Remarks With Republic of Korea Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se at a Press Availability

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Treaty Room
Washington, DC
October 19, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Good afternoon, everybody. I want to start by welcoming my friend, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, back to Washington. He is here with Korean Defense Minister Han for the fourth U.S.-R.O.K. 2+2 discussion, as we call it. And this afternoon, joined by Defense Secretary Carter, we had a very productive discussion about our alliance and about the various possibilities that we face in terms of increasing our defense cooperation as well as our diplomatic cooperation in the region, and particularly the challenges of the present moment.

Just as a matter of personal privilege, let me – I want to thank Byung-se. He and I have been meeting and meeting and meeting now over these four years. We’ve become very good friends, and I appreciate enormously the relationship that we have. I have a beautiful bonsai tree that I am waiting to plant somewhere when I have time – I thank him for that – once it gets out of quarantine. It’s been put in a special place. But I appreciate that. And today, he gave me a wonderful album summary of the different meetings that we’ve had and various places we’ve been. So I’m very grateful to him for his personal touch and for his personal friendship.

I think that underscores in many ways the message of today and of this meeting. There should be no question in anyone’s mind that the alliance with the Republic of Korea will remain what it has been for decades, which is a cornerstone of peace and of security in the Asia Pacific. And I want to emphasize: Our cooperation and our friendship are embodied in much more than words and much more than a photograph album. We work closely together on every single issue of the day on the basis of a shared set of interests, common values, and deeply rooted feelings of mutual respect.

Now, shared security is really at the top of our agenda. It’s at the center of our relationship. And the forefront of our security concerns remains the provocative actions and the policies of North Korea. Our two governments have joined countries across the globe in condemning North Korea’s latest nuclear test and its repeated ballistic missile tests, which are a threat to international peace and a blatant violation of UN Security Council resolutions. We do not and we will not accept North Korea as a nuclear armed state.

Now, I assured the minister of our commitment, the United States’ commitment, to defend South Korea through a robust combined defense posture and through extended deterrence, including the U.S. nuclear umbrella, conventional strike and missile defense capabilities. Let me be clear: Any attack on the United States or its allies will be defeated, and any use of nuclear weapons will be met with an effective and overwhelming response. To that end, I am pleased that we agreed to establish a dialogue on extended deterrence. That dialogue will be co-chaired by representatives from the four ministries that participated in today’s 2+2 dialogue. And the dialogue that we began today on the defense side will continue this evening and tomorrow with our Defense Secretary and their defense minister.

Now, this step that we are taking on the extended deterrence is further evidence of our readiness, our resolve, and our determination across governments to protect ourselves from threats from North Korea. If the North continues to violate international law by pursuing its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons program, it will come under even stiffer sanctions, greater pressure, and be left further and further behind while the rest of the regions prospers.

Now, it doesn’t have to be that way. I want to emphasize that. That is not the sought-after policy of the United States or of the Republic of Korea. It’s not our choice. Pyongyang can open the door to a range of possibilities: sanctions relief, economic cooperation, energy and food aid, new peace arrangements, a diplomatic normalization, actually a non-aggression understanding with respect to the peninsula, as well as peace on the peninsula itself.

Now, North Korea has it within its power to achieve the security, the development, and the respect that its leaders claim to want, but those can only be achieved through a discussion of denuclearization with respect to weapons. A 5,000-year-old civilization country, a long history, Iran, decided to do exactly that, to move into a discussion after 30-plus years of not even talking with the United States of America. And yet, it was possible to create a compliance with the nonproliferation treaty, a compliance with the IAEA requirements, and to move away from the potential of nuclear weapons. There’s obviously a distinction between a country that didn’t have them and was moving towards it and a country that has already exploded nuclear devices, but the principle is the same. The concept of peaceful choices and of compliance with global norms and standards is the same. Almost every single country in the world, with the exception of North Korea, is moving to either remain a non-nuclear country, a peaceful country, or if they have weapons, to begin to reduce the number of weapons, which is exactly what Russia and the United States did in the START Treaty and what we are prepared to do even further now.

