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Joint Press Conference with Secretary Cohen and Defense Minister Cho

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
August 03, 1999 12:00 PM EDT

Joint Press Conference with Defense Minister Cho at the Ministry of National Defense Club, Seoul, South Korea

Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, Secretary Cohen and Minister Cho. We will now begin the joint press conference of the ROK and U.S. Defense Ministry. The press conference will proceed with opening statements by both ministers, followed by a Q and A session. First, Minister Cho will deliver his opening remarks.

Cho: Good afternoon. Today, Secretary Cohen and I held frank discussion on a range of pending issues between the Republic of Korea and the United States. Although this was my first meeting with Secretary Cohen since I assumed my new post as Defense Minister, and since I spoke to him over the phone during the West Sea incident, I was able to develop a strong personal bond with him based on mutual confidence. I am very happy to note that, with a common recognition of the security situation in and around the peninsula, we agreed to consult closely and take joint measures to counter the full spectrum of threats posed by North Korea.

In particular, I think it is very meaningful that Secretary Cohen and I had the opportunity to review our combined defense posture and to orchestrate our policies on various countermeasures against anticipated events at a time of security uncertainty on the Korean peninsula due to the possibility of additional North Korean provocation in the wake of the West Sea incident, as well as concerns over North Korea's possible missile launch.

I would like to summarize today's meeting as follows:

First, the U.S. pledged to extend a prompt and strong support, as demonstrated during the West Sea incident of June, in case another similar incident occurs.

Second, Korea and the U.S. agreed to exert joint efforts to deter North Korea from launching another missile, based on the common perception that a missile launch would have serious negative consequences on peace and stability on the peninsula and in the region. In case North Korea proceeds with the launch, Secretary Cohen and I agreed to respond resolutely, mobilizing all available means through consultations between the U.S., Japan and Korea, in order to make North Korea realize that it will have more to lose than gain by way of a missile firing.

Third, we exchanged frank view on Korea's voluntary missile restraint and fully understood the positions of each other. In principle, our two sides shared the view that the current voluntary restraint should be adjusted. For areas of divergence, we decided to continue working-level discussions between experts of our two countries, based on the spirit of alliance.

Finally, Secretary Cohen expressed support towards our North Korea policy, and agreed that the defense authorities of both Korea and the U.S. should jointly tackle various North Korean provocations and threats through close collaboration.

Once again, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Secretary Cohen for paying a visit to Korea despite his busy schedule. I am very pleased that today's meeting served as an opportunity to reconfirm Secretary Cohen's unshakable security commitment towards Korea. Furthermore, this morning I went to Chun Yong Taek, along with Secretary Cohen, to meet our President, Kim Dae Jung, during which we discussed the range of issues that I have just outlined.

Moderator: Next, Secretary Cohen will deliver his opening remarks.

Cohen: Thank you very much, Minister Cho, for hosting this brief but very important visit. The Republic of Korea and the United States maintain an extremely close alliance that's dedicated to preserving peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. This stability allows South Korea to flourish as a democracy with a resilient and resurgent economy.

Our policy toward North Korea can be summarized in three words: deterrence, dialog and determination.

Deterrence based on a force that is well trained, well equipped and well led so they can prevail against any challenges. South Korea's firm and successful response to the North Korean crossing of the Northern Limit Line showed the value of ready forces and strong U.S. - South Korean cooperation.

Second, dialog is designed to resolve problems through cooperation rather than confrontation. This is exactly the aim of the four-party talks, President Kim Dae Jung's policy of engagement and former Secretary Perry's efforts.

Third, determination. Determination to do all that we can to contain North Korea's weapons of mass destruction program and the testing of long range missiles. I know that the government recently established a new nuclear, biological and chemical defense command, and has taken other steps to enhance preparedness against such weapons. This will reduce the risk of any advantage that North Korea might think it could gain by using them.

Right now, North Korea faces an important choice. Pyongyang can take advantage of the opportunities for new economic and political openings, or it can reject these opportunities by launching a new missile and taking other actions that signal a preference for confrontation over cooperation, and isolation over integration with the world.

Whatever course North Korea selects, the United States and the Republic of Korea will maintain a strong reliance based on shared values and close security cooperation.

I would add just a final word. For nearly three years, General John Tilelli has worked hard and successfully to improve cooperation and to strengthen our combined forces. He has distinguished himself during some very difficult times. Soon, General Tilelli is going to be retiring. But, before he does, I want to take this occasion to thank him for the extraordinary contribution he has made to peace and stability.

President Clinton will nominate General Thomas Schwartz, another fine military leader who has served in Korea, to succeed General Tilelli, and I know that General Schwartz agrees with General Tilelli's statement that we achieve strength through alliance."

