Remarks With Republic of Korea Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se

Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Seoul, South Korea
February 13, 2014

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Ladies and gentlemen, we are now ready to begin the press conference with Minister Yun Byung-se and Secretary John Kerry. I am the spokesperson of MOFA. My name is Cho Tai-young. For today’s press conference, we’ll begin with an opening statement and then we will take questions. First we’ll listen to the opening statement of Minister Yun.

FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: (Via interpreter) Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Let me begin by extending my warm welcome to Secretary Kerry to Korea. Secretary Kerry is a great partner with whom I have always had productive discussions. Today, he even brought us the good news of President Obama’s upcoming visit to Korea.

President Park’s successful visit to the U.S. in May last year and the following talks between the two leaders; Vice President Biden’s visit to Korea last December; five rounds of talks between Secretary Kerry and me; and President Obama’s upcoming visit to Korea in April. These series of senior-level exchanges between Korea and the U.S. attest to the highest state of our alliance. I must say, President Obama’s upcoming visit comes at a very timely moment, given the recent developments on the Korean Peninsula and in the region.

As you are well aware, I met Secretary Kerry in Washington, DC last month, and we agreed to intensify our consultations to explore our policy options in light of the North Korean situation. In this regard, the two countries have continued to engage in high-level consultations, including Deputy Secretary Burns’ visit to Seoul earlier this year. Today’s meeting is part of such ongoing consultations. Secretary Kerry and I reaffirm that the two countries stand fully prepared against any potential situation, given the mixed signals from North Korea as it tries to engage in a charm offensive, even as it continues its nuclear development and threats of provocation.

In my talks with Secretary Kerry, I also had the opportunity to explain the recent inter-Korean agreement to hold a family reunion event as well as the outcomes of yesterday’s high-level meeting between the two Koreas.

Regarding the North Korean nuclear issue, we took note that meaningful progress can be made when the international community stands united, as seen recently in another part of the world. We share the view that a principled and effective two-track approach of pressure and dialogue is necessary. In this regard, based on firm R.O.K.-U.S. collaboration, we will make greater efforts with China and other countries to achieve substantial denuclearization of North Korea.

Secretary Kerry and I also discussed the future of the Korean Peninsula. I am also always mindful of President Park’s consistent foreign policy, which aims at the happiness of all people on the Korean Peninsula, as well as President Obama’s remarks during the speech in his 2012 visit to Korea. The currents of history cannot be held back forever. The deep longing for freedom and dignity will not go away, which emphasizes the inevitable nature of Korea’s reunification. Recalling our leaders’ thoughts, I laid out my government’s position on the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula. Today, Secretary Kerry said it was very timely that President Park highlighted the importance of the debate on the future of the Peninsula through her reunification as a huge bonanza statement.

Secretary Kerry also reaffirmed the U.S. support for the reunification of Korea, as stated in the joint declaration of the 60th anniversary of the alliance. We shared the view that the future will change North Korea if it does not change itself, and we agreed to consolidate our strategic consultations regarding the sustainable peace and reunification of the Korean Peninsula.

Going beyond these issues, we shared the view that it is critical for the countries in the region to improve bilateral relations among one another in order to mitigate the aggravating Asian paradox. In this regard, I appreciated the constructive efforts of the U.S. to improve the relationships among the countries in the region, and to this end I pointed out that countries should refrain from regressive remarks that undermine the trust of their neighbors.

We noted the passing of the bill on the extension of the R.O.K.-U.S. Nuclear Cooperation Agreement at the U.S. Congress as well as the smooth conclusion of the R.O.K.-U.S. defense burden-sharing negotiations. We agreed to continue to work together on important bilateral issues such as the revision of the R.O.K.-U.S. Nuclear Cooperation Agreement and the transition of wartime operational control.

We will work based on the spirit of alliance to find mutually satisfactory solutions. We also exchanged our views on the ways to promote bilateral economic cooperation, including the implementation of the KORUS FTA and R.O.K.’s participation in the TPP. As the mutual visits between Secretary Kerry and me in April last year led to the successful visit of President Park, I have high expectations that our mutual visits in the early weeks of the new year will lead to the successful visit of President Obama in April, ultimately contributing to the further development of the R.O.K.-U.S. comprehensive, strategic alliance.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Next, Secretary Kerry, you have the floor.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much, Minister Yun, my friend, Byung-se. I appreciate very, very much the generous welcome, and I appreciate my in-depth, comprehensive discussion that I just had with President Park. And I especially thank both President Park and Minister Yun for a very warm and generous welcome, as well as for a very productive discussion. It’s a great pleasure for me to be back in Seoul.

