Minister Kim: Good afternoon. Secretary Cohen and I had very frank and productive talks yesterday and this morning, during which we discussed a range of issues including the current situation on the Korean Peninsula, cooperation in the wake of Korea's economic crisis and bilateral policy coordination towards managing North Korea this year. I find it very meaningful that Secretary Cohen should visit Korea at this critical juncture when Korea is facing an unprecedented economic situation and, at the same time, awaiting a new administration.
During our talks, Secretary Cohen and I reaffirmed the importance of maintaining our combined defense posture as the pillar of stability on the peninsula. Furthermore, we agreed that our alliance should grow stronger as we cope with these difficult economic challenges. In this regard, Secretary Cohen promised to play an active role in helping Korea overcome its current economic difficulties based on the recognition that security and economy are inevitably intertwined.
Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to Secretary Cohen for taking the time-out from his busy schedule to visit Korea. Secretary Cohen and I met last April in Seoul, and again in December during the SCM. This marks our third meeting in just nine months. Such frequent meetings between the Defense Ministers of our two nations, I believe, is a testimony to our solid alliance. Thank you very much.
Secretary Cohen: Thank you Mr. Kim, and thank you very much for hosting my visit. I think that it is appropriate that we are standing side-by-side just as soldiers have stood side-by-side in defense of the Republic of Korea. Our countries are allied by a commitment to democracy, peace and prosperity.
In my meetings with President Kim Young Sam, president elect Kim Dae Jung, Foreign Minister Yoo (inaudible), I emphasized the United State's determination to stand by the Republic of Korea, in good times and bad. The continued cooperation between our countries is the key to maintaining stability of the Korean Peninsula. And I know that these are difficult times, but they are also very important times, both for Korea and the United States.
I was very impressed by President-elect Kim's determination to solve the current economic problems. The Republic of Korea's economy has many underlying strengths and the United States is working with your government in the IMF to put South Korea back on a sound economic footing so that you can continue your march to greater prosperity. I was also was impressed by President-elect Kim's commitment to maintaining a strong and ready deterrent force despite the economic challenges that you currently are facing. Working together, our forces could overwhelm any attack from the North. Our soldiers are well-trained, they are well-commanded, and well-equipped and we must preserve that advantage. And finally, I welcome the President-elect's support for a strong, enduring, security alliance, including the long-term presence of U.S. soldiers on the peninsula.
Before taking your questions, I would like to say just a word about the soldiers who defend the Republic of Korea. Yesterday I saw American and South Korean soldiers working together along the DMZ, and I watched American soldiers train. These are dedicated professional troops. We should all be grateful for their protecting our freedom.
Q: Has the current Korean government, or the incoming government asked you, or in any way given you an indication that they would like to cut financial support for U.S. troops here and, both of you gentlemen, is the current economic problem – do you think that it will have any effect or possibly delay reunification or completion of the SACO agreement?
Secretary Cohen: I can say based upon my conversations with all of the leaders that I met with this morning, that the government of South Korea intends to maintain the same level of commitment as far as capability is concerned, to maintain the same level of deterrent that we currently have, and we have expressed our interest in working with them and their experts in finding ways in which some organizational changes and structures can be achieved that would allow the same level of commitment to our posture to remain in effect for the forthcoming future; and so there should be no change, and there has been a pledge on behalf of the President-elect to maintain that level of commitment. We will work out ways in which that can be achieved without compromising the confidence, the capability and the force itself to deter any potential aggression by the North.
Secretary Cohen: Well, we have to await the outcome of that. We did not engage in a discussion in terms of what impact that would have – how long it might delay the unification. We did indicate that we are proceeding along two tracks. Number one: that we are committed to maintaining a very strong, deterrent-capable, professional, force that is fully integrated and that will act with coordination and have complete interoperability. That deterrent force will remain as strong in the future as it is today. Secondly, of course, we will continue to promote the four party talks. They should not be viewed as separate, but they are parallel in nature, and so we want to make sure that North Korea does not, by any means, look to the South to see any weakness or a perception of weakness on the part of the South militarily. We believe that will contribute to enhancing the opportunity for a peaceful resolution during the unification talks as we proceed in that fashion.
