Remarks With Republic of Korea Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se After Their Meeting

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Foreign Ministry
Seoul, South Korea
April 12, 2013

The video below is available with closed captioning on YouTube.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. We will now begin the joint press conference of the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea Yun Byung-se and the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. They will have opening statements, and then we will take questions from the floor.

First, Minister Yun will present the opening statement.

FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: (Via interpreter) Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. Secretary Kerry and I had a very productive meeting this evening. But before discussing the results of our meeting, allow me to welcome Secretary Kerry once again. It is not only the Secretary Kerry’s first visit to Korea as Secretary of State, but it is his first visit to Korea altogether. Also, Korea is the very first stop on the Secretary Kerry’s Asian tour, and so I believe that it is all the more meaningful.

As you are well aware, Secretary Kerry and I held our first ministerial meeting in Washington, D.C. last week. And today, just 10 days after, we held our second meeting here in Seoul. This is quite exceptional, but it demonstrates how closely our two administrations are working together and the importance we place on this alliance, as well as how strong and close our two ties are.

During our meeting today, Secretary Kerry and I discussed a variety of regional and global topics, ranging from North Korea and the nuclear issue to the upcoming visit of President Park to the United States. We built upon the progress we made during our first meeting and engaged in more in-depth discussions.

Secretary Kerry and I agreed that North Korea’s recent threatening remarks to the foreign missions based in Pyongyang and foreigners living in Korea, as well as its nuclear missile threats, constitute a grave provocation to the international community as a whole. Secretary Kerry and I shared the assessment that the international community is dealing calmly with North Korea’s threats and provocations and that the domestic situation in Korea is keeping stable without any unrest. This clearly shows that North Korea will gain nothing from its provocations and threats.

Furthermore, we both agreed that with President Park’s visit to the United States coming soon – also such actions by North Korea not only exacerbates its isolation, but damages its credibility with the international community. We both reaffirmed that the Republic of Korea-U.S. combined deterrent capability and international cooperation are stronger than ever before. We urge North Korea to cease its reckless behavior and to stop issuing threats. Instead, we urge North Korea to respond to our call for building trust on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue, and now it is time for North Korea to make that choice.

Secretary Kerry and I agreed to work closely together to help ensure the success of President Park’s visit to the United States, which is only a few weeks away. Both of us will make sure that the first summit between President Park and President Obama becomes a springboard from which our comprehensive strategic alliance can reach new heights.

Moreover, we had useful and construction exchanges regarding the ROK-U.S. civil nuclear cooperation agreements. Our chief negotiators will resume their talks in the near future and comprehensively review and assess the progress made so far, including technical and other aspects of the negotiations. We will map out, based on the outcome, how to proceed with future negotiations.

Lastly, we both reaffirmed that the ROK-U.S. alliance is not merely confined to Asia, but is a global partnership, impacting peace and prosperity throughout the world. In this regard, we discussed cooperation in the areas of cyber security, development, space science and technology, as well as topics ranging from professional visa quotas for Korean professionals, climate change, and Middle East issues, including Syria.

I am pleased with the results of today’s meeting, and once again I would like to welcome Secretary Kerry to Korea. I look forward to seeing him again next month during President Park’s visit to Washington, D.C. Thank you.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Next there will be the opening statement by Secretary Kerry.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very, very much my friend, Mr. Yun. I really appreciate the warmth of the welcome here today. And indeed, we have been talking with each other a great deal since your visit to Washington. And I think it’s fair to say to people here who know that we – because the meeting with President Park went some period of time longer, we did not have as long to have our own conversation. But – an important but – we have talked since by phone, and we have been working with our staffs in leading up to and preparing for this meeting, so it’s fair to say we’ve had an extraordinary amount of exchange of thinking and we are very much aligned and very supportive of each other’s positions.

But I thank you for welcoming me the way you did here today. Despite many trips to Asia over the last 30 years, I’ve looked past – actually over the last 45 years, this is, ironically, my first visit to Seoul. And I am very, very pleased to finally be able to get here and honored to be able to be here as Secretary of State.

