(Note: Min. Lee's remarks are provided through an interpreter.)
SEC. GATES: Today, Minister Lee and I held the 40th Security Consultative Meeting. We had a productive discussion on a wide range of issues important to the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea.
Over a half century old, the alliance remains a vibrant reflection of the common values and aspirations of our peoples. It remains vital to the interests of both of our nations and will continue to be the foundation for an enduring, resolute and capable defense for the Republic of Korea.
Today, the United States reaffirmed its commitments to the Republic of Korea, including the extension of its nuclear umbrella. The North Korean nuclear and conventional threat continues to be the focal point of our deterrent and defense posture. We urge the swift resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue through the six-party talks process.
The alliance has an important role in security affairs, beyond the peninsula, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan. The alliance has an important -- I thanked Minister Lee, rather, for his nation's contributions to the stability and reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan, and congratulated his troops for their successful mission in Iraq.
Our discussions also focused on the transformation and realignment of U.S. Forces Korea, the transition of wartime operational control and strengthening defense preparedness.
I congratulated Korea on its upgraded foreign military sales status, signed into law by President Bush earlier this week. This upgrade is an important symbol of the strengthening of our alliance. Thank you.
MIN. LEE: Secretary Gates and I place significance that this year marks the 40th iteration of the SCM, and we had an honest and open discussion on various alliance issues and interests based on our common perception of the past, present and future of the ROK-U.S. Alliance.
Secretary Gates and I reaffirmed, over all else, that our alliance plays a vital role in maintaining peace and stability in the Korean peninsula and have agreed to cooperate closely in order to address effectively to any future changes as well as emerging needs and challenges in the security environments.
Korea and the United States will guarantee peace in the Korean peninsula and stability in the region through our unwavering, strong combined defense posture in the present as well as in the future.
We will continue to carry out the commitments by our two presidents, and the U.S. will continue to provide bridging capabilities until Korea acquires sufficient defense capabilities.
In particular, we will maintain the same deterrence capabilities before, during and after the transfer of wartime operational control, and we'll continue to adjust, through regular evaluations and inspections of the changes in the security situation and readiness status.
Between our two nations, there are still a number of issues scattered across our alliance landscape. Korea and the United States will resolve these based on mutual trust, in the spirit of the alliance.
I'm happy that the 40th SCM and the 30th MCM served as an important stepping stone in further strengthening the ROK-U.S. Alliance as it rises to become a future-oriented strategic alliance, and would like to thank the United States Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the courtesy and hospitality they have shown towards the Korean delegates over the duration of the meetings.
SEC. GATES: I think we have two questions from each of the American and the Korean press, and we'll start with the American --
Q Mr. Secretary, a question for you on the SOFA agreement with --
SEC. GATES: Our SOFA agreement with Korea is just fine. (Laughter.)
Q The uncompleted version with Iraq, in particular the question of legal jurisdiction over U.S. military personnel -- is there a reason for U.S. troops, their families, their commanders to be concerned that those accused of serious crimes could end up in Iraqi courts and in Iraqi jails?
And what sort of reaction have you gotten from -- in your consultations with congressional leaders on this question?
SEC. GATES: First of all, I think that there is not a reason to be concerned. I would tell you that General Petraeus and then subsequently General Odierno have been deeply involved in the negotiation of the SOFA, working hand in glove with Ambassador Crocker.
And I can tell you that Admiral Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; General Petraeus; General Odierno and I are all satisfied that our men and women in uniform serving in Iraq are well- protected.
Finally, I would just say that the four leaders that I talked to from the Armed Services Committees, I think, were generally positive, but clearly are looking forward to seeing exact text.
Q When would they get that?
SEC. GATES: The staffs of -- representatives of each of them, as far as I know, were invited to the White House this morning and walked through the text.
Q (Through interpreter.) This is actually a two-part question.
The first question refers to -- is for both the secretary and the minister. There has been more rumors of Kim Jong-Il's health and his health problems. And there may be a resulting crisis in North Korea because of this and there are some concerns regarding this.
And I'm wondering what kind of discussions there have been in terms of military responses to such rumors, such as perhaps the development of Conplan 5029 into an Oplan. If you could touch on those first, please, and I'll do the second part after this.
MIN. LEE: I'd like to first touch on the issue of Kim Jong-Il's health and any crises in North Korea. First of all, I believe that we should probably not pay too much attention to KJI's health. I believe that he's probably enjoying all this new-found attention. And if we show him too much attention, then we might spoil him. (Laughter.)
But it is true that Kim Jong-Il's health has significant implications in the security of the Korean Peninsula. And the intelligence communities from both Korea and the United States are monitoring this situation closely. Kim Jong-Il has not been seen in public for a while now, but we, both the Korean and the United States intelligence services, estimate that he still has control over his administration.
Crisis or instability situation in North Korea could stem from many different causes, so it will be very difficult to predict them at this point. The Korean and the American government will do its best to manage the North Korea situation in a stable manner. Therefore for issues that have significant implications on security, we will monitor them closely together and we will coordinate these responses together as well.
SEC. GATES: The only thing that I would add is that there have been various periods when there was concern about the possibility of instability in the North, including earlier times when there were serious famines.
And I would just echo Minister Lee's observation that our militaries stay in very close touch on this, work together and consider various alternatives.
Q The second part of the question refers to -- just to -- (inaudible) -- sir. This is regarding the language in the joint communique. And the -- and in it, it says that appropriate military power will be provided for rapid response. And the question was, how does this level compare to the current levels for rapid response?
SEC. GATES: We have -- one of the things that I did this morning was commit again to Minister Lee what President Bush committed during their summit meeting at Camp David, and that as -- and that is that U.S. force levels in Korea will remain at the level at that time, which is 28,500.
Q Mr. Secretary?
SEC. GATES: Yeah.
Q It seems like not a day goes by that I don't pick up a paper and read an account singing your praises and longing for you to serve in the next administration. How has this growing chorus of accolades affected your thinking at all? Has it changed your thinking at all about whether you might consider staying on?
SEC. GATES: Well, let me just say that I'm getting a lot more career advice and counselling than I might have anticipated. I think I'll leave it at that. I'm still planning on heading to Washington State.
Q Sir, I hope you understand that Korean reporters often do not have the chance to ask the Secretary of Defense many questions, so my question will also be two part. The first question refers to defense cost-sharing. In the joint communique, there was language which referred to the improvements in the system, and I'd like to know exactly what kind of specifics you're looking into during the talks.
And the second part of the question refers to the long-range unmanned aerial vehicle, the Global Hawk. In the past, the Korean government has requested strongly for the sale of Global Hawk to its nation, and there have been rumors and reports that the United States government is considering a partial sale of the Global Hawks. And what is the government's stance on this? And have there been any discussions regarding this over the talks?
SEC. GATES: Well, first, the -- there were no discussions relating to Global Hawk. We are sympathetic to the interest in this. There are some MTCR issues associated with it. But as I say, we are, we are very sympathetic to it.
In terms of cost-sharing, we, we had a very candid conversation about the cost-sharing, about the Land Partnership Plan and so on. These are issues that we are working through together. And, and frankly I'm confident that, that we will be successful.
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