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DoD News Briefing with Secretary Rumsfeld and South Korean Minister of National Defense Yoon Kwang-Ung at the Pentagon

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
October 20, 2006 1:45 PM EDT
(Note: Minister Yoon Kwang-Ung's remarks are through interpreter.)

SEC. RUMSFELD: Good afternoon, folks. I'd like to welcome General Lee, who's the senior Republic of Korea military official here, and General B.B. Bell, who's the Joint Forces commander in Korea for the United States and for the alliance, and Admiral “Fox” Fallon, who is the Pacific commander. And I certainly want to welcome Minister Yoon to the Pentagon again. We're delighted you're here.

We've just concluded the 38th security consultative meeting. This is a meeting that is particularly significant given North Korea's most recent action. Our delegations discussed a wide range of issues regarding the alliance, including measures to maintain and increase defense preparedness. We also discussed the realignment and transition of command relationships of U.S. forces in the Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea's commitment in the global war on terror and its deployment of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and North Korea's defiance of the international community.

Our alliance, now more than 50 years old, was forged and tested in the first years of the Cold War. Now, as then, the United States of America is committed to the defense of the Republic of Korea. The alliance remains strong and it's important to the interests of both of our countries, as well as Northeast Asia.

Mr. Yoon and I discussed North Korea's recent nuclear test and the ongoing missile programs. The United States reaffirms its firm commitment to the Republic of Korea, including continuation of the extended deterrence offered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella, consistent with the Nuclear Defense Treaty. We have expressed this commitment in every communique since 1978, and that commitment has sent a clear signal for over three decades. And thus, the commitment is as solid today as it was when it was first stated.

Mr. Yoon.

MIN. YOON: I'm Yoon Kwang-ung, the minister of National Defense for the Republic of Korea. Today's meeting with Secretary Rumsfeld represents my fifth meeting with him. And of all our discussions so far, I think today's meeting has the most importance and significance.

This morning, Secretary Rumsfeld and I presided over the 38th Republic of Korea-United States Security Consultative Meeting and had insightful and productive discussions on the security issues of our two countries. In order to manage the domestic and international situation precipitated by North Korea's nuclear test to stability, during today's talks, Secretary Rumsfeld and I reaffirmed the United States defense commitments to the Republic of Korea, including the provision of cover under its nuclear umbrella. We also discussed the measures the Republic of Korea and the United States can take with relation to the North Korean situation.

Furthermore, Secretary Rumsfeld and I reconfirmed our concurrence on the wartime operational control transition issue. We also discussed the timeline to carry out the road map of the ROK-U.S. command relationship study, which includes the transition of wartime operational control.

Other topics of discussion included the Yongsan Relocation Plan, the realignment of the United States Forces Korea and the Republic of Korea's defense reforms, among other main military issues, as well as the combined defense posture of our two countries. Furthermore, I expressed my gratitude at Secretary Rumsfeld's efforts to have the Yongsan Relocation Plan issue resolved.

Today's meeting, held at a time when the U.N. Security Council's resolution regarding North Korea is in implementation, was an opportunity to showcase the solidarity of the ROK-U.S. alliance at home and abroad, as it was a valuable opportunity to share our thoughts and the future oriented development of the ROK-U.S. alliance.

I would like to thank once again Secretary Rumsfeld for conducting today's meeting very successfully.

Thank you.

SEC. RUMSFELD: We -- what we might do is, we'll try to alternate between the Korean press and the U.S. press. Do you want to start, Bob?

Q Mr. Secretary, given the continuing, even escalating violence in Iraq, do you see viable alternatives to the present course? And are there indeed options on the table now to change course?

SEC. RUMSFELD: The situation in Iraq has changed over the years and evolved, not surprisingly. And the commanders there are constantly adjusting their tactics and techniques and procedures, just as the enemy has a brain and makes adjustments as well.

We -- they are always revealing the situation. And there's nothing that I can add at this point, other than I -- General Pace and I had our meeting this morning with John Abizaid and General Casey for about an hour, on a secure video. And I think -- today's Friday? I think tomorrow we're going to have another one of our regular meetings where General Abizaid and General Casey and I and Steve Hadley and the president and the vice president have a regular session where we -- I think this is the third or fourth of them -- where we are updated and review the circumstance and discuss the way forward. So it's nothing unusual.