We are working together on a number of critical challenges, and I want to thank the Republic of Korea for its leadership, its willingness to step up in a very significant way globally, not just on the immediate question of what is happening with respect to North Korea, but on a host of other issues regarding stability in the region, in Asia, and indeed, even on issues reaching far beyond here, for instance, the assistance that the Republic of Korea is providing with respect to the humanitarian crisis of Syria and cooperation on global climate change and other issues.

The United States and the Republic of Korea are working closely on all of these critical challenges, because it is safe to say that over the last 60 years we have built one of the strongest partnerships on the planet. Our security relationship is now 60 years old. It dates back to the time of the armistice and the bilateral security agreement by which we have lived all of these 60 years.

And I think if you look around the world, there are very few stories as significant as the story of the development and emergence of the Republic of Korea as an economic and democratic and humanitarian force on the global basis. And President Obama and I join together in saluting a successive number of governments and the people of the Republic of Korea who have made this happen.

In the visit that we had in Washington last week and now today, we have covered a great deal of territory. And I want to reiterate perhaps the most important thing with respect to the immediate tensions that exist here in this region. Neither the United States nor the Republic of Korea nor the international community – we are all united in the fact that North Korea will not be accepted as a nuclear power. The rhetoric that we’re hearing from North Korea is simply unacceptable by any standard, and I am here to make it clear today, on behalf of President Obama and the citizens of the United States and our bilateral security agreement, that the United States will, if needed, defend our allies and defend ourselves.

I also want to emphasize, very much in keeping with the conversation that I had a little while ago with President Park, President Park was elected with a different vision for the possibilities of peace, and we honor that vision. She has expressed an articulate view about trust-politik, and we hope that that vision is the one that actually will take hold here. We want to emphasize that the real goal should not be reinforcing the fact that we will defend our allies, which we will, but it should be emphasizing for everybody the possibilities of peace, the possibilities of reunification, the possibilities of a very different future for the people of the Republic of Korea and ultimately for the DPRK.

The United States and the Republic of Korea both want to see a peaceful Korean Peninsula, and that means it must be free of nuclear weapons. We are committed to working with the Republic of Korea and the other Six-Party partners in order to get the North to live up to obligations that the North freely accepted and adopted. And we are prepared to work with the conviction that relations between the North and the South can improve – and they could improve very quickly, and the world would be much better off – if the leaders of the North, and one leader in particular, would make the right decisions. So I want to emphasize that that’s our vision and that’s the vision that we think the people of the world share.

The Foreign Minister and I also continued our conversation from last week about a number of bilateral issues, including our civil nuclear cooperation, further implementation of the Free Trade Agreement, and close coordination on climate change and on sustainable energy. And those will all be topics of conversation when President Park travels shortly in May to meet with President Obama in Washington. These are priorities for both countries. I want to emphasize that we are already working on the climate science and research, and we’re both committed to deepening our collaboration to develop new technologies and enter into new negotiations over the course of the next couple of years.

We also talked today about the agenda for President Park’s meeting with President Obama when she comes to Washington. And I can say with confidence, based on the conversations that we’ve had and the work leading up to this, that that is going to be a very productive and very positive, constructive meeting when it takes place, I think on May 6th.

So let me just close by emphasizing one other thing. We really are delighted that the Republic of Korea was reelected to the UN Security Council, where the Minister’s team has already done very significant work, and we want to thank you for that. In a short span of time, the Republic of Korea has built an important record. They have countered – helped to counter pirates off the coast of Somalia. They’ve responded, as I mentioned earlier, to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. They’ve helped – by making decisions here at home that have affected their own consumption of fuel, they have helped to put pressure on Iran in order to make sure that Iran has a purely peaceful civil program. And they have also been willing to put peacekeepers on the ground in South Sudan.

