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Joint Press Conference With Secretary Cohen and Minister Cho

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
November 23, 1999 3:00 PM EDT

Joint Press Conference With South Korean Defense Minister Cho Song-Tae

(Note: The defense minister's remarks are provided through interpreter.)

SEC. COHEN: Good afternoon. Minister Cho and I have just completed a very productive meeting, one that occurred during an important time in the relationship between the United States and the Republic of Korea.

For years our military forces have worked together to protect the people of South Korea and to preserve peace and stability on the Korean peninsula. Our deterrence has never been stronger, and our alliance has never been better than it is today.

Now we're working together on an important diplomatic initiative to reduce tensions with North Korea, and together we are taking some very promising steps towards greater stability. But the journey is far from complete.

Pyongyang faces an important choice. It can pursue peace and prosperity for its people through cooperation, or it can continue its isolation through confrontation. Whichever choice North Korea makes, the United States and the Republic of Korea will be united in facing military threats and pursuing diplomatic opportunities.

Over the last there years, General John Tilelli has worked tirelessly and successfully to strengthen our combined forces. He has been, as we say, the steel in the sword of freedom. This is his last Security Consultative Meeting, and both Minister Cho and I are grateful for his distinguished service. He has served both of our nations well, and we wish him well as he retires after more than 36 years in the Army. General Tilelli represents the very best of the United States Army in his contribution to world peace.

Minister Cho, please?

MIN. CHO: (Through interpreter.) During the 31st SCM held today, Secretary Cohen and I reaffirmed that the security of the Korean peninsula is crucial not only for the stability and prosperity of the Asia Pacific Region, but also for U.S. security. And based on this common understanding, we evaluated the current security situation on the peninsula. Furthermore, we exchanged frank and candid opinions on the current combined defense posture, as well as other pending bilateral issues. In particular, Secretary Cohen and I reconfirmed our common position on the future development of our alliance, building on our undeviating alliance of half a century. In this regard, the meeting proved invaluable in reaffirming our resolve and determination as we prepare to enter a new millennium.

During today's SCM, Secretary Cohen and I agreed on the following: First, the security situation on the Korean peninsula still remains fluid, despite some recent posture changes on the part of North Korea. Secondly, we agreed to further strengthen the Korea-U.S. combined defense posture based on this assessment. Thirdly, we agreed to conduct consultations on ways to develop a future-oriented alliance in order to cope with potential changes in the security situation on the peninsula in the mid- to long term.

Fourthly, Secretary Cohen and I decided to exert our best efforts to solve the full range of pending bilateral issues, noting that the early resolution of these issues is necessary. To this end, Korea and the U.S. agreed to exert active efforts, based on close collaboration, to resolve the recently surfacing issue related to Agent Orange. As for the No Gun Ri incident, we agreed to get to the bottom of this case through close bilateral consultations and investigation.

The secretary and I further concurred to have our relevant government agencies engage in active discussions pertaining to the revision of the SOFA. As our two nations agreed on the cost-sharing principles for war-time host nation support, we decided to proceed with the follow-on measures. Furthermore, we decided to continue bilateral working-level talks on cooperation in the areas of logistics and defense industry.

Finally, today's SCM served as an opportunity to demonstrate the unshakable alliance between our two nations, as well as the solid combined defense system. Furthermore, Secretary Cohen and I were able to consolidate our personal confidence through this SCM.

And one final note, on behalf of the Korean people and the Korean armed forces, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to General Tilelli for his dedicated contributions to the defense of Korea for the last three and a half years. I hope that the general will make further contributions to the development of the alliance, even after he retires.

Thank you very much.

KENNETH BACON (assistant secretary of Defense for Public Affairs): We have time for three questions from each side, and Secretary Cohen wants to make a remark first.

SEC. COHEN: No, no, I was just saying, in view of the very comprehensive statement by Minister Cho, we have no time for questions. (Laughter.)

MR. BACON: So we'll alternate between the allies. Charlie, you can start.