And while it’s interesting – both of us are focused on the current Olympics, and we are both rooting for our home teams, but it is noteworthy that preparations are already underway for PyeongChang in 2018. It shows you how much work has to be done and how the process really never stops.

This is my fifth trip to Asia as the Secretary of State, and I want to confirm that the United States rebalance to the Asia Pacific remains a top priority for the Obama Administration. Every day, at the President’s direction, we are directing more diplomatic, more economic and more military resources to help advance the goals that we share with our partners throughout this region.

The U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance is crucial to that rebalance. And our relationship is without question the lynchpin of stability and of security in Northeast Asia. That’s why President Obama hosted President Park for a productive set of meetings last year, and that’s why, as Minister Yun just noted, the President will visit Seoul for the fourth time this April. And that is why Foreign Minister Yun was also the first foreign minister that I hosted in the new year, and that is why I am here today, on the first stop in my visit to Asia in 2014. This is an important moment. There are vital issues in the region, and this is a central relationship to resolving any of those issues.

More than six decades ago, our alliance was forged on the battlefield, and the United States remains unwavering in our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea. Last month, the United States and the Republic of Korea successfully concluded negotiations funding the U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula. A special measures agreement that we signed will help ensure our military alliance is ready and able to deter or defend against North Korean aggression, should that occur. We are in lockstep with the Republic of Korea when it comes to our efforts to address the threat posed by North Korea – posed by their nuclear weapons and the ballistic missile programs.

We have yet to see evidence that North Korea is prepared to meet its obligations and negotiate the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Let me be clear: The United States will not accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state. We will not accept talks for the sake of talks. And the D.P.R.K. must show that it will negotiate and live up to its commitments regarding denuclearization.

In both diplomatic and security terms, close, trilateral cooperation among Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo remains essential. And, of course, China has an important role to play. Tomorrow, I will go to Beijing to discuss ways that we may be able to intensify our collective efforts. At the same time, progress in inter-Korean relations is important – not only to the Korean people, but also to the United States and to the world.

So we very much welcome President Park’s efforts to build trust, which I believe can lead to improvements in North Korea’s human rights situation and ultimately lay the groundwork for peaceful reunification of the Peninsula. We congratulate President Park for her discussions of this, for her willingness to express a vision about it, and particularly for her declarations regarding the possibilities of economic bonanza and other benefits that could come from that vision.

U.S.-Republic of Korea security cooperation extends, obviously, well beyond Northeast Asia. Close cooperation on both regional and global security challenges is a key pillar of the U.S.-Republic of Korea relationship. We have worked together and with international partners in every corner of the globe. For years now, U.S. and South Korean soldiers have served side by side in Afghanistan, and today, the Republic of Korea is a major donor to Afghanistan’s reconstruction and stabilization efforts. The Republic of Korea has also contributed to the international efforts to ease the humanitarian suffering in Syria, and also to deal with the problem of refugees in the region.

Let me underscore that the U.S.-Republic of Korea relationship today is much more than a military alliance. It is a global partnership that is growing stronger every year. In the nearly two years since the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement came into force, our bilateral trade has grown to more than $100 billion annually. Today, the Republic of Korea is our sixth-largest trading partner, and there is room, obviously, for even more growth, which we look forward to. This afternoon, we discussed the need to work together to ensure that the KORUS commitments are fully implemented so that job growth and other benefits for both of our peoples can be fully realized.

The strong economic bond that we share really is rooted in the strong bonds among our peoples. Today, more than 1.7 million Korean Americans live in the United States, and nearly 71,000 South Korean students are studying on our shores. For per capita, that is more than any other major economy in the world. And the number of American students here in places like Seoul and Busan continues to rise every year.

So, as we stand here tonight, we can safely say that the United States and the Republic of Korea are strong allies growing stronger; we are partners strengthening the partnership; and we are friends strengthening our friendship.

Last year, we celebrated the 60th year of this extraordinary relationship and all of the transformation that has come with it. This year marks the first year of the next 60. We hope that 2014 and the years that follow will bring about greater prosperity, greater opportunity, stability, and ultimately peace, for our nations and for all of our neighbors.