So the Republic of Korea is, without question, a valued leader on the global stage playing a very significant and constructive role. And we in the United States are particularly grateful for that role that they’re playing.

So once again, Minister Yun, thank you very, very much for hosting me here. Thank you for your commitment to the partnership. Thank you for the generous way in which we’ve been able to work together very, very quickly, and I look forward to continuing that cooperation in the days ahead. Thank you.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Now we would like to open the floor for questions from the media. Please raise your hands and state your name. First, from KBS TV, Mr. Kim Yun Don.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) My name is Kim Yun Don. First of all, I would like to address this question to Secretary Kerry. This attention on the Korean Peninsula is escalating, and there does not seem to be an exit strategy. Yesterday, President Park said that we have to talk with, dialogue with, North Korea. Secretary Kerry, what do you think of President Park’s proposal, first? And second, are there any plans for the U.S. to dialogue directly with North Korea? And if you do dialogue with North Korea, what will be your conditions for such dialogues? And if there is a missile launch, would you still be ready to dialogue with North Korea?

I would also like to ask a question to Minister Yun. From the start of your inauguration, you have made a lot of multipronged efforts on the international stage, and I think that today’s meeting was also part of these efforts. But nevertheless, there don’t seem to be sufficient efforts being made. So President Park said that she’s ready to dialogue with North Korea, so what do you plan to do in the future? And if North Korea continues to act the way it does, what counterproposals do you have in mind?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, if North Korea decides to fire the Musudan missile, which they have threatened to, and which people have been following, it would really be one more unnecessary, unfortunate, unwanted contribution to an already volatile, potentially dangerous situation. And so it would indicate, really, who is being provocative with an exclamation point yet again.

Our preference would be to get to talks. Our preference would be, through these Six-Party or through bilateral means, get to a place where we are talking about the real future, which is the future of denuclearizing and ultimately, hopefully, depending on the choices that President Park and Republic of Korea make, ultimately, the reunification of the peninsula as a peaceful, nonnuclear entity.

So it’s up to Kim Jong-un what he decides to do. It’s not going to change our current position, which is very, very clear. We will defend our allies. We will stand with South Korea, Japan, and others against these threats. And we will defend ourselves. And Kim Jong-un needs to understand, as I think he probably does, what the outcome of the conflict would be. Our hope is that we can get back to talks. Now, you ask, what would the conditions of those talks be? Very simple: They simply have to be prepared to live up to the international obligations and standards which they have accepted, and make it clear they will move to denuclearization as part of the talks, and those talks could begin.

But they have to be really serious. No one is going to talk for the sake of talking, and no one is going to continue to play this round-robin game that gets repeated every few years, which is both unnecessary and dangerous. I will be taking some of the comments from President Park that we had in our conversation to me with me to China tomorrow, and I will obviously raise this issue and these considerations with the Chinese leaders. And I think it’s clear to everybody in the world that no country in the world has as close a relationship or as significant an impact on the DPRK than China.

China has an enormous ability to help make a difference here, and I hope that in our conversations, when I get there tomorrow, we’ll be able to lay out a path ahead that can defuse this tension, that can allow the people of the North and the South and other people in the world to recognize that people are moving this in the right direction, which is towards negotiations and towards a reduction in the current level of tension. And that’s our hope.

But those are the conditions of talks. We are prepared, providing the North is prepared, to do what it knows it has to do, which is live up to international obligations, and move towards a serious negotiation about denuclearizing the peninsula.

FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: (Via interpreter) Regarding Kim Yun Don’s question, in mid-March, I became the Foreign Minister, and regarding the North Korea nuclear issue, we have discussed this matter with the U.S., China, Japan, and Russia. And for example, we had a lot of telephone conversations and we had a lot of in-depth talks. And besides those four countries, we have talked with, for example, the EU, ASEAN countries, Germany, the Philippines, all of those concerned countries. And through telephone conversations, we had a lot of in-depth discussions. And last week, I met with Secretary Kerry, and we discussed how to strengthen security on the Korean Peninsula and also to have sustainable stability and peace in this region.