So we’re moving in the opposite direction from North Korea, and our hope is that North Korea will make the choice that it has within its power to move in a different direction. North Korea will never attain its goals through threats and through intimidation. In New York last month, Minister Yun, Japanese Foreign Minister Kishida, and I met on the margins of the UN General Assembly in order to discuss our close coordination in the wake of North Korea’s provocations and to reaffirm our joint commitment to a stable, peaceful, and denuclearized Korean peninsula. During our bilateral meeting today, I also reaffirmed our commitment to deploy a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery to Korea as soon as possible.

Now, of course, the U.S.-R.O.K. relationship is a broad one, extending far beyond concerns about North Korea. North Korea alone does not define the relationship between the United States and the Republic of Korea, and that fact was reflected in the scope of the dialogue that we held this afternoon. For example, our countries are deepening cooperation in cyber security, global health, space, and the environment. We are promoting transparency and coordination in our bilateral defense trade through Defense Technology Strategy and Cooperation Group. We are building shared prosperity and pursuing joint projects in nanotechnology and advanced manufacturing. And we are expanding joint projects on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. All of those things stand in such stark contrast to the choices that North Korea is making.

And I just say to everybody, when any person of common sense makes a simple judgment about the comments of North Korea, the leader Kim Jong-un when he says, “Well, I have to do this to defend against the United States,” no. Everybody knows that. The United States has had the power to wipe out North Korea for years – for years. And if indeed that was our goal, we wouldn’t be sitting around waiting while they’re getting additional nuclear weapons.

Everything that we have done over the years speaks counter to that theory. No one should doubt that the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea is simply rock-solid. We’re cooperating and working more closely together than ever before and that is a product of many interests and values that we share. In times that are good and those that are not so good, our countries have always had each other’s back. And that is a pretty worthwhile tradition to continue, and from our discussions today, I am absolutely convinced that is the road that we are on.

So I thank you for joining us this afternoon. I’m pleased now to turn the floor over to my friend, Byung-se.

FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: (Via interpreter) I would like to thank John and Secretary Carter again for hosting today’s 2+2 meeting. As John eloquently debriefed us, our 2+2 meeting today focused on how we should respond to the issues pertaining to North – to the Korean peninsula, including, of course, the North Korean nuclear missile threats, as well as on how we can further strengthen our alliance. Moreover, we had in-depth consultations on an array of regional and international issues commensurate with the name “comprehensive and strategic alliance.”

In particular, this year marks the 10th year since the first nuclear test of North Korea, and we’re now faced with a grave situation where Pyongyang’s nuclear missile threats are growing ever more than any time in the past. This year alone, Pyongyang conducted two nuclear tests, fired 23 ballistic missiles of all types, while restarting plutonium reprocessing. As a result, it has violated UN Security Council resolutions as many as 26 times thus far this year, even blatantly threatening to actually use these weapons. North Korea’s threat is no longer confined to the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia. It’s now a direct threat to the mainland U.S., and I particularly stressed that the next few years will be the tipping point.

Recognizing this situation, the four of us had the most in-depth discussions since the launch of the 2+2 meeting in 2010. More importantly, we have reached the conclusion to take comprehensive countermeasures befitting the extraordinary circumstances. First, the R.O.K. and the U.S. concurred that North Korea will pay an unbearable cost should it resist a nuclear renunciation. To this end, our two countries have agreed to use all available tools in the toolkit and beef up pressure and sanctions vis-a-vis North Korea in a continuous and multidimensional manner.

To elaborate, we will work towards adopting a new Security Council resolution to close the existing loopholes and pursue even stronger independent sanctions in sync with the Security Council resolutions and further isolate North Korea at the global level, working shoulder to shoulder with the entire international community.

Second, the R.O.K. and the U.S. share the view that credible military deterrence is more indispensible than ever before to effectively support the three-pronged diplomatic pressure I just mentioned. We have thus agreed to materialize and institutionalize the extended deterrence doctrine which is at the heart of the U.S. commitment to the defense of South Korea. In this connection, the four of us have decided to establish a high-level extended deterrence strategy and consultation group under the 2+2 framework going forward. We shall promptly set out all the practical details through a follow-on meeting and put the new group into full operation.

This new body, EDSCG, will be attended by high-level officials from our diplomatic and military authorities and facilitate in-depth consultations on ways to mobilize all available capabilities of DIME that addresses all core components of deterrence – from diplomacy, information, military, to economic sanctions. The agreed establishment of this high-level body will equip the R.O.K. and the U.S. with a multilayered mechanism that facilitates military and strategic consultations as well as covering strategic and policy problems on extended deterrence.

