Joint Press Conference with Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Republic of Korea Minister of National Defense Kim Jang-soo in Seoul, Korea
(Note: Minister Kim Jang-soo’s remarks are through interpreter.)
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and Gentlemen, the Defense Minister of ROK and the U.S. Defense Secretary are entering the room. We will now begin the joint press conference with the ROK/U.S. Defense Ministers. The press conference will proceed with opening statements by both ministers followed by a Q&A session. First, the ROK Minister of Defense Kim Jang-soo will deliver his opening remarks.
MIN KIM: This morning Secretary Gates and I presided over the 39th Security Consultative Meeting between the United States of America and the Republic of Korea and discussed in a constructive and in-depth manner the security issues of mutual concern to our two countries.
During today’s meeting I explained the results of the recent Inter-Korean summit and detailed the plans for this month’s proposed Inter-Korean defense ministerial talks to Secretary Gates. I also requested the United States’ assistance on this matter. The Secretary and I also shared our assessments of the recent security situation on the Korean peninsula. And discussed ways in which we would chart the combined defense posture on the peninsula and how it could be strengthened and enhanced.
Furthermore, Secretary Gates and I had a broad ranging consultation on bilateral security issues such as collaboration on the Global War on Terror, the transition of Wartime Operational Control, and USFK base relocation among others.
In particular through today’s SCM we were able to confirm that our continuing efforts to readjust our alliance have been making sound progress. The Secretary and I were also able to agree that the ROK/U.S. Alliance is developing into a stronger and more robust relationship. Furthermore, we concur on the point that the ROK/U.S. Alliance must maintain a solid combined defense posture for the establishment of peace on the Korean Peninsula and the sustainment of stability in Northeast Asia.
In closing, I would like to state that through our two previous Defense Ministerial talks, Secretary Gates and I successfully worked through several key issues such as the transition of Wartime Operational Control and the return of USFK camps among others. It was a delight to be able to reaffirm with the Secretary the healthy state of our ROK/U.S. relationship.
ANNOUNCER: Next, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will deliver his opening remarks.
SEC GATES: Today, Minister of National Defense Kim and I held the 39th Security Consulting Meeting between the United States and the Republic of Korea. In our meetings, the United States reaffirmed the solidity of its alliance commitments to the Republic of Korea.
Our discussions touched on transformation and realignment of U.S. Forces Korea, measures to increase defense preparedness, and South Korea’s plans to increase its self-defense capabilities.
In particular, we had a good discussion and review of how we are implementing the plan to transition Wartime Operational Control of ROK Forces by 2012. Both sides are dedicated to meeting this commitment and this deadline. This historic change will strengthen our combined deterrence and defense capabilities and strengthen the alliance as a whole. We also discussed the Republic of Korea Troop deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and the contribution of the Republic of Korea to the U.N. mission in Lebanon.
My presence here reflects my government’s concern for developments here on the peninsula and how they affect the rest of the region. The North Korean nuclear and conventional threat remains the focal point of our alliance’s deterrent and defense posture. We urge a swift resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue through the Six-Party Talk process.
I would also like to take this opportunity to convey my appreciation to the men and women who are stationed here as part of U.S. Forces Korea for the important work they do every day.
The alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea is more than a half a century old, yet it remains strong and vibrant reflecting the common values and aspiration of our peoples.
My visit to the ROK National Cemetery was a powerful reminder that it is an alliance formed in blood and shared sacrifice.
Let me finish by expressing my thanks to the government and the people of South Korea for their warmth and hospitality during this visit.
ANNOUNCER: Now we are going to take your questions. Yes, we have a very limited amount of time and will take as many of questions as possible. Please make your question very brief and specific. Direct it to only one minister at a time and please use the microphone. Please raise your hand when you have a question and when you ask a question please let us know the media name and your name.
Q. As the two Ministers stated in their two statements, the security situation on the Korean Peninsula is changing rapidly. Last month, we had the Inter-Korean Summit meeting and this month we will be hosting the Inter-Korean Defense Ministerial meeting. We are also looking at the possibility of a declaration to the end of the Korean War in the next year, and North Korea has already taken steps to begin the disabling process of their nuclear program.
My question is to Secretary Gates, I would like to ask Secretary Gates -- what he considers to be the role of the United States Forces Korea following the establishment of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
I would also like to ask whether there is a possibility, depending on the progress reached through the Six-Party Talks, that the numbers of troops of United States Forces Korea can be reduced.
SEC GATES: The United States will remain committed to the security of the Republic of Korea in keeping with our alliance that is now more than 50 years old. The level of our troops will depend on the security situation and on our joint appraisal with the Republic of Korea of the need for those troops. It is my expectation that we will continue to play a role on the security of the peninsula for a long time, to include beyond 2012, in accordance with agreements with the Republic of Korea.