Thank you all for the chance to share a few words with you, and I look forward to any questions.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Next we would like to open the floor to questions. Since we don’t have too much time, I would like to ask you to keep your questions brief. First, from YTN.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Yes, my name is Kimi Joon. I’m from YTN. I would like to ask a question about North Korea. You said that progress is very important. Yesterday, for the first time in seven years, there was a high-level meeting. And at the meeting, North Korea said that – demanded that the military exercises be postponed until after the family reunions. And if the military exercises go on as planned, do you think that this might impact the reunions, family reunions? So I would like to know your reaction.

And for the nuclear issue, this is not something that should be discussed between the two Koreas. You said this could be translated to mean that it should be discussed within the Six-Party Talks or between Korea – North Korea and the U.S. So first Secretary Kerry, and then Minister Yun, please.

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, I’m not sure that I understand the second question on the nuclear issue. Can you restate that?

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Regarding the nuclear issue, yesterday, during the high-level meeting, they said – North Korea said that this shouldn’t be discussed between South and North. So regarding nuclear – denuclearization, it could mean that North Korea wants to talk directly with the U.S. So what is your position?

SECRETARY KERRY: We’re – our – well, let me be clear, first of all, on the reunification issue. The United States does not believe that it is appropriate to link a humanitarian issue such as reunification with any other issue. And since the exercises are exercises that are not changed – not bigger, not different, occurring at exactly the same time as they have occurred every year, in the same manner that they have occurred as a matter of readiness between the United States and the Republic of Korea – there is no legitimate excuse for linking the two.

The family reunification is a matter of human rights. It’s a matter of decency. It’s a matter of living up to normal standards of human behavior and of human – of shared values and standards in the international community. And we would urge a complete separation of these two and no use of one as an excuse to somehow condition the other.

With respect to the Six-Party Talks versus individual talks, nuclear talks, the United States position has not changed. It is clear. We are in full agreement with President Park’s stance on North Korea. Today we reaffirm our commitment to a common goal, which is the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner. And we are committed to going to talks only if there is a clarity with respect to the steps that need to be taken for denuclearization by the North. We are not in favor of talks for the sake of talks. We’ve been through that exercise previously. We want to know that this is real. And it’s – frankly, the responsibility is on North Korea to take meaningful actions to demonstrate that denuclearization is real. And it’s time for the North to choose the path of peace and to refrain from provocations and/or using excuses to avoid the responsibility that they bear.

So we are not engaged in back-channel efforts to have face-to-face talks or bilateral talks. We are committed to a process, together with our allies and friends in this effort, to guarantee that when and if we get back to talks those talks are meaningful.

FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: (In Korean. No interpretation.)

MS. PSAKI: The next question will be from William Wan of The Washington Post.

QUESTION: Hi. I wanted to ask about the rift between our allies. How can U.S. and Korea present a united front and coordinated Asia policy when our two biggest allies – the U.S. allies in Asia, Japan and South Korea, are at each other’s throats? And what practical actual steps can you take, on the part of Secretary Kerry, and do you intend to take, on the part of Minister Yun, to bring those two sides together?

SECRETARY KERRY: Look, there is no question but that positive relations between Japan and its neighbors are in the best interests of the United States, the region, and the two countries themselves. That’s our belief. And we respect the fact that the Republic of Korea and Japan are both developed free-market economies that share values. They share a robust economic relationship, and they also share with us compelling strategic interests. So while the United States obviously has a strong interest in the relationship and in the security component of the relationship, it’s up to Japan and the Republic of Korea to put history behind them and move the relationship forward. And it is critical at the same time that we maintain robust trilateral cooperation, particularly in the face of North Korea’s nuclear threat.

So we urge our friends in Japan and in North Korea – in North Korea and South Korea – excuse me, in the Republic of Korea – we urge both of them to work with us together to find a way forward to help resolve these deeply felt historic differences that still have meaning today. And we respect the meaning that they still have today. We understand the meaning that they still have today.

So I made this case to Foreign Minister Kishida last week when he visited Washington, and again – we talked about it today with President Park and with Foreign Minister Yun. So we will continue – the United States will continue, I will personally continue to encourage both allies to find mutually acceptable approaches to legacy issues from the past and find ways to enhance bilateral and trilateral cooperation that will define the future. We believe it is possible to do both. And we’re going to work very hard, obviously, over the course of the next weeks and months to do so.

FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: (Via interpreter) I would just like to add (inaudible) regarding the relationship between Korea and Japan. Of course, with the new government we have made a lot of efforts to stabilize the relationship between Korea and Japan. But unfortunately, as the international society has seen, during the past few months, some Japanese political leaders have made a lot of historically incorrect remarks. And so these revisionist – historically revisionist remarks, as long as they last, till then it will be difficult to build trust between our two countries. And so these leaders must look at history as it is, and they must be very sincere. And we are always willing to dialogue with them.

And so they must make the efforts to create an environment conducive to dialogue. International society these days regarding the sexual slavery as well as the view on history is a matter of concern for international society. So they must listen to these concerns and must take the appropriate measures to correct the situation. This must be the foundation for the improved Korean-Japanese relations.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Next from (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Yes, my name is (inaudible). I would first of all like to ask Secretary Kerry regarding the Korea-Japanese relationship, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chuck Hagel, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that the Senkaku Islands are part of the defense treaty. But does the Dokdo – are the Dokdo Islands also part of the defense treaty? And also, last October, there were some tensions and when the Prime Minister Abe visited the Shinto shrine, so this seemed to negate history. So how do you evaluate such actions by the prime minister of Japan? And when Barack Obama visits Japan and Korea, do you think that he will try to mediate the relations between Korea and Japan?

And to Minister Yun, there have been a lot of reports about unofficial contacts with Japan, so – and there’s a lot – there are a lot of talks that this is not encouraging for the tripartite relations. So what are your comments?

SECRETARY KERRY: So three questions there, I think. On the Senkaku Islands, I agree with the statement of Secretary Clinton and I agree with the statement of Secretary Hagel. And that is the position of the United States with respect to those islands.

With respect to the prime minister’s visit, we’ve spoken out. I think that we made clear that we had a difference of opinion with respect to the judgment about the visit, and that was made clear at the time. And I don't think we need to dwell on it now.

Which brings me to the essence of your question, which is this notion of an effort to mediate between the parties and will President Obama do that. Frankly, we hope that this issue will not be outstanding in a way that requires the President to do that. We need to be doing it now. We don’t want to wait until President Obama is here, obviously, to get moving in a direction that helps to deal with this. So as I said earlier, I’ve already been engaged with Foreign Minister Kishida. I was engaged today with President Park and with Foreign Minister Yun. And I will continue, together with our Ambassador, with the Foreign Minister, with our Assistant Secretary of State Mr. Russel, and others – we will be engaged in this over the next days and weeks. And our hope is that it will be possible to try to find a way forward.

But we also have, frankly, issues of enormous current pressing concern that deal with security and that are relevant in terms of today, not in terms of history. And it is vital for us to be able to continue to stay focused on the high stakes, in terms of everybody’s lives right now, of those issues. And we intend to continue to make certain that we’re paying adequate attention to those priorities, even as we deal with this legitimate concern about the past. And we will do so.

FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: (Via interpreter) Yes, so regarding contacts between North Korea and Japan, recently there have been quite a lot of reports about such contacts. But Japan has not officially said anything about these reports, and so I myself am not in a position to talk about that.

But if there are such contacts, then I think that since they are part of the Six-Party Talks, I think that this might impact the talks between the other members of the Six-Party Talks, and I don't think it will be very helpful or conducive for those – for the talks.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) One point that I would like to ask again to Secretary Kerry regarding the defense treaty or for the Dokdo Islands, do you believe that it’s part of the defense treaty between Korea and the U.S.?

SECRETARY KERRY: The – which island? I’m sorry. I can’t hear you.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) The Dokdo Islands. In the mutual defense treaty between Korea and the U.S., how do you view Dokdo Islands?

SECRETARY KERRY: I think we have answered that previously, and we have affirmed that it is.

MS. PSAKI: The final question will be from Michael Gordon of The New York Times.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, last April during a visit to Beijing, you sought China’s cooperation in persuading North Korea to commit itself to denuclearization. But since then, as you’ve noted, North Korea’s nuclear program has continued to advance and economic ties between China and the North continue to be substantial. Now almost a year later, you’re headed back to Beijing to make the same appeal again. What specifically do you want the Chinese leadership to do with regard to North Korea? And why realistically should one expect the Chinese leadership to put sufficient pressure on North Korea to reverse course on the nuclear front? Why would one expect China to elevate its concerns about the nuclear issues over its historic focus on stability, since that really didn’t occur over the past year? And if that isn’t going to happen, should the Obama Administration review an adjusted strategy?