We expect that the (inaudible) deterrence capabilities of the alliance will be maximized as a result. Moreover, this will be yet another institutional pillar undergirding the R.O.K.-U.S. alliance along with the three high-level groups on North Korea, economy, and nuclear power installed under the Park Geun-hye and Obama governments.

The EDSCG will expand the depth and scope of our bilateral partnership. In particular, Secretary Kerry and Carter have reaffirmed that the U.S. will defend South Korea from any and all North Korean threats through extended deterrence, encompassing all parameters of defense capabilities, including nuclear umbrella, conventional, and missile defense. They also made it loud and clear that Pyongyang will be met with effective and overwhelming responses should it resort to nuclear weapons.

Third, the four of us recognized the need to accelerate change in North Korea, and to this end, agreed to take a holistic approach in addressing a wide array of North Korean issues ranging from human rights abuses, including overseas slave labor, as well as facilitating the flow of information into the North.

In this vein, the recent launch of the R.O.K.-U.S. consultation on North Korean human rights should serve as a useful locomotive in deploying a holistic approach to address North Korean issues in an effective manner. With this new mechanism at the center, the R.O.K. and the U.S. will lead concrete efforts of the international community to address the dire human rights situation in North Korea. Such efforts include the promotion of international discussions on this issue; ensuring accountability, including against the highest leadership in Pyongyang; and increasing information access by the North Korean people. We’ll also be working with the EU with regard to the ongoing discussions of the North Korean human rights resolution at the UNGA.

Finally, our two countries reaffirmed the importance of our global partnership that goes beyond North Korea and committed to upgrade our ties further in that regard. Our two governments have substantially broadened and deepened our alliance. In the past three and a half years, their major accomplishments include the conditions-based OPCON transfer; successful implementation of the KORUS FTA that brings mutual benefits; a new special measures agreement; as well as the conclusion of a new civil nuclear cooperation agreement. We have advanced our partnership into new, future-oriented frontiers of cooperation such as space, refugees, humanitarian assistance, women and health, security.

And now the R.O.K.-U.S. alliance is evolving as one of the most successful and exemplary alliances in the 21st century. Today’s new meeting will be the last 2+2 meeting under the current administrations in the two countries. As the saying goes, every end is just another beginning. And I have no doubt that the R.O.K.-U.S. alliance, based on our accomplishments, will prevail over the pressing challenge of North Korea’s nuclear missile programs and continue to play a central part in promoting peace and stability in the region and beyond.

Just as the tulip poplar John gave me is growing and growing in my gardens, I believe our alliance will only continue to grow stronger and healthier like the evergreen pine trees.

Let me once again, before closing, thank the best diplomat and my dearest friend, John, for the leadership and wisdom he has exerted over the past four years in addressing North Korean issues and elevating our bilateral ties into new heights. I thank him for his special friendship. Thank you.

MR KIRBY: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Thanks. Mr. Secretary, on Syria, senior U.S. and Russian officials are meeting today in Geneva. Has any progress been made in those talks towards a ceasefire? And can you trust the Russians to stay true to their word given that a senior NATO diplomat just said Moscow is launching its largest naval deployment since the end of the Cold War and may launch its final assault on Aleppo in the next two weeks?

Separately, North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests, four of them on President Obama’s watch. What, if anything, can the U.S. do to deter Pyongyang from carrying out additional nuclear tests?

And Mr. Minister, Donald Trump has said that he is open to countries like South Korea and Japan having their own nuclear weapons. What do you think of that idea?

SECRETARY KERRY: Lucky you. (Laughter.) So with respect to the meetings that are taking place in Geneva, they are taking place right now and I have not had a chance yet to catch up to the team in the aftermath of today’s session, which is the first day that there’s been a discussion with the Russians directly at the table. But I would say this: I’m not approaching this with a great high sense of expectation, and nothing is based on trust. There’s absolutely nothing we’re looking for that would be based on trust. This is just a basic bargain. Are you willing to do this and are you willing to do this? And if you both act simultaneously to do the same things, maybe you can get something to happen.