Not only through these telephone conversations, but soon I will be meeting with a lot of senior officials from the neighboring countries in order to have further in-depth discussions. And I will be releasing the concrete plans in the future. Besides those plans, we also have a lot of different, multifaceted, diverse approaches, and so we are looking also at multilateral approaches. For example, between Korea, the U.S., and China, we have a special mechanism in order to discuss the North Korean situation. And the reaction has been quite good, and so in the near future, I believe that we will be able to have a more concrete mechanism. So we have these regional, multilateral, and diverse approaches in order to resolve this issue.

In the case of provocation from North Korea, as you know, in the UN Security Council, we have a lot of – there are resolutions, and there will be proper reactions. And so besides those from the international community, I believe that any provocation from the North Korea will see a strong message from the international community, and there will be a reaction from not only Korea, but from the international community and neighboring countries as well. And so as the Minister of Unification said yesterday, North – we hope that North Korea will make the right choice and take part in the trust-politik. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Jill Dougherty, CNN.

QUESTION: There we go. Thank you very much. This question is both to Secretary Kerry and to the Foreign Minister, please. At a hearing on Capitol Hill, a member of Congress read an unclassified section of a classified document, and in that, it says that the DIA assesses with moderate confidence that the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles. They also note, however, the reliability will be low. Is this the assessment of both the U.S. and of South Korea? And is this in any way altering your strategic calculations, especially in light of any particular or, let’s say, potential retaliation for a North Korean missile launch?

SECRETARY KERRY: Repeat the last one.

QUESTION: Yes. Is it going to have any effect on your calculus, your strategic calculus, in terms of responding to any potential launch of a missile by North Korea?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m going to answer the second part of your question first, and then I’ll answer your first part declaratively. If Kim Jong-un decides to launch a missile, whether it’s across the Sea of Japan or some other direction, he will be choosing, willfully, to ignore the entire international community, his own obligations that he has accepted, and it will be a provocative and unwanted act that will raise people’s temperature with respect to this issue. It should – I would say ahead of time that it is a huge mistake for him to choose to do that, because it will further isolate this country and further isolate his people who, frankly, are desperate for food, not missile launches, for people who are desperate for opportunity, not for a leader who wants to flex his muscles in this manner, that takes everybody to a bad place.

So that’s the choice, clearly, and we hope he will make the right choice. I could not make more clear – and I’ll reiterate it because I think it’s so important – President Park of the Republic of Korea articulated to me this afternoon a bright vision, a vision of big possibilities, a vision of the potential of a nonnuclear peninsula in which the people’s needs are being met, and ultimately the aspirations of Koreans are met by the possibility of reunification. So you have a peaceful option here being proffered by the President of a country affected, to the South, and you have a very different option being offered in the North. That isolation, regrettably, is going to increasingly cost the people of North Korea. We hope that Kim Jong-un will choose otherwise.

Now, with respect to the type of weapon or what they may have and the threats that he is making, let me make it clear – and this is the Pentagon’s assessment that I’m giving you – it is inaccurate to suggest that the DPRK has fully tested, developed, or demonstrated capabilities that are articulated in that report. So we do not operate under the presumption that they have that fully tested and available capacity. But obviously, they have conducted a nuclear test, so there’s some kind of device. But that is very different from miniaturization and delivery and from tested delivery and other things.

Does it get you closer to a line that is more dangerous? Yes. And that is precisely why we are standing here together at this moment, talking about the need to move in a better and different direction. And our hope is that in the next days, in my conversations in China and conversations in Japan, that we will find the unity necessary to provide a very different set of alternatives for how we can proceed and ultimately defuse this situation.

