to take to demonstrate that it is serious, both in terms of abandoning its course of provocations that it has pursued, particularly in the past year, and that it is prepared to take concrete and irreversible steps to deal with its nuclear program. We are not interested in talks simply for the sake of talks; that is part of the reason that we have taken the approach, together with South Korea, over the past two years, since the beginning of the Obama Administration, that we need to see concrete signs. And what we have discussed today in my meetings is the kinds of things that we are looking for. I think that there are a variety of things, and we will share impressions together as this engagement begins, as to what we are hearing from the North Koreans and whether that meets our requirements. But, what we need is a serious demonstration that this is not just to take the pressure off, by engaging in dialogue, but really is a recognition by the North Koreans that if they want to improve their relations, both with South Korea and the United States, that they need to demonstrate their serious intention to implement the commitments they made in 2005, as well as to abandon the kind of provocations that we saw with the Cheonan and with the firings at Yeonpyeong Island.

REPORTER: And, considering recent atmosphere, the dialogue between the United States and North Korea, must be underway already. Must be, like New York channel, and Beijing channel . . .

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: We have, as you know, we have had, we obviously have means of communicating with the North. For example, when our citizens have been taken, and been detained by the North Koreans. But, as you know, the last substantive discussions that we had with the North Koreans were in connection with Ambassador Bosworth’s visit over a year ago. So we have made clear that we are prepared, under appropriate circumstances, to have dialogue with the North Koreans. But we, the priority is to move first on the North-South dialogue. And, as I previously said, that is the sequence that we see that needs to take place. If and when we see that kind of progress on the North - South, and some indication that the North is serious in moving forward, then I think we will be open to dialogue, but not before.

REPORTER: And, you met President Lee this afternoon; did you bring President Obama’s official letter?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: I met with the National Security Advisor this afternoon, not with President Lee.

REPORTER: And what message from President Obama did you bring?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: I think the message was very clear that we stand shoulder to shoulder with our South Korean friends. I think the message was very clear. The President said in his State of the Union Address earlier today that we stand shoulder to shoulder and we need to see a strong commitment for denuclearization.

REPORTER: All right. And this is a different topic. A negotiation is underway to revise the Nuclear Agreement between the two countries. Do you think the United States can allow South Korea Government to reprocess spent fuel to a degree similar to that of Japan?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: As you say we are having a conversation with our South Korean friends about renewing and updating our civilian nuclear cooperation agreement. It is a very strong partnership. We are very impressed and supportive of the work that South Korea has done to build its civilian nuclear capacity, and the leadership it has shown, not only here but globally. And we want to continue that strong partnership, and the strong commitment by both of us to expanding and making more available civilian nuclear energy. It is an important source of energy; it’s reliable, it’s clean, it helps us deal with the global climate change problem.

I think we also have a very strong commitment to non-proliferation. It’s self-evident, as we have seen what is taking place on this Peninsula, why we need to have a strong commitment to non-proliferation. And so what we are in the process of discussing, as part of renewing the agreement, is how South Korea can sustain and continue to build its necessary civilian nuclear partnership with the United States to deal with the problem of spent nuclear fuel, which is a serious challenge, and do it in a way that is consistent with our mutual commitment to sustaining the non-proliferation regime. We are at the very early stages of that discussion now, and we are very encouraged by the spirit in which both sides are entering into it.

REPORTER: And it’s a similar question. But another negotiation to revise so-called missile guideline is underway too. And many South Koreans think that South Korea must have missiles of at least 1000 km range to countermeasure North Korean missile threat. What’s your opinion on that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Again we are having a very good discussion with our South Korean colleagues about this, about how we effectively counter the threat from North Korea. The missile program is obviously of great concern, not just of South Korea but of the United States and Japan as well. And I think we want to make sure that we have the capacity together to counter that threat. At the same time, just as we have a concern about nuclear proliferation, we have a concern about missile proliferation. And the very fact that we face this growing threat from North Korea, it reinforces the need to make sure that we have effective tools, effective international arrangements, to prevent the proliferation of ballistic missiles. And so we want to find a way, consistent with our strong commitment to effective control over missile proliferation, to make sure that we can ensure the security of the South Korean people as well as the United States.

REPORTER: And Korea-U.S. FTA was completed at the end of last year. And President Obama already mentioned, mentioned it today. And when do you expect it will be ratified by the U.S. Congress?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: You heard the President – he said “as soon as possible.” And I can’t do better than that.

REPORTER: Ok. And recently Korean, the Korean Navy rescued pirated crew. And, is the United States considering further dramatic measures to root out Somalian pirates?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Well first, let me offer my congratulations to the very skilled members of the South Korean military. You executed this impressive mission. I think it is a testament to the skills and the training of the South Korean military. I had a chance in my visit with General Sharp and his colleagues today to discuss this, and I expressed great admiration for the work that was done there. And I think it really is a tribute, and something that all the people of South Korea can feel proud of. I think South Korea and the United States share a commitment to very effective measures; we simply have to deal with this problem of piracy. You cannot give in to or appease the pirates. It will simply encourage them to continue. It is going to take a broad-based effort -- an international presence in the Gulf of Aden and patrolling waters; it is strong measures to go after the pirates, to prosecute them, to help more with the states in the region to develop the capacity to detain, and try and hold the pirates; it is to deal with the underlying problems in Somalia.

After I leave Northeast Asia, I will be headed to the African Union Summit to represent the United States. I am confident that one of the big issues that we will be discussing there, with the Secretary General, is how we make progress on Somalia, to deal with the lawlessness that’s contributing to the problem of piracy. So, yes, this is a priority for us. South Korea is a great partner with the United States in dealing with this challenge. And we look forward to continuing to work to send a very clear message that this will simply not be tolerated.

REPORTER: And this is going to be maybe the last question. South Korean Government allegedly is considering to purchase F-35’s as their next-generation fighter jets. Is the U.S. Government considering allowing South Korea to participate in developing F-35’s?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Well I think that, in the first instance, we want to hear from our South Korean colleagues exactly what their thinking is in terms of air force modernization. We are obviously always trying to be as supportive as we can, and we want to be able to work together as effectively as possible, but I wouldn’t want to speculate before we actually have some proposals from the South Korean Government in terms of what their intentions are in terms of air force modernization.

REPORTER: Thank you for this great interview.

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG Thank you very much, my pleasure.

REPORTER: Thank you.