QMr. Minister, I'd like to ask you -- and perhaps a comment from the secretary -- is South Korea secretly attempting to increase the range of its battlefield ballistic missiles, in violation of U.S.-South Korean agreements?

MIN. CHO: Transparency is the one most important factor that we take into consideration in developing our missile program. That is my response to your question.

MR. BACON: Can I have a question from the --

QI'm sorry.

SEC. COHEN: Let me just add a word to that. We have agreed that we would work very closely together to reassure each other and others who may be concerned about this issue that we will work with the Republic of Korea in terms of their missile program, and to be sure that it is consistent with the Missile Technology Control Regime.

MR. BACON: Yes?

Q (Through interpreter.) This is a question directed to Secretary Cohen. I am Lee Ki Sung from SBS News. I have two questions.

First, during the time when the Agent Orange was sprayed in the DMZ -- it was 1968 -- and at this time, the operational control was with the CINCUNC and the commanding general of the 8th U.S. Army. So if the U.S. had recommended the spraying of this Agent Orange, in view of the operational control, if this could have been construed as an order that was hard not to follow? So what is your view on this?

And in light of this, I think we can say that the U.S. does have significant responsibility in terms of the spraying. And what is your view on compensation for the victims of this Agent Orange?

SEC. COHEN: Well, first of all, let's go back to the period between 1965 and 1968. In 1966, there were roughly 91 infiltrations by the North Koreans across the DMZ. In 1967, there were 184. In 1968, there was a commando raid on the Blue House in South Korea. So there were great tensions that existed during that time.

Two years of discussions occurred between the South Korean government and the United States, in terms of the nature of the threat that was posed by the vegetation helping infiltrators to gain access into South Korea. After those two years of discussions and deliberations, it was decided by the Korean government that they would in fact go forward with the spraying of Agent Orange. And it was done through the application by, as I recall, as I am told and informed, the Republic of Korea forces under some supervision from American soldiers, as well.

As far as the liability is concerned, the United States has taken the position there has been no conclusive evidence of the correlation or connection or nexus between Agent Orange and some of the disabilities that have been suffered by a number of individuals, but that our Veterans Administration does in fact provide medical care for those who have disabilities associated with that, in terms of their claims. In terms of any liability beyond that, the United States, as far as the Department of Defense is concerned, does not recognize any legal liability.

Let me indicate also that we intend to fully cooperate with the Republic of Korea's inquiry into this matter. We will furnish whatever information we have so that we can facilitate their own inquiry. But we have pledged to do that.

MR. BACON: Yes?

QYes, Mr. Secretary, on the issue of the island of Vieques, are you leaning towards -- (Mild laughter.)

SEC. COHEN: Before we can move on to other matters. Yes?

QYes. Are you leaning towards proposing the resumption of live bombing versus inert bombing? And are you planning to make the recommendations to the president soon -- your formal recommendation?

SEC. COHEN: Well, I intend to certainly make recommendations. I have been in discussions with the White House. I would expect a decision to be made relatively soon. I can't specify the exact time, but there is some need to resolve the issue in the near future, and once the president receives my recommendations, then he will make a decision, but I can't, at this point, specify what that recommendation will be.

MR. BACON: Mr. -- (name inaudible) -- in the third row, here. Yes.

QDuring the MCM and the SCM, the U.S. and Korea seemed to give no way for (inaudible) North Korea to the negotiation tables. As you are well aware, as a result of the success of the Berlin talks, North Korea had suspended its missile relaunch, and high-level talks between the U.S. and the DPRK are almost planned. With regards to this issue, I have two questions to the secretary. Does the U.S. have any further programs to assist North Korea, if they respond positively? And the second is, is the U.S. willing to request South Korean cooperation, and what kind of cooperation are they expecting?

