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Joint Press Briefing with Secretary of Defense Cohen and MOD of the Republic of Korea Chun Yong-Taek

Presenters: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and MOD of the Republic of Korea Chun Yong-Taek
July 09, 1998 11:15 AM EDT

Secretary Cohen: Let me take this occasion to welcome Minister Chun to the Pentagon on his first visit as Minister of Defense. We have a good deal in common. We both served in our respective legislatures, we both served on committees that dealt with defense and intelligence, and we both share a commitment to work together to keep the Republic of Korea free and strong in the face of continuing threats from North Korea.

During our meetings we discussed a wide range of topics including the importance of our strong defense alliance and I would like to thank South Korea for maintaining its high level of host nation support in the face of its current economic problems. This support is crucial to our operations in Korea.

We're going to continue to work with South Korea to find mutually acceptable ways to reduce the burdens that have been caused by the changes in the exchange rates.

We also discussed the threat that North Korea poses, despite the collapse of its economy, and the importance of keeping the United States and South Korean forces strong and ready as we pursue reconciliation talks about the Korean Peninsula through the four party talks.

The United States and the Republic of Korea have been partners for peace and stability for the past 50 years. I can assure you after this meeting that that partnership is not only strong, but has never been stronger.

Minister Chun: Today Secretary of Defense Cohen and I have successfully concluded ministerial talks between our two nations. I am pleased that we were able to discuss issues of mutual interest between the Republic of Korea and the United States in a frank and open atmosphere for the first time since the start of the new Korean government. I especially place greater significance on the opportunity to coordinate policy concerning defense based upon the spirit agreed during last month's summit meeting.

From the talks we had today we were able to not only strengthen the ROK-US countermeasures through the overall review of the combined defense posture just after the submarine incursion, but also provided an excellent opportunity to build personal trust and hold views on the situation of the Korean Peninsula prior to the 30th security consultative meeting which is scheduled be held in autumn in Seoul this year.

Secretary Cohen and I share the same view: that in order to increase stability and peace on the Korean Peninsula that ROK-US close cooperation is more important than ever before. Other issues that we shared are views on the importance of ROK-US cooperation and an evaluation of the international relationship of the ever-changing Northeast Asian region.

I explained to him the situation that we face on the Peninsula and feel that we have gained understanding in this field. I will have more discussions in the following months to come.

Lastly, I would like to sincerely thank the understanding and cooperation given to us by Secretary Cohen and the U.S. Defense Department officials concerning our financial crisis. I hope that in the future on the basis of the spirit of our alliance, the relationship between our two countries will further be strengthened.

Q: Can I ask you, Secretary Cohen, to comment on reports that North Korea has deployed its No Dong missile, and if so, when? And what concerns, if any, do you have about its deployment? I'd also like Minister Chun to comment.

Secretary Cohen: What we can say is that North Korea has completed its development of the No Dong missile, but I am not in a position to comment in terms of when or where or how there has been a deployment of the missile itself.

It's of concern, obviously, should it be deployed, and we will watch it very closely.

Minister Chun: My answer is on the same line as the answer given to you by Secretary Cohen. We know they have completed development of the missile and they are able to field these weapons when necessary. But when and where they will do this is a question to us also.

Q: Given the growing concern with the proliferation of short range missiles, both North Korea, also Iran, are you concerned, Secretary Cohen, that seven years after the Persian Gulf War the United States still doesn't have an effective defense against theater missiles?

Secretary Cohen: First of all, we do have an upgraded and increased capability as far as the Patriot missile is concerned. Secondly, we are working aggressively to develop theater missile defenses. We are certainly experiencing some difficulties as far as the THAAD program is concerned, but this is not to be, it's not unexpected. Whenever you're trying to develop a system as complicated as the TMD systems that we are looking at then we can expect failures. But we are aggressively pursuing it. We hope to meet the scheduled deployment dates for these other systems.

I would point out secondly, that in addition to developing theater missile defenses, we also have a very strong deterrent to any country that would seek to attack U.S. forces or those of our allies, that they would be met with a very substantial response. So as we are developing our theater missile defenses, we have in place a very strong deterrent as well.