And then a question for both, for the Minister and Mr. Secretary Kerry: Pertaining to developments in North Korea, do you see the execution of Kim Jong-un’s uncle as a indication that Kim Jong-un is consolidating power or as an indication of instability in the regime? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Michael, you are correct in that I did raise it when I was there before. And I’m obviously going to be talking about it again. But I don't think it is correct to make an assumption that the situation is anywhere near what it was when I came here last year. When I came here last year, I arrived, I think, on a weekend, during which time North Korea was still publicly rattling the saber, making threats, and poised to test. And we were in a very tense moment where there had been a series of tests, of provocations. The United States had responded with a deployment of Aegis destroyer and a THAAD system to Guam. And there was a sense of potential conflict in the air of immediacy. And with that visit to China and China’s assumption of some initial steps, which they did take, that quieted down. That changed, and there has been a change over the course of this last year.

Now, notwithstanding that change, and not withstanding real steps that China has taken, we still find a reluctant North Korea, an unwilling North Korea, a stubbornly resistant North Korea to taking the steps that are necessary to move towards denuclearization and have real talks about the future. The fact is, the United States and China agree on the fundamental importance of a denuclearized North Korea. There is no question of that.

But China has a unique and critical role that it can play due to its economic, its geographic, its political, and its historical, cultural ties with North Korea. No country has a greater potential to influence North Korea’s behavior than China, given their extensive trading relationship with the North. As we know, all of the refined fuel that goes into move every automobile and every airplane in North Korea comes from China. All of the fundamental rudimentary banking structure that the North has with the world passes through China. Significant trade and assistance goes from China to North Korea.

So China has enormous ability to be able to have an impact here, and tomorrow my instructions from President Obama are to sit with the Chinese leadership and make the case that we cannot wait till the North has either gone so much further in its program that it’s even more complicated to deal with, or created a provocation that incites a response that creates even greater problems of security. So our belief is that China can do more now to urge North Korea to begin taking action to come into compliance with its international obligations. And I will encourage China to use all of the means at its disposal to do so.

Now, I want to make it clear: China has responded. China has done positive things. China is very concerned about what has happened with Chang Sung-taek and the purge. I think there are leaders in China deeply upset by the reluctance of Kim Jong-un to receive an envoy and to engage in serious dialogue, and the reluctance even to respond to very clear urgent needs to create stability on the peninsula and in the region that would come from a legitimate denuclearization effort.

So there is more that China can do. But even as I say that, this is not just about what China does, this is about what all of the Six-Party partners are prepared to do in order to try to move this issue once and for all. So we are hopeful that we can – as we did with Iran sanctions and as we have in other efforts – ratchet up the effort at this point in time, as appropriate, to the reluctance of the North to yet respond adequately.

FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: (Via interpreter) Yes, as I mentioned in my opening statement, recently, as we saw in Iran, there is consolidation regarding the positions of the international society and that position will help in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. So I believe that coordination and cooperation in the international society is very important. So Korea and the U.S., together with China, will work together. And we are doing so right now for the denuclearization.

As was mentioned earlier, we are against additional nuclear tests and we are taking several steps, and this has been evaluated constantly in international society. So we will continue to work so that we will have true denuclearization in North Korea. And we will, on the one hand, have dialogue, and also at the same time we will work with the UNSC, the UN Security Council, to have resolutions against and sanctions against North Korea. And so we will work with a two-track strategy and in that way we hope that we will be effective and that we will have denuclearization of North Korea. And we must not have talks for talks’ sake. This is a position that I am keeping.

Regarding the execution of Chang Sung-taek, whether it’s consolidation or instability of the North Korean regime, well, this can be viewed from various aspects. During the past two years in North Korea there have been a lot of changes in the military of North Korea. And so in the short term, it may appear to mean control of the military. But to what extent this will have momentum, I don't think that anybody can say. But the public execution of the Chang Sung-taek, the way that it is viewed by countries around North Korea, leans towards instability. So the instability is greater than at any other time in the past. That’s the general view of what is happening in North Korea. And so in the future, how this will impact its foreign affairs, how it will impact its relations with other country, not only with the South Korea but also with the U.S., this is something that we must work on and act accordingly.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) This will conclude the joint press conference of the R.O.K., U.S. foreign ministers. Thank you, the two ministers, for your very precise answers to the questions. Thank you.