We've expected the violence to come up during Ramadan, as has been indicated over some time. It has in previous years. And it is higher than it has been, and it's certainly something that General Casey is addressing.

Some from the Korean side? Yes, sir.

Q I'm a reporter of Korean Broadcasting System. I have questions to Secretary Rumsfeld and Minister Yoon. First, Secretary --

SEC. RUMSFELD: Questions, plural?

Q Yes, but just one --

SEC. RUMSFELD: We try to keep it down to one each so that others get a chance as well.

Q Okay. You remarked on extended deterrence with providing nuclear umbrella. Could you give us more detail about nuclear umbrella?

SEC. RUMSFELD: We've not completed our communique, but I believe, Mr. Minister, that at least at the moment, the communique has exactly the same words that we have had for many, many years now with respect to the nuclear umbrella, and I wouldn't want to be able to expand beyond that. Our office can give you the last year's communique, and I think it will be very close, if not identical.

Q/MIN. YOON: Not the same -- (off mike).

SEC. RUMSFELD: With respect to the nuclear umbrella it's the same, but there are many other things that are different in the communique, of course.

Q Secretary Rumsfeld?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Yes?

Q Can you tell us how the events in Amarah over the past 24 hours do not suggest that the strategy of clear, hold and build could be failing? Because we have a city now that apparently is under no one's control but the Mahdi Army. We saw similar images yesterday from Ramadi. At this point -- you mentioned the tactics being adjusted, but what about the strategy? Wouldn't that strategy appear at the very least to be in question at this point?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I do not know -- I've been in meetings and I don't know what the precise status is, but my understanding is that the Iraqi security forces may be back in control of the area. (To staff) Does anyone know that for sure?

In any event, regardless of whether or not they are, I think the premise of your question is not necessarily correct. I say that because all along, we've indicated that we are developing capabilities in Iraq in terms of their governance, their economic progress and their security progress.

And when they develop that ability to govern themselves or to provide for their own security, responsibilities are passed to them. For the most part, they've been able to fulfill them, but there have been other instances where they have not, in which case we've had to go back in and assist them, and then pass it back to them at a later date. It is never going to be a straight, smooth, steady path. And this may happen in the future. We've been passing over some of the divisions for the command of the Ministry of Defense; we've passed over some provincial areas to the governance and the security of the Iraqis. One of those might have to be retrieved at some point, if it doesn't go well. And then you fix it and then pass it back again.

The ambassador and General Casey are currently working with the Iraqi government to develop a set of projections as to when they think they can pass off various pieces of responsibility. And there's no doubt in my mind but that some of those projections we won't make; it will be later, or even earlier in some instances. And in some cases, once we meet the projection, we may have to go back and do it again, if it doesn't work simply because --

Q Would that amount to a strategic miscalculation or a strategic error, when you determine that a city like Amarah is ready for the Iraqis to control it, and the Brits withdraw and the Iraqis are not ready to control the city?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I think the last thing in the world you'd call it is a strategic error. You may make a judgment that's incorrect with respect to a specific set of responsibilities, and you may then have to go in and assist them. And that might even not be a misjudgment, it might because the enemy said, "Well, fair enough. They've passed that over to the Iraqi forces, let's focus on that, increase the effort against them, and see if we can't take it away from them, so that the press of the world will notice that we've taken it away."

They're smart, the enemy. They've got brains, and they use them.

The biggest mistake would be to not pass things over to the Iraqis, create a dependency on their part, and instead of developing strength and capacity and competence. And it's critically important that -- it's their country. They're going to have to govern it, they're going to have to provide security for it, and they're going to have to do it sooner rather than later. And that means they've got to take pieces of it as we go along, even though someone may inaccurately characterize it as a strategic mistake, which it wouldn't be at all.

A question from Korea. Yes?

Q (Through interpreter.) I understand that this morning you discussed the issue of wartime operational control transition, and I understand that fundamentally you are in agreement in principle. I'm wondering if there was any closing of the gaps in terms of the ideas on when it should happen.

MIN. YOON: The wartime operational control transition issue is one that is very important for the Republic of Korea. So we had considerable discussion on this topic in the morning, and we will need to continue discussions into the afternoon before we can have a specific answer.

Q A question for the minister.

STAFF: Yes, go ahead.

Q Sir, what is your view -- how close do you think North Korea is to conducting a second underground nuclear test?

