Toward a More Comprehensive Strategic Relationship With South Korea

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State, Secretary of State
Roundtable with Korean Journalists
Seoul, South Korea
February 20, 2009

MODERATOR: So it’s my great pleasure to welcome you, Madame Secretary, and I think I’ll just ask how you’d like to begin, maybe say a couple of things. You’ve had a long day.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I am delighted to have this opportunity to sit down with all of you, and I’m very pleased to be back here in Korea. I have very pleasant memories of my prior times here, and now to be back and to be in the position I’m in representing my country and working with your country on so many important issues is a pure personal delight. So I’m looking forward to your questions.

QUESTION: You seem to look very happy and joyful during the conversation with the students in Ewha University. How was that, and how does it feel to be back in Korea, not as First Lady but as the Secretary of State?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I loved the event at Ewha University. I had the vantage point of looking out at this very large audience of all these extraordinary young women, and it made me so proud. And I know how each one of them has dreams for her life, as we all do, and I’m hopeful that as we move into the future that more and more of those dreams will come true.

So it was an honor being at the largest women’s university in the world, and I felt a real kinship, having gone to a women’s college. And to be representing my country and our new President and the Obama Administration, we’re making so many changes. It’s only been a month that we’ve had the chance to take office and start working. But on so many important issues, I think you can see that the United States is reaching out. We’re listening. We’re hoping to form closer relationships. And I chose to come to Asia first because I wanted to underscore the significance of not only the region, but particularly the countries that I am visiting.

QUESTION: Are you going to meet Kim Jong-il? If so, is there any pre-condition? So what (inaudible) when you meet him?


QUESTION: Kim Jong-il.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, well, I have no intention of meeting him. (Laughter.) I have no plans to meet him. I did announce today the appointment of a new Special Representative for North Korea, a distinguished diplomat, Ambassador Steve Bosworth, who served here in Korea as well as other posts, who’s very familiar with North Korea. In fact, he was just there as a private citizen in the last weeks. So I will be looking to get reports from him and Ambassador Sung Kim, who will continue to lead our Six-Party negotiations. But I have no intention or plans at this time to go to North Korea.

QUESTION: Pre-condition?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I have no plans at this time, so that’s not even part of our thinking.

QUESTION: You mentioned that you were going to discuss the contingency plans for post Kim Jong-il regime and (inaudible) in North Korea on the way to Korea. What did you discuss with South Korean Government regarding that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s interesting because it’s been a matter of public concern for months now as to what was happening in North Korea. You all have written about it. People around the world have speculated about it. But I wanted to make it clear that we are prepared to deal with this government. And I guess the preconditions we have are not in relation to my visiting. That’s not something we’re even contemplating. The preconditions are as to whether or not we can have a better relationship with North Korea. And we’ve made that very clear, that if the North Koreans completely and verifiably eliminate their nuclear weapons program, then we would consider normalizing our relations with them, seeking to sign a peace treaty in place of the armistice, and working with South Korea and other nations to offer aid, such as energy aid and economic aid.

So I think it’s important that the entire North Korean leadership, not just Kim Jong-il but the entire leadership, understand what it is we are offering and expecting. So those are our conditions in terms of going forward with them.

QUESTION: Okay. I am truly delighted to meet you in this roundtable. My question is regarding the alliance of R.O.K. and U.S. You mentioned in Japan the Korea-U.S. alliance is one of the staunchest alliance in the history. Thank you for your good comment on that. The strategic alliance means we understand R.O.K.-U.S. will cooperate in globally in terms of to keep peace and stability in world. But specifically speaking in Afghanistan peace and stability, what do you expect Korea’s government have in addition to the civilian assistance? Do you expect some troop to Afghanistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me answer both parts of your question. First, we do want to work toward a vision of a more comprehensive strategic relationship. And I discussed that with the president and the prime minister and the foreign minister. Because there is so much that we can work together to achieve. You know, Korea is one of the G-20 nations, so we’re working on the economic crisis and how we can best resolve that. We want to have a very deep collaboration on climate change and clean energy. We are looking for other areas of cooperating on security issues, on development aid, which the ROK is beginning to be more and more involved in. So there are many areas.

Now, Afghanistan is part of that overall relationship, and we are appreciative of what the government has committed to in terms of police training and joint aid with Japan, some very important contributions. And we, at this point, are still doing our own policy review of what we’re going to be doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So we have no specific requests at this time, but we’re friends. We’re allies. We might very well discuss something in the future. But any decision is up to the government and the people of Korea.

QUESTION: Thank you, Madame Secretary. You have mentioned incentives you’re offering include diplomatic normalization, financial aid, and so on. But it seem that all that had been put on the table before, before the Obama Administration. What needs to be done differently this time around?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that we have to gauge the willingness of the North Korean regime to return to the Six-Party Talks. And I think it’s important to underscore the progress that was made in that context. The dismantlement of the facility at Yongbyon is nearly done. It’s something that we want to see completed. And we are aware of the fact that we can’t stop, we have to keep pushing the North Koreans to act.

I think there’s a kind of assessment period going on. The Obama Administration has only been in office a month. So we want to reiterate our policy so there’s no misunderstanding as to where we stand and what we expect. And we’re watching to see how the North Koreans respond. So I think that how we proceed depends, number one, on what the North Koreans decide, but equally importantly, what the other Six Parties are willing to do. So I have discussed this in Japan, I’ve discussed this here in Korea, and I will be discussing this over the next two days in China.

QUESTION: Back to (inaudible). You served as First Lady and senator and ran in the presidential primaries. What drives you to keep going forward and what’s your next goal? Again president?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. (Laughter.) I really have been fortunate because I’ve been able to do a number of jobs that I find just so satisfying and incredibly meaningful to me. And I want to be the best Secretary of State I can be. I want to help my country. I want to support President Obama. I want to convey a message to the rest of the world about American values and our openness to working with others to achieve common goals.