Q: My question is directed to Secretary Cohen. Does the United States have the technical capacity to monitor and detect under water submarine activities? If so, does the United States also have the willingness to help South Korea fend off the kind of incident that happened recently off the South Korean coast?

Secretary Cohen: As a general proposition we have the capability of monitoring submarine activity, certainly. But we also share, have a very strong sharing of intelligence with our South Korean friends and partners. So we have a sharing arrangement which I think is satisfactory. I think the Minister would agree with that.

As far as smaller submarines and the type of activity you may be referring to, then that obviously presents a great deal of challenge to any intelligence service. But whatever information we have we share as it pertains to South Korea's defense capabilities.

The type of submarine activity you're talking about presents unique challenges, and I don't know that any country is in a position to follow and track individual small submarine activity on coastal waters. But in terms of our overall capability as far as tracking and monitoring open ocean type of submarine activity, that's something quite different. But in terms of this activity with respect to South

Korea, that requires a good deal of human intelligence and other types of mechanisms, and that is something we share very closely with South Korea.

Q: Mr. Secretary, there's a report that there's been an agreement with Lockheed Martin on a schedule for THAAD, that if the schedule isn't met, the tests aren't successful, the company would be fined heavily. Can you comment on that report? Do you think that will be able to produce a successful test? That type of pressure?

Secretary Cohen: I'm not in a position to comment on the report itself. We're obviously concerned with the recent failures of the THAAD program and the deficiencies, the need to identify what those deficiencies are so they aren't replicated in the future, but I'm really not in a position to comment on that report.

Q: Shortly after President Kim Dae Jung's visit to Washington recently, one of the think tanks in Washington held a press conference, announced recommendations on Asia policy. And one that concerned the Korean Peninsula included a call for a gradual partial pullout over a seven year period, particularly combat troops, leaving other units intact. Along the same line the former Prime Minister Hosikawa of Japan, has written an article in Foreign Affairs recently saying that he believes that Japanese people really do wish the Americans would gradually pull out.

Secretary Cohen: Out of Korea or out of Japan?

Q: Out of Japan. I know you have spoken many times on the need for continued presence of U.S. troops in Asia, and would you like to comment on the proposition?

Secretary Cohen: First of all, I did not see the report that was filed by the think tank. I'm not even sure which think tank filed such a...

Q: ...Harrison. It's not a major one.

Q: ...economic strategy.

Secretary Cohen: It's not a major one, so you're citing a marginal one? (Laughter) But it made major news perhaps in Korea?

Q: Not yet.

Secretary Cohen: Okay. Well, perhaps I shouldn't comment and then it won't have any impact whatsoever.

I believe that our policy of being forward deployed has contributed enormously to the stability and prosperity in the Asia Pacific region. I believe President Kim indicated that even if there should be a unification of the two Koreas in the future, that American presence would be welcome. This is something that I think we have to continue to remind everyone.

We are forward deployed in various parts of the globe, but we are there at the request and with the consent of the host government. The host government in this particular case, the Republic of Korea, believes it's in their interest and our interest to have our combat forces there working together and sharing responsibility for the security of South Korea. We think that should continue. And that should continue even if there is, again, a unification of the two Koreas.

With respect to Japan, I would reiterate, we are there at the request of the Japanese government, with the support of the Japanese people. We believe that has contributed enormously to the stability of the entire region. Frankly, I would find it somewhat surprising if the Japanese people no longer wanted the United States to maintain a presence. I would think that under the circumstances they would want us even more rather than less, in terms of maintaining stability in a region that could be unstable without our presence.

I've seen no evidence on the part of the Japanese people or the Japanese government to say that the United States shouldn't continue its presence. There are concerns raised by people in Okinawa. We have tried to address those concerns by reducing the so-called size of our footprint by reducing some of the training operations that take into account the concerns of the Okinawan people, but I daresay I have not seen any evidence whatsoever that the Japanese people or the government would want to see American troops leave. I think that would create a vacuum that would have to be filled, and maybe filled in a way that would not enhance stability, but detract from it.

So I've seen no evidence to support either the urging on the part of the Japanese people or the South Korean government or the South Korean people seeking to have a reduction in the size and capability of the U.S. forces.

Just imagine the length of my response had it been a major publication's editors. (Laughter)

Press: Thank you.