But let me just make it clear with respect to the Russian strategy and what is happening in Syria. Every bomb that’s dropped by Russia and the Assad regime is radicalizing more and more people. When you see children being killed and women, innocent civilians, an entire community being destroyed by these bombs, with an insensitivity to that consequence, just blithely throwing out there, “Oh, it’s war, it’s war, so this is what happens – ” no, that is not what has to happen in every war or any war. That is not the way we wage war, where we have the highest standards of determination of whether or not there are civilians present, or what the collateral damage would be. And in fact, some people chafe under the restraints that have been put on our rules of engagement.

But the Russians don’t have those rules. The only thing they talk about is dropping bombs, not a selective, discriminant – discriminating kind of operation, which you could run with a truly competent and effective military if you want to work out how you preserve innocent life and still go after the enemy. There are ways to do that – plenty of them – and everybody knows that.

So what’s happening right now, I have to say, is that if there is a massive upgrading of the number of bombs being dropped, that will not change the fundamental dynamics of this war. If they destroy most of Aleppo in order to take it, what will that taking produce? Will it change the attitude of the people who have been driven out and the people who have been radicalized? No. They’ll be even more determined to seek revenge, and even less inclined to come to the table to negotiate with a hardening of their attitude about the potential of talks because they’ve seen them be blown away time and time again by the greater readiness and willingness to go drop bombs.

If Russia and Assad succeed in taking Aleppo, the fundamental dynamic of this war does not change. If you don’t have a political settlement, you can’t have peace. And so Russia needs to understand this is not making things better; it’s making things worse. And we have put on the table an opportunity for Russia to make a different choice. A simple choice. If they will in fact have a legitimate ceasefire and stop the bombing, then you can work with people on the ground in order to be able to separate the genuine terrorists from people who are willing to live by the ceasefire. But every time they drop a bomb on people who have joined the ceasefire, they break the ceasefire and thereby create even greater difficulties to try to find peace.

So let there be no doubt about the responsibility here. Russia can make a different choice. Assad could make a different choice. Russia could make Assad make a different choice by making it clear that their participation on his behalf is conditioned on his readiness to live by better standards. That’s how simple this really is.

So I know there are ships sailing and a big forceful demonstration, and they may put that force to use. They may well. But the world will make its judgment about what they choose to do. And the world will hold people accountable who violate the laws and standards of modern warfare, as crazy as that sometimes sounds, and I know it does.

So I urge Russia to sit at this table in Geneva and be serious about finding a simple way, which we are offering, to make sure that those who are genuinely terrorists are in fact separated out, isolated, and that people who are willing to live by the ceasefire are respected for their willingness to live by the ceasefire. And if we do that, then we can indeed move to take other steps to end this senseless war that has gone on already for far too long with far too many innocent people being killed. So my hope is that that’s what will happen.

Now, with respect to the North Korea and the tests that they have already undertaken, what can we do, is your question. The answer is very simple: We will up and energize those three things that we have already been doing and put greater pressure, put greater diplomacy to work, and put greater deterrence to work, so that in every case we will underscore the futility of what Kim Jong-un and North Korea are pursuing.

Now, with respect to the question of diplomacy, we are working with China. We are working even with Russia, even as we have differences in other arenas. We’re working with Russia, with the Republic of Korea, with Japan, and ourselves to figure out the ways in which we can try to change the current equation in order to try to get a negotiation that is legitimate on the subject of managing this challenge of nuclear weapons.

On deterrence, we have made it clear that we would deploy THAAD as rapidly as possible and we will do whatever else is necessary in order to make sure that our allies and the United States of America are protected against the threat that Kim Jong-un presents.

And finally, on the question of pressure, we will and are right now negotiating additional measures of sanctions at the United Nations, discussing how to deal with the livelihood loophole that’s in the last resolution, so that the coal that has been coming out of North Korea, providing them with revenues that they should not be entitled to, that we change that. Because it’s obviously being abused. Why is it being abused? Because the greatest amount of coal and the greatest amount of revenue historically has just passed between China and North Korea. And that is hardly putting in place the kinds of sanctions that ought to be in place.

So we’re going to continue to move on those fronts, because they are entirely preferable, obviously, to the military choice, which we have again and again said is a last resort and only as a matter of defensive measure to protect our nations. And our hope is that we can obviously change this dynamic.

FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: (Via interpreter) Let me address the question in Korean. South Korea is a member of the non-proliferation treaty. We are a party to the NPT, and last year the new civil nuclear cooperation agreement between our two nations went into force last year, so we are at the forefront when it comes to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. And as was mentioned by President Park Geun-hye on a number of occasions, a nuclear-free Korean peninsula is one of the goals of our policies on the part of the Korean Government.