I think there has been a sense that America was absent in many parts of the world, that we weren’t as attuned to what other countries were thinking and feeling. And I want to reestablish our presence. It’s one of the reasons why we appointed a Special Envoy to the Middle East and a Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and why within the first month we have appointed a Special Representative for North Korea, because we know that we have a lot of difficult challenges, and it’s important that we just get up and going as quickly as possible.

Next week, I’ll be in Egypt for the aid conference that the Egyptian Government is sponsoring to help with the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza.

So there’s a lot to be done as Secretary of State. And I get to work with wonderful people like your ambassador in trying to create new opportunities and solve problems, and that’s what we’re intent upon accomplishing.

QUESTION: The United States has experienced anti-American feelings. Did you feel any of that while traveling this time?


QUESTION: If so, do you have any plan to change the image of the United States much better?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I was so excited by the positive response that I received on behalf of this new Administration. In every country that I’ve visited, certainly the governments were very welcoming, but so were the people. We were looking at a picture in the newspaper today of people with a positive demonstration welcoming me to, you know, Seoul. And I mean, that’s kind of new to have people actually out on the street waving placards and chanting about how happy they are that the United States is here and that we’re going to work together. So I feel that there’s a tremendous receptivity around the world to our new President and our new policies.

I don’t underestimate how difficult the problems are. I mean, we all wish that the people who are causing trouble around the world would just wake up one morning and decide that they’re going to pursue a different path, but in very few instances does that ever happen. So it takes a lot of persistence and careful preparation in order to engage in diplomacy that will result in positive change.

And one of the people with me on the trip is Assistant Secretary Chris Hill, who has been deeply involved in working with the North Koreans and with your government and the other parties in the Six-Party Talks. And it’s painstaking work. It just takes an enormous amount of energy and commitment.

But what’s the alternative? Just to leave these troublesome situations to grow worse? We don’t think that’s the right approach, so we’re going to be working hard in all of these areas across the world. And I think much of the world is very relieved to see how engaged we are and how determined we are. We can’t solve all of the problems, but we can promise our best efforts and we can listen to our friends and allies and other countries who have experience to offer, and that’s what we intend to do.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) that the most important relationship for U.S. and Asia is with China. Do you still stand by that statement?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well – (laughter).

QUESTION: (Inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that that was somewhat misunderstood. We have rock-solid relationships, alliances that already exist with Korea and with Japan, for example. Those are like members of the family. But trying to figure out what our relationship with China is going to be going forward is a very big priority. That doesn’t in any way take away from our enduring commitment to our existing allies.

But we do have to all figure out how we’re going to deal with a China that is becoming more and more successful. I think there are tremendous possibilities for cooperation because of that. But you just can’t stand on the sidelines and hope it happens. You have to be working and focused on the relationship, and we intend to do so.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary.

MODERATOR: Last question.

QUESTION: Yes. This morning in the press conference, you mentioned the U.S. Government are very supportive for the Lee Myung Bak’s government policy towards North Korea. And you had a lunch with President Lee Myung Bak this afternoon. What is your feeling and what is your impression on Lee Myung Bak’s saying toward U.S. alliance with North Korea issue?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I was very impressed by the president’s thoughtful analysis and understanding of the complexity of the relationship. I think that he and his government – because I also spoke, of course, with the prime minister and the foreign minister – are trying to balance the many different challenges that Korea now faces, and at the same time, assume more responsibility in the world.

So North Korea remains an overwhelming concern. And the Six-Party Talks is a process that the government supports as a way of trying to influence the behavior of North Korea. But of course, our alliance and relationship is the centerpiece of the security for the ROK and the president understands that. He believes that it’s essential to continue our military presence, our military cooperation subject to the agreed upon changes that will take place over the next several years.

But I was very impressed with the thoughtful approach that he presented in looking at the range of challenges that are confronting Korea, and the willingness to kind of step up and take a leadership role in solving the global economic crisis, in dealing with climate change. The president was very persuasive about climate change. He’s obviously studied it and understands it and believes it’s a great economic opportunity. So on a range of issues, not just on North Korea, I thought that he had some well thought-out positions that will serve as the basis for deepening and broadening our relationship.

QUESTION: How do you keep your health? (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Two last – real quick questions. All right.

QUESTION: If I can say, I mean, you look very young and energetic.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I look very young?

QUESTION: You do. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, my goodness. I hope somebody is recording this. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: What’s your secret?

SECRETARY CLINTON: What’s my secret? (Laughter.) Oh, you know, I think I love what I do. And I’m a very fortunate person. I don’t spend a lot of time regretting what isn’t done. I think about what I will do. And I’m very lucky because I have a mother who will be 90 in June, who looks and is very healthy, so I can take no credit for my genes, which I inherited. But I think it mostly is because I feel very lucky to have the opportunities that I have and I love the work that I do and I’m honored to, you know, represent my country and play some role in that. And I take vitamins. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: That’s a very sensitive question.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Is that a sensitive question?


SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, is it really?

QUESTION: And yeah, my last question is about your daughter. As a mother, as a career woman, what kind of advice do you give to your daughter?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well I keep that to myself. I can’t really, you know, breach any confidence that I have with her. But I think it’s interesting how when your – as your children get older, they actually pay more attention to your advice. Children go through – I think we all do – we go through a period when we may not necessarily follow the advice of our parents. And then all of a sudden, you get to be a certain age and your parents seem smarter than you thought they were. So I think that’s kind of how we’ve developed, too.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much.

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PRN: 2009/T1-21