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Joint Press Conference with Secretary Cohen and Minister Cho in Seoul, Korea

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
March 18, 2000

Saturday, March 18, 2000

Joint Press Conference with Republic of Korea Minister of Defense Cho in Seoul, Korea

Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, Secretary Cohen and Minister Cho. We will now begin the joint press conference. 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.

Minister Cho: Good afternoon. Secretary Cohen and I had a frank and productive discussion this morning. We evaluated the combined defense posture, and exchanged candid opinions on handling bilateral issues. During this meeting, Secretary Cohen and I agreed on the following.

First, the North. North Korea's threat remains unchanged. Please, allow me to repeat. First, the North's military threat remains unchanged, despite the recent changes, such as a tentative high-level visit to Washington. Secondly, we concurred that it is critical to maintain a solid combined defense posture against these threats, and based on this common understanding, we agreed to support the engagement policy with a strong combined defense posture. Secretary Cohen and I further concurred that North Korea has carried out unusually extensive military exercises since the West incident last year. Considering varied circumstances, Secretary and - Secretary Cohen and I decided that we'll continue our watch - close watch on North Korea. Thus, the ROK and US shall respond promptly and resolutely in case of armed attack from the North.

The Secretary and I also covered the full range of pending bilateral issues. First, we highly appreciate the investigation efforts of the bilateral coordinating group. As for the matters that require further investigation, we agreed to thoroughly conduct additional investigations and resolve this incident as soon as possible. Secondly, Cohen - Secretary Cohen and I reconfirmed in principle that our relevant government agencies will resume the SOFA revision process in late April this year. Thirdly, we concurred to work closely in preventing encroachment into ROK-US training land due to urbanization and scarcity in available grounds. Secretary Cohen and I also reviewed measures for air space management related to opening - opening up Inchon Airport, and we discussed how to best develop mutually beneficial defense industry cooperation. Finally, as regard to situations of Northeast Asia, we agreed to join our efforts to ensure peace and stability in the region through our bilateral strategic cooperation.

One last note. I believe that today's meeting was very timely and rendered us an excellent opportunity to solidify our combined defense posture and, I also believe that it further promoted common understanding on the pending bilateral issues.

Thank you very much.

Secretary Cohen: Mr. Cho, thank you very much -

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

Secretary Cohen: Mr. Cho, thank you very much for your hospitality and the generosity that you have extended to our delegation. Minister Cho and I just completed our third meeting in the past 9 months.

Earlier in the morning I met with Foreign Minister Lee and then with President Kim and, I must say that the meeting with President Kim was one of the highlights of my visit. We spent nearly an hour discussing mutual interests and, I find him as I have in the past, a man of great courage and vision in one who is leading the Republic of Korea well into the 21st Century. In all of our meetings, we discussed the expansion of North-South contacts, continuing talks between the United States and North Korea, and efforts by Japan and North Korea to negotiate a new and more open relationship.

All of these initiatives offer the promise of reduced tension on the Korean Peninsula, but in our meetings we agreed that diplomacy can only succeed if deterrence remains strong, and our deterrence is indeed strong. Both the United States and the Republic of Korea are working together every day to make sure that our forces are trained and equipped and alert enough to overwhelm any attack. We also agreed that the government to government dialog between Seoul and Pyongyang is a necessary precondition to lower tensions on the peninsula.

Later this year we're going to mark the 50th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, when US and South Korean forces fought together to repel an attack. We will honor the allied veterans who answered freedoms call; many died on Korean soil. For half a century, the US and the Republic of Korea troops have stood shoulder to shoulder for free people and free markets. The Republic of Korea has prospered behind this shield. Democracy has flourished, and living conditions have improved. The South Korean economy has considerably demonstrated its strength and resilience - consistently demonstrated its strength and resilience and, over the past 50 years our alliance, as a result, has grown steadily stronger.

Minister Cho has already touched upon our agreement in dealing with the SOFA situation and also with respect to the need to have adequate training ranges to accommodate our military forces. But, let me conclude by simply saying that after visiting US troops at Osan Air Base and at Camp Stanley yesterday, and meeting with government officials today, that I leave Seoul convinced that we are prepared to defeat those who would wage war and embrace those who will work for peace.

Moderator: Now we will have a Q and A session for about 15 minutes. Since time is limited, please keep your question short and, if you have a question, please raise your hand and identify yourself.