As such, Korea is one of the most exemplary nuclear-free countries and when it comes to the ever-mounting missile and nuclear threats of North Korea, regarding how to pressure North Korea against this threat is something that we are paying the greatest amount of attention to. It is time for us to exert greater efforts between our two nations, the R.O.K. and the U.S., and we will engage in stronger partnership and efforts so that we can press North Korea in all dimensions. In particular, regarding the missile and nuclear threats posed by North Korea during our meeting today, through the establishment of a high-level group that we agreed to establish during the meeting that will deal with extended deterrence, I believe that we’ll be able to reduce the concerns on the part of the people concerning this nuclear threat. Thank you.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Yes, my name is Kim Jun-ge from JKVC. My question goes to Minister Yun first. When I read the joint statement today as was mentioned by you, you agreed to establish a high-level discussion group on extended deterrence. And this is my question: How is it different from another high-level consultation group that you already had in place and how frequently do you believe that this meeting will take place? Do you have a specific blueprint? And of course I know that it is meaningful to agree to establish this kind of mechanisms; however, regarding the threat of North Korea, if you look at the strategic assets of the U.S., I believe that some people are raising the need to deploy such a strategic assets closer to the Korean peninsula, and I believe that this could be discussed during the SCM meeting tomorrow. I wonder whether you have discussed this same issue during your 2+2 meeting today.

And my next question goes to Secretary Kerry. Recently, the U.S. Government announced sanctions against Hongxiang Group of China because it had dealings with North Korea. I believe that a lot of people are raising the need for the so-called secondary boycott and I wonder what the U.S. Government position is on this matter. Are you willing to (inaudible) and introduce the secondary boycott immediately or are you willing to wait and see how the things go in the UN Security Council? Or do you believe that this secondary boycott is a matter that you need to address in a – in a longer-term perspective – from a longer-term perspective?

FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: (Via interpreter) Let me address the first question first. We agreed to establish a new 2+2 high-level group, and this new group is different from the three existing mechanism on the economy and North Korea and so forth. Between existing – between our two nations there was a vice-minister-level consultative body and there was another strategic committee, but the one that we are agreeing to establish is at a higher level. And so far, we have focused our consultations on diplomatic – on military matters, excuse me. But as we move forward with this new body, we are going to address more wider array of measures, including diplomatic measures and extended deterrence. And regarding the agenda of this new meeting, we will have to see how things go as our working-level staffs thrashes out the terms of reference. I believe that this will be a new strategic mechanism for both of our nations.

And regarding the permanent deployment of the U.S. strategic assets close to the Korean peninsula, I understand that there will – matter will be taken up by the SCM participants tomorrow, so I will not touch upon that issue myself today. Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: So you asked whether or not a secondary boycott would be a longer-term or something that we would do at this particular moment. Let me frame it a little differently. I would say it is not longer-term, but it is also not at this current moment what we are seeking. But it is not off the table as an option for the United States and our allies. We have indeed sanctioned a couple of individual entities that were very specifically engaged in the transfer of proliferation items or facilitating proliferation itself by virtue of the role that they played in the finance regarding North Korea’s program. And we will continue to look very, very carefully at who is doing what and to hold people accountable.

But at this point, I would not call it a secondary boycott. I would call it a selective approach while we hope that people will make wiser choices and there will be a greater level of enforcement. But we’re serious about this, and we need everybody to be serious about this. And we need to recognize that thus far, the level of pressure has not been sufficient to change the calculation, and therefore we have to increase it. Remember that even with Iran it took a period of time to build the capacities, and it may be that we have to undertake the same kind of effort here, which would become much broader. And we’ll see where we go over the course – our first choice is to have a full measure of cooperation. And frankly, our first choice would be also to have a serious conversation at a negotiating table that makes the region safer and actually allows for North Korea to meet the needs of its people, which is not happening today.

And so increasingly I think over the days ahead, even with the transition to a new administration taking place in the next months, I am absolutely confident without any question whatsoever that whoever is president of the United States, they’re going to have to be and will be very, very focused on this particular challenge, which is one of the most serious that we face globally.

MR KIRBY: Thank you all. That concludes the press conference. Thank you.