Q. Thank you, it is a question from the New York Times. Secretary and Mr. Minister, North Korea is being described by American officials as being very “cooperative” this week in the effort and mission to disable its nuclear complex. Can you assess today whether North Korea is less of a threat? Likewise, is the peninsula now more stable and to Mr. Secretary, in particular, when should North Korea be removed from the U.S. terrorist list?
MIN KIM: Although it is true that North Korea has begun the process of disabling its nuclear program, we cannot say that the threat from North Korea has reduced tangibly or discernibly. We don’t have any intelligence to indicate that sort of conclusion. In order for us to change our view of the situation, we would need very real and very tangible military intelligence to that effect, but as of this moment, we don’t have any such intelligence. What is certain is that North Korea is continuing to pursue the acquisition of asymmetrical weapons. So therefore, we cannot conclude that the threat from North Korea has been reduced.
SEC GATES: Seems to me that we would welcome and do welcome the beginning of disablement of nuclear facilities in the North. The next step is a declaration of all nuclear facilities and activities, so there are several steps in this process and of course the objective is the de-nuclearization of North Korea. So, we are started on a path but we are far from reaching our destination.
In terms of North Korea being taken off the terrorist list, there are specific criteria that are involved there and only when they have satisfied those criteria will they be removed.
Q. I would like to address my question to both the Minister of National Defense and the Secretary of Defense. To the Minister of National Defense -- I would like to point out that during the Inter-Korea Summit meeting last month, there was a mention of establishing a peace cooperation zone in the Western Sea and it has become a very hot topic of discussion in Korea because of its implication for the redrawing of the NLL. I would like to ask the Minister whether there was any discussion of the NLL with his meeting with Secretary Gates this morning. And to Secretary Gates, I would like to ask what the U.S. Government’s position is with regard to the NLL issue in Korea.
MIN KIM: In accordance with the agreement reached at the Inter-Korea Summit meeting between the two governments of the Koreas, there will be a discussion of establishing a joint fishing area in accordance with our efforts to establish a peace cooperation zone on the West Sea during my forthcoming Defense Ministerial talks with the Minister of the Armed Forces of North Korea. But in dealing with the issue of establishing a joint fishing zone in the West Sea, although the NLL will come into play, there will be absolutely no question as to the possibility of redrawing the NLL. And this is primarily because the NLL was a line established by the Commander of the United Nations Command and it is my personal opinion that there is no room for negotiation with regard to redrawing these lines.
The position that I will adopt during the Inter-Korean Defense Ministerial talks will be that in accordance with the Inter-Korean basic agreement, the question of the NLL will be dealt as part of a broad discussion of building military confidence measures between the two Koreas. And with regard to the discussion of the NLL during my meeting with Secretary Gates this morning, I merely explained to the Secretary the position and feeling of the Korean public with regard to the question of the NLL.
SEC GATES: As the Minister had just indicated, we did not discuss the NLL in any detail this morning. I would say that the policy of the United States is that NLL is a matter to be worked out among the Nations involved in the United Nation Command.
Q. Yokip Reason from the Wall Street Journal. You both indicated that North Korea appears to have begun dismantling its known nuclear sites, at the same time, Israel, backed by many American and European security analysis, contends that North Korea has been actively proliferating nuclear technology to Syria. I would like to ask you if your two governments believe that North Korea continues to share nuclear technology with nations like Syria despite dismantling of its own program. And Secretary Gates, do you believe that the Israeli strike on what Israel claims to be a nuclear site in Syria was justified?
SEC GATES: With regard to whether the government of Israel believes that North Korea is proliferating nuclear material to Syria and whether it continues that activity, I think that is a matter to be addressed to the government of Israel.
Q. I am sorry, Secretary Gates, I meant if the U.S. Government believes that and not if the Israeli Government believes it.
SEC GATES: I think that involves intelligence matters that we don’t discuss.
ANNOUNCER: Now we are short on time, so now we will take the last question.
Q. My question pertains to the responsibilities and authorities of the United Nations Command. To Secretary Gates, I would like to ask whether following the transition of Wartime Operational Control and the disestablishment of the Combined Forces Command, if the responsibilities for maintaining the armistice as well as dealing with issues that pertain within the boundaries of the DMZ will be shifted to the ROK Armed Forces. And I would like to ask you, Secretary Gates, whether any specific road map has been drawn out for the United Nations Command following the transition of OPCON and the disestablishment of CFC?
SEC GATES: I think that the road map is actually in the process of being worked out. That is part of the reason that we have a several year process here leading up to 2012 to work out these matters. The two sides, the United Nations Command / United States and the government of the Republic of Korea have been talking about the importance of in the transition and after the transition of the government of the Republic of Korea assuming responsibilities for maintaining the armistice and we are clearing moving in that direction.
ANNOUNCER: This concludes the joint press conference today. Thank you very much.
[The Press Conference concluded at 1413 Korean Standard Time, 7 November 2007.]