How close, and do you think they'll do it?

MIN. YOON: As we did with the first nuclear test, the Republic of Korea and the United States will continue to share intelligence with regards to the possibility of a second nuclear test.

But to my understanding, a recent report has come in that Kim Jong Il has announced that he does not intend to carry out a second nuclear test.

Q Do you believe him?

SEC. RUMSFELD: (Laughs.)

MIN. YOON: But things like this we need to consider, given time.

Q Sir, do you believe Kim Jong Il, sir?

MIN. YOON: I think the answer lies in looking into the past. (Laughter.)

Q Can you say where both sides stand on how much money South Korea should pay to support U.S. troops on the continent -- excuse me, on the peninsula? And lastly, what's the sticking point? What needs to be resolved with wartime operational control?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Our alliance is in both countries' interest, and we believe that a partnership of that type should be roughly in equal in terms of the burden sharing.

Q Both sides have agreed 50/50?

SEC. RUMSFELD: No, you asked what I thought. I don't speak for the other ministers.

Q Mr. Minister, would you like to talk?

MIN. YOON: Korea has been contributing to the defense costs since the beginning of 1990s, and our contribution towards the defense costs has been on a steady upwardly curve with the exception of this year and last year.

And so in consideration of these views, I hope that the negotiations will come to a smooth conclusion this year.

SEC. RUMSFELD: With respect to the differences on operational control, they're roughly, as you've read, that we continue to believe that the Republic of Korea has the capability to assume after 55 years, the 10th largest economy on the face of the Earth with a very capable military, has the ability to assume responsibility for war- time operational control, and in the -- roughly in the time frame of 2009. The difference has been between that and 2012, and that's where the discussion's taken place.

MIN. YOON: The opinion of the Korean Ministry of National Defense as well as the Korean public is that 2012 is the best year in terms of having the perfect conditions for security on the Korean peninsula.

Q Mr. Secretary, can you just say --

SEC. RUMSFELD: I just did an American. Let me -- let me -- I'll come back to you.

Yes.

Q (Through interpreter.) As I understand it, you, Secretary Rumsfeld, that in the joint statement the same phraseology with regard to the American provision of the nuclear umbrella will be made in this year's joint statement. And I understand that the Korean delegation asked for a different phraseology this year. I'm wondering why it is that the same phraseology will be used in this year's joint statement.

SEC. RUMSFELD: I guess I'm not in a position to respond very extensively. We've had language in the communique for a very long time. It's specific with respect to the nuclear umbrella. I don't recall hearing any proposals to change it, and I haven't seen any language that would be different, nor can I imagine how it could be improved upon.

MIN. YOON: This morning we had extensive discussions about the nuclear umbrella issue, as we did during yesterday's MCM meeting.

So I hope that when the joint statement comes out eventually, it will have different language from years past.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, do you? (Laughter.)

MIN. YOON: (In English.) I think so.

SEC. RUMSFELD: I see. Apparently the staffs are still discussing these things. And apparently someone came out of the room and advised you before my staff advised me. (Laughter.) You apparently have better sources than I do. (Laughs.)

Jamie?

Q Mr. Secretary, can you just say plainly whether you believe a course correction is needed in Iraq or not?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I think the way I'll leave it is I'd prefer to give my advice to the president rather than you, Jamie. I'm old- fashioned.

Q Don't you think the American public deserves to know whether you're considering making major adjustments rather than just refining tactics?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I mean, no one on the National Security Council or a commander in the field makes a decision and sets a course and then puts their brain at rest. All of those participants continually review and think and analyze, and that's why you've seen so many adjustments as we've gone through the past period.

Okay, what about the last question here from Korea somewhere?

Q (Through interpreter.) I would like to ask Secretary Rumsfeld whether during this morning's meetings a discussion took place on the possibility of Korea taking part in PSI and MD efforts.

And I would like to ask for your opinions on this issue.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Possibly I should ask the gentleman in the middle back here before I try to respond, but -- (chuckles).

This subject was discussed. We were the initiator of the Proliferation Security Initiative. I think there are now maybe 70 countries participating. And clearly the programs of Iran and North Korea punctuate the importance of counterproliferations efforts of that type.

And the Republic of Korea's an important country, and needless to say, we've expressed the hope that they will decide to participate.

Thank you very much, folks.

Q Thank you both.

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