Final comment: I couldn’t make it more clear from our point of view. President Obama ordered a number of exercises not to be undertaken. I think we have lowered our rhetoric significantly, and we are attempting to find a way for reasonableness to prevail here. And we are seeking a partner to deal with in a rational and reasonable way. Our hope is that the vision expressed by President Park for negotiations and for a peaceful track is a vision that we can move too quickly. Because let’s face it, everybody here knows this: we’ve got enough problems to deal with around the world, and we don’t need some individual activities by one particular person threatening destruction and mayhem, chaos, in the ways that we’re seeing, no matter how based in reality it may be.

The greatest danger here, we all agree, is for a mistake. The greatest danger is that something happens and there’s a response to that something, and then things somehow inadvertently were to get out of control. And so we call on Kim Jong-un to recognize that this is a moment for responsible leadership and it’s a moment to try to reach for the good possibilities, not try to guarantee the bad ones.

FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: (Via interpreter) Regarding the DIA’s reports, I believe that there seem to be a lot of different views regarding the DIA’s report. As Secretary Kerry just mentioned, just talked about that, and so I don’t think that I need to make any additional comments.

But we believe, regarding the nuclear capability of North Korea, it’s quite high. However, nevertheless, at the current time right now, their militarization, diversification, we believe that in that way they probably need to develop a little bit further. So they’re not that developed in those areas.

So regarding nuclear capability of North Korea, whether it will have any impact on our reaction, I can make two points. Regarding security, Korea and the U.S. have already very concrete strategies being implemented. And so regarding the deterrence, I believe that it will be quite effective regarding North Korea’s WMDs. And we are moving in that direction.

Secondly, besides the deterrent capability, we believe that within North Korea, we are trying to find ways to persuade North Korea. And so in early March, the UN Security Resolution 2094 we believe will be an effective tool to persuade North Korea. And so we will continue to work with the interested parties as well as the UN Security Council member countries to persuade North Korea to make the right choice and we will continue to try to dialogue with North Korea.

MODERATOR: Any further questions?

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Yonhap News, my name is Kang Eui-Young. I would like to ask a question to each of the ministers regarding the nuclear accord agreement between Korea and the U.S. You talked about a mutually beneficial agreement. So how – to what extent do the differences have to be narrowed in order to reach an agreement? And there’s also talk that enrichment is also an issue. So which part are you focusing more on?

And to Secretary Kerry, I would like to also ask a question. You mentioned that before the May summit meeting, you see – you probably believe that an agreement could be concluded. So on the – are you still hopeful? Because Korea wants to have nuclear capability for peaceful purposes only. Also, another additional question regarding the meeting with President Park: Was there anything that surprised you during the meeting?

FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: (Via interpreter) Yes. I would like to answer first. Regarding the nuclear accord between Korea and the U.S., you asked to what extent we have to – the coverage, the scope should be for us to be satisfied, but we are currently under negotiations right now so it’s difficult to say what the extent or scope needs to be. However, when we start negotiations, we do have a few standards that we have in mind, and that is that we have a lot of spent fuel which is being accumulated, and so we have to use the spent fuel in an effective manner. And so that would be one point that would have to be considered, and also how to provide safe and nuclear power. That’s another point. And also, as you saw when – since we’re providing nuclear power to UAE, there are different ways that we can use nuclear energy. So that’s another point that we have in mind.

So there are different standards that we are keeping in mind during holding negotiations. And also, since the alliance between our two countries is based on trust, I believe that we will be able to narrow our differences.

SECRETARY KERRY: I very much agree with Foreign Minister Yun. The Republic of Korea has a peaceful civil program and it currently provides about 30 percent of the power to the country. And we have great respect for the way in which Korea has managed this program, how effective it’s been, and frankly, how they have really safeguarded the civil component of it. So we have great confidence in the Republic of Korea.