Let me say that our alliance has never been stronger, and that in large part is also due to General Tilelli's magnificent services to our country and to the security of the region.

Moderator: Now we will have a Q and A session for about 20 minutes. Due to the time limits, it would be appreciated if you would keep your questions short.

We will take a question from the domestic press corps first. Please, raise your hand if you have any questions.

Q: I'm Hwang Dae Il and I'm from the Yon Hap News Agency. I have a question to Minister Cho. The Korean people are very much concerned and alarmed by the potential North Korean launch of another missile. How does the Korean military authority assess such likelihood; and, has North Korea actually assembled a Taepo Dong-2 missile and moved it to the launchers?

Cho: North Korea is known to have been modifying and repairing the infrastructure at its missile base since a couple of months ago, and we believe that they are preparing for another launch.

As to your question of whether the Taepo Dong missiles have been moved to the launch pads, as of now I can only say that North Korea is currently doing their work on the infrastructure.

I don't think it is appropriate for me to go into more detail. I hope you understand.

Whether North Korea fires another missile or not I think solely depends on the will of the North Korean leadership.

North Korea would require considerable time before it actually launches another missile. So, I believe that we will be able to gain prior indications of any imminent launch.

Moderator: Next we'll have a question from the foreign press service.

Q: Minister Cho, Secretary Cohen, good afternoon. My name is John Randle and I'm with the Voice of America Radio.

Mr. Administer, you said in your - in the talks today, the involuntary restraints on South Korea's missile range would be adjusted and, sir, by how much, and where and when do you think the more formal talks will begin on that?

Mr. Cohen, why is the United States hesitant to give this kind of assistance, the increasing the range, to a close ally?

Cohen: Would you like the Minister to go first? I can respond. With respect to the United States' position, we support - strongly support the missile technology control regime. There are some 32 countries who are now subscribed to that in order to cut down as best we can on the proliferation of missile technology. We support South Korea's interest in becoming, certainly, a member of the MTCR, and are working with them now in order to accommodate their needs as far as their missile capability.

Cho: Currently Korea and the US are conducting discussions with regards to the issue of Korea's voluntary missile restraint. At this stage I cannot definitely say when these discussions will be completed, but I expect it to be completed in the not too distant future.

Moderator: Next we'll have a question from the domestic press corps. Please, raise your hand.

Q: I'm Yoo Iong Won, and I'm from the Chosun Ilpo Newspaper and I have questions for Secretary Cohen.

First, are you considering any military measures apart from the diplomatic and economic efforts against North Korea once a missile launch is imminent or after North Korea actually fires a missile; and, if yes, what kind of military measures do you have in mind? For example, we can think of the deployment of US carrier groups to the area around the peninsula for striking the North Korea missile bases or actually intercepting the missiles.

My second question is, Japan says that it will suspend needed support if North Korea goes ahead with its missile testing. What is the position of Korea and the US with regards to this issue?

Cohen: Well, first, with respect to North Korea, we hope that the message is being received by the government in North Korea. As I said, they have an opportunity to have a more cooperative relationship with the Republic of Korea, Japan, the United States, and other countries that, if they choose to reject that opportunity, then there are a number of negative consequences that flow from that. It would not be appropriate for me to try to spell out in advance exactly what those negative implications or consequences might be. But, certainly there would be diplomatic and economic consequences and, beyond that we would have to reserve our judgement in terms of what would be an appropriate measure of response. So, we think that they should understand that there are simply negative consequences that flow from it should they choose to launch another missile.

With respect to the second question, I think it's clear that the agreed framework serves the cause of peace and stability throughout the region, and we would hope that the North Koreans understand this is for their benefit as well, and that they would take action to really remain consistent with maintaining the agreed framework. So, we think it's in the interest that the agreed framework remain in effect, but no one can predict the consequence of what might happen in the event of a missile launch. But, the agreed framework, we think, is beneficial to all concerned.

Moderator: Due to time restraints we will take one last question from the foreign press corps.

Q: Question for Secretary Cohen. I am Pierre Glachant, Agence France Press. What would be the support from the United States if there is another incident in the Western Sea?

Cohen: I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you?

Q: What kind of support will the US give if there is another incident in the West Sea? Thank you.

Cohen: Well, we continue to provide strong support to the Republic of Korea. We believe that any acts of provocation certainly are destabilizing. It has been our experience of working very cooperatively and with strong consultations with the Republic of Korea that we're able to send a strong deterrent message to the North Koreans that they should not engage in such activities. But, our commitment remains solid and in strong support of our friends and allies in the Republic of Korea.

Moderator: This concludes the joint press conference. Thank you very much.

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