Q: This question is addressed to Mr. Cho. I'd like to ask the significance of today's meeting, and then my second question is, North Korea is preparing a major threat against South Korea after its West Sea incident, and I'd like to find out what kind of cooperation and coordination measures the ROK and the US are taking.

Minister Cho: As we mentioned, it's been almost a year since the West Sea incident. North Korea has intensified its sea maneuver exercise and also has criticized us by fabricating some of the unfound provocations from our side. All though North Korea has shown its softer side by promoting US-North Korea talks and Japan-North Korea talks and by announcing a moratorium on missile tests, but we have to be always on our guard against North Korea's military threat. Secretary Cohen and I first discussed that there is a constant threat and possibility of North Korea's - a threat to South Korea, and we share this firm understanding together and, in case North Korea attempts its provocation, we will promptly and quickly respond to their attack.

What's clear is that if North Korea attacks us, they will have more to lose than gain. Secretary Cohen and I decided to coordinate our strategic policies towards North Korea amidst all the situated environment changes that are possible, for example the US-North Korea talks, Japan-North Korea talks, and also the Berlin Declaration on our side. Thus, we decided to support our engagement policy with force. Secretary Cohen and I shared completely on our pending bilateral issues, such as the No Gun Ri incident and the commemoration of the Korean War, SOFA revision, and also defense - defense industry cooperation. I believe that the ROK-US alliance is stronger than ever.

Secretary Cohen: I just wanted to add a comment, if I could. One cannot predict how the North Koreans will act on any given occasion, but I would point out that with so many countries who are reaching out to North Korea to look at assisting and in dealing with some of their internal problems, that it would be contrary to North Korea's interest to consider military action against the South. A number of countries have looked at the internal problems. Some are contributing food and other types of humanitarian assistance. We have the agreed framework agreement that we are pursuing. We have the engagement policy on the part of the United States and the Republic of Korea and Japan. We have President Kim's Sunshine Engagement Policy. All of that certainly would be affected were they to in any way move militarily against the South. So, we must always remain vigilant and prepared and have a strong deterrent, which we do, and send a signal to the north that it would be contrary to their interest to do anything other than pursue the path of peace.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Chall Young (phonetic) with Reuters. I'd like to ask you on the China question. Apparently Beijing has - has stopped its bellicose rhetoric across the strait, today at least, while Taiwan is holding elections. Do you see that as a good sign; and, do you think the new president in Taipei should offer an olive branch to Beijing quickly after being elected in order to cool the tensions in the area?

Secretary Cohen: Well, I'm really not in a position to fathom the motivation of the Chinese in ceasing its rhetoric, which has been quite harsh in recent days. But, I welcome it; and, I think all concerned would see this, hopefully, as a sign that perhaps now that the elections are about to be concluded at the end of this day, that both Chinese leaders and whoever is elected by the Taiwanese people can take whatever measures are necessary to indicate that they are prepared to sit down at a table and negotiate their differences. So, any sign by the new leader, I think, would be welcome, but the Chinese must also be willing to put aside the rhetoric and threats of intimidation and sit down and see how to reconcile these differences peacefully. So, to the extent that, that is a sign by the Chinese that they are willing to do so and hopefully the Taiwanese will respond accordingly.

Q: My name is In Jong (phonetic) with SBS. I'd like to ask a question to Secretary Cohen regarding the Status of Forces Agreement. Compared to the SOFA with other countries and the United States, the one in Korea is known to be very unfair and is more advantageous to the US side. So, whenever there is a murder crime, for example, that takes places in Korea, the anti-American sentiments tend to surge within the Korean public. Recently the US side has mentioned in the hearing at Congress that the US forces are needed to remain on the Korean Peninsula, even after the reunification of the two Koreas. I'm looking at this long term forecast, such inequality in the SOFA will be very negative to the relations between the two countries. So, I'd like to ask whether Secretary Cohen is willing to show a more progressive and changed attitude towards this issue in the future.

Secretary Cohen: That was a very short question. Let me say that Minister Cho has indicated in his opening remarks that we have agreed to resume SOFA discussions in late April, and that the United States is prepared to send a team - a high-level team to Seoul, and we agreed to focus on the issues of high importance to each of our countries. Minister Cho and I are going to work together to bring these discussions to a mutually satisfactory conclusion within a few months.

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

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