SEC. COHEN: Let me answer the second part first. The United States intends to work in close cooperation with the Republic of Korea in any of our discussions with North Korea. In fact, we are closely coordinating our policies on a trilateral basis with South Korea and also with Japan to be sure that we present a united front, as such, to the North Koreans, indicating that when there is a positive response, there certainly can be more positive incentives for them in promoting greater stability and prosperity for their people.

MR. BACON: Ivan?

QThank you.

Mr. Secretary, Senator John McCain claims to be a friend of yours. When you served with him in the Senate and up to now, have you seen any indication that he is either irrational or unbalanced? And secondly, if elected, do you think he'll make a good president?

SEC. COHEN: Let me --

I consider myself a very close friend of Senator McCain. I served with him when he was in the House, I was in the Senate. But prior to that time, I traveled to many parts of the world while he was the Navy liaison officer. He is a man of great passion and conviction, and someone, I think, who brings great credit to public service. In the event that he should be elected, I'm sure that the people would not make such a determination unless they were satisfied he could carry out the responsibilities of being president. But I found him to be very substantive, passionate and full of conviction, and someone that, again, brings great credit to public service.

QAnd balanced and not irrational?

SEC. COHEN: Balanced and not irrational. Very balanced, very rational. In view of the fact that I am remaining entirely neutral during the course of this campaign, my comments should not be construed as an endorsement.

MR. BACON: The last question, right there, yes.

Q (Through interpreter.) My name is Kim Min Suk and I'm from the Joong-Ang Ilbo. This question is directed to Secretary Cohen.

I'm aware that during the ASEAN, the U.S. and Korea held discussions on countermeasures in case North Korea utilizes chemical or biological weapons. First, what is the background for this? Is this based on the assumption that North Korea has anthrax?

Second, as you know, U.S. Forces in Korea are undergoing anthrax vaccination. However, their Korean counterparts have not received anthrax vaccination. And in view of our alliance, it will be difficult to demonstrate our combined strength if the U.S. receives the vaccinations whereas the Korean soldiers do not. So if the Korean side requests the U.S., is the U.S. willing to have Korean soldiers also receive the anthrax vaccination?

SEC. COHEN: First let me point out you're setting a very bad example for the Pentagon press corps by asking two questions in one. (Laughter.)

But to respond to both of your questions, first of all, we do believe that North Koreans and others have been in the process of developing both chemical and biological weapons and that we ought not to take any chances that that assumption or information is in error. I believe General Tilelli, were he up at this podium, would tell you that our forces train to prepare themselves to operate effectively in such a chemical or biological environment.

But just as the United States has invested in developing greater protective gear in the form of lightweight protective equipment, we think that that is something that should be made available to South Korean forces as well so that our forces could operate effectively in a chemical or biological environment. And should Minister Cho believe it is important for the South Korean forces, the ROK forces, to have vaccinations, we certainly would entertain such a request. There is an element, of course, of the production capability, but we hope that that can be increased in the future as well. But we certainly would entertain such a request.

MR. BACON: Thank you very much.

QMr. Secretary, before you go, can you address the survey on race relations, what you think about it and what you think of the results?

SEC. COHEN: I think you were briefed on this earlier, at noontime, by Undersecretary Rudy de Leon, but let me just offer a few comments.

Number one, I think it's to the credit of the department that we would conduct such a survey, in the first instance, because we care about what the men and women in the military think about race relations.

And number two, the study or the survey was conducted several years ago -- I believe between the years 1995 and 1997, that period.

The third point I would make is that this information will be made available to all of the officials throughout the department, to all of our senior military leaders, for their review and comments. And hopefully, to the extent that we can find measures and take measures to eradicate elements of racism that continue to exist, we will take every step to do so.

There is no place for racism in our society. There is certainly no place for it within the military. And I believe that we have made greater strides in the military in breaking down the barriers to discrimination than perhaps the rest of our society.

But to the extent that any of it exists, to the extent that there are complaints about lack of promotion, actions that involve discrimination, they have to be eliminated. And I and everyone who's working in this department will do everything we can to achieve that result.

QThank you, and have a great Thanksgiving.

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