Minister Kim: Everybody hopes for unification, but it is very difficult to say clearly when that will happen. In my view, our economic problems and the timing for unification are not directly related. I'm firmly convinced that our government's position of gradual and peaceful and continued efforts for unification will continue.
Q: Secretary Cohen, I understand that there was some discussion this morning concerning cost sharing for U.S. forces in Korea, that a working level group might be initiated. Are there any detailed plans on this issue, sir. My second question is: are there any plans to loan to the Republic of Korea any of the so-called 5 billion dollar Military Purchase Fund?
Secretary Cohen: We did have the discussions on ways in which the United States could be helpful in dealing with the cost-sharing arrangement and that we will have experts from the United States meet with experts from the South Korean military and government. But one thing should remain very clear; that the same level of commitment must be maintained. The United States does not seek to take any advantage or to make any profit by way of the differences or disparities in our currencies. But rather, we are finding ways, will seek ways, in which we can work with the South Korean government to achieve, again, that same level of commitment that is in existence today.
Q: Sir, there have been reports by Korean newspapers that the U.S. had prior knowledge of the submarine infiltration on the east coast two years ago, backed-up by a prominent U.S. source. So is this true? My second question, as long as it doesn't delve into too much secrecy: what sort of capability does the United States have in chasing North Korean submarines and keeping track of them?
Secretary Cohen: First of all, let me say that, whatever information that we have, we share on a very cooperative basis with our South Korean friends. One of the things that we have tried to make clear is that our security is enhanced if we share information and that we act in a coordinated and cooperative fashion. And so, that has been our goal – that has been our policy. Whatever information we acquire we try to share that with our South Korean counterparts as much as we can. We have a very capable tracking capability, and beyond that I would say that the United States has a superior naval force and we try to keep whatever intelligence that we are able to gather, as it pertains to South Korean security, then we share that information with the South Korean government.
As a footnote, let me say, we also expect the same on the behalf of the South Korean government, that whenever they gather information that would be within their capability, we would expect, and have in fact, received information that they would gather so we can coordinate the security needs of the people.
Q: Sir, my second part of my question was not answered prior. I asked about the Military Purchase Fund, was there any plans for a loan towards the Republic of Korea?
Secretary Cohen: We did not have any discussions about that specific fund. What we indicated was that we are prepared to send our experts to work with their counterparts here to see how we can be helpful in these times of economic difficulty.
Q: Mr. Secretary, are you concerned at all that proposed cuts in the South Korean defense budget and host nation support would send the wrong signal to North Korea?
Secretary Cohen: We believe that any reductions in the Defense budget, certainly any cuts in host nation support, would be counter to the best interest of the government of the people of South Korea. And that we believe that it would send the wrong signal to the North at a time when they will be looking to see whether there are any weaknesses or deficiencies in the capability of the South to defend itself and for the United States to exercise it's strong presence and deterrent capability. So, we are hopeful that the people of South Korea will recognize that, not withstanding the fact that there are economic difficulties, the first requirement of any country is to provide adequately for its defense. In this regard, we think that maintaining the same level of deterrent capability that currently exists must continue.
Let me add that this is a determination of course that must be made by the people of South Korea. All I can do is express my personal judgment in my capacity as Secretary of Defense, that I believe that any reductions at this time will send the wrong kind of signal and possibly increase or enhance the risk of a dangerous escalation of tensions by virtue of any sign, real or imagined, that the North might perceive that there is less than full commitment to an adequate defense.
Perhaps Minister Kim might add anything that he would like to my comments.
Minister Kim: I'm in the same view as the Secretary, thank you.