As I explained, we are at a delicate moment with respect to the situation with the North, and we are also dealing with Iran and are very concerned at this time about not having any ingredients that could alter our approach with respect to either of those. I feel very confident, based on the discussions that we’ve had, there are a number of options on the table. I’m confident that one option or another will be able to come to fruition by the time that President Park comes to Washington. I’m not going to go into the details that you asked about what are we specifically discussing or what specific item might be an issue, because it may not be an issue and I don’t think anybody needs to negotiate publicly here. I think the Foreign Minister and I are both very confident that we’re on a track, that we understand the track we’re on, and that we will get where we’re going, and we will continue to cooperate and work on a civil nuclear program. So that’s important.

And what – were there any surprises with respect to President Park? Probably just how gracious and patient she was with all my questions. (Laughter.) She was really very, very nice, and I found her to be incredibly strong and visionary with respect to her view of trust-politik and what she wants to try to do to change a mold that obviously has not worked very effectively over the last years. So I think she expressed a terrific vision, and I think President Obama and she are going to have a very, very constructive and positive conversation, and I know the President is going to be delighted to spend time with her.

MODERATOR: Jay Solomon, Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION: Thank you. A question for both: Minister Yun, I would like to get back to this issue of negotiations. Has the South Korean Government specifically communicated with North Korea in the recent days or weeks of a desire to hold direct talks to de-escalate these tensions? And is South Korea prepared to start sending humanitarian aid back to North Korea without any guarantees that they are going to take steps towards denuclearization? And if that’s the case, isn’t this kind of a sign of capitulating to the North?

And for Secretary Kerry too, would the U.S. support direct talks between the South and the North and the resumption of aid without any guarantees or clear steps from Kim Jong-un that he’s prepared to start living up to these nuclear disarmament accords he’s signed to in the past? Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: (Via interpreter) Yes, regarding talks with North Korea, we have reiterated several times, but in the current situation we will maintain strong deterrence against any North Korean provocation. That is our main stance. Nevertheless, our dialogue – the window for dialogue is always open. Yesterday, the Minister of Unification also made an announcement, and that was reiterated again.

And regarding the Kaesong industrial complex, North Korea has rescinded its agreement with South Korea and it is causing quite a lot of damage for the Korean companies in the industrial complex. And so if there are any problems, then we are always ready to talk with North Korea.

Regarding humanitarian aid, ever since the inauguration of the new administration, regardless of the political situation, we are always ready to provide humanitarian aid in principle. And so last week the Eugene Bell NGO has agreed to send TB medicine to North Korea, and this was accepted by the Korean Government. And so truly humanitarian aid and transparent aid, aid that can be verifiable, is accepted by the Korean Government. So that is totally acceptable.

SECRETARY KERRY: From the point of view of the United States, we would never stand in the way nor argue against a sovereign and independent country, and particularly a partner in this case, from deciding to talk bilaterally if they thought that was important and saw fit to do so. We’ve also said we would engage in bilateral talks under the right circumstances, but it’s up to our friends to decide what they think those circumstances for them might be.

We have agreed, however, to talk very closely about any steps that any of us will take, and there will be a complete and total process of cooperation and exchange of views before either of us take any steps that may come along. And that includes discussions with other countries and steps with other countries. No country more affected, obviously, in this than the Republic of Korea, and that’s really a central part of our partnership.

With respect to the United States aid issue, we’ve been down that path before and we’ve been disappointed by the breach of those agreements previously. In principle, the United States – I’m not going to rule out a certain set of circumstances that might predicate that it was important in the context of other steps that might be taken, but in principle the answer is no, we would not provide it absent a move by the North to live up to the standards that have been laid out and to move towards the denuclearization or to embrace the denuclearization. And I think it’s critical that we have verifiable and real steps going forward, and that’s the way that we would approach it. But again, I say I’m not going to rule it out categorically if a whole set of circumstances predicated that a bunch of good things could follow as a consequence. In principle, no.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) This concludes the – in addition to the press conference today, this evening regarding the North Korean issue, there will be a statement which will be released. This has been agreed between Korea and the U.S. So this concludes the joint press conference of the Republic of Korea and the U.S. I would like to ask the reporters to leave after the two ministers have left the room. Thank you.

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PRN: 2013/ T03-09