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DOD News Briefing with Secretary Gates and Republic of Korea Defense Minister Kim

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Republic of Korea Minister of National Defense Kim Tae-young
October 08, 2010

                (Note:  Defense Minister Kim’s remarks are provided through an interpreter.)

                SEC. GATES:  Today, Minister Kim and I held the 42nd security consultative meeting (SCM).  We had a very productive discussion on a wide range of issues important to the continued transformation of our alliance as we move toward 2015, the newly established date for the transition of operational control on the peninsula.

                Minister Kim and I reaffirmed that the United States-Republic of Korea (ROK) strategic partnership remains vital to the interests of both our nations.  As we commemorate the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, we are reminded of the close bonds between our two countries and our two militaries, first forged in blood and shared sacrifice six decades ago.  Those bonds form the foundation for an enduring, resolute and capable defense of the Republic of Korea.

                Our commitment to South Korea’s security is steadfast, and our military alliance has never been stronger.  North Korea’s nuclear and conventional-weapons threat continues to be the focal point of our alliance’s deterrent and defense posture.  We are committed to providing extended deterrence using the full range of American military might, from our nuclear umbrella to conventional strike and ballistic-missile defense.

                In the wake of the Cheonan incident, the close cooperation across the whole of our two governments sends a clear message to North Korea that its provocation and aggression will not be tolerated.  The Republic of Korea has repeatedly deployed and fought alongside the U.S. military over the past 50 years, from Vietnam to Afghanistan today. 

                Our two countries are also cooperating on a range of regional and global security issues, from disaster relief in Haiti to counter-piracy in the Gulf of Aden, further demonstrating that the United States and the Republic of Korea are bound by the same mutual interest in peace and stability around the world and the shared values and common aspirations of our peoples.  We look forward to building on the legacy of the last 60 years to strengthen and deepen our partnership in the future.

                Mr. Kim?

                MIN. KIM:  Thank you very much, Secretary Gates.  This is a meaningful year in the history of the ROK-U.S. alliance.  As you well know, this year marks the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War.  And I’ve seen close ROK-U.S. collaboration in the wake of the Cheonan incident.  We’ve also seen the agreement to adjust the timing of operation control transition, as well as the first-ever ROK-U.S. foreign and defense ministers’ meeting.

                During today’s SCM, which is being held on such a meaningful year, Secretary Gates and I had the opportunity to deeply discuss Korean Peninsula security and ROK-U.S. alliance development.  Through the SCM, we once again called for North Korea to take responsible actions in regards to the attack against the Republic of Korea ship Cheonan.  We also reconfirmed the resolute desire of the ROK and U.S. to jointly respond to North Korean military provocations. 

                In addition, we came to agreement on Strategic Alliance 2015, a comprehensive implementation plan that allows us to substantially move forward with the adjustments of  OPCON [operational control] transition agreed to by the two presidents.  We have also achieved significantly meaningful accomplishments such as the development of the defense cooperation guidelines that will realize the future vision of the alliance and the agreement to systemize the extended deterrence policy committee, a cooperative mechanism in the area of extended deterrence.

                Secretary Gates and I shared a common understanding that on the basis of the accomplishments and values over the past 60 years of the ROK-U.S. alliance, we will continue to establish a more resolute and stronger alliance to more effectively deal with its diverse security challenges of the future.

                Thank you.

                SEC. GATES:  Anne.

                Q     Mr. Secretary, if I could ask you first to comment on news today that General Jones will leave his post as national security adviser to be replaced by Tom Donilon -- (inaudible)-- for General Jones -- (inaudible) -- accurately quoted -- (inaudible) -- that job as a disaster?

                And if I could ask both of you to comment on news today that Kim Jong Il’s youngest son will indeed be his designated successor.  Do you believe that that portends any change in North Korean behavior?  Are they at this point ramping up nuclear work again?

                SEC. GATES:  Well, first of all, I would refer you to the White House on White House personnel matters.  I will say this, though.  I have thoroughly enjoyed working with General Jones, and I have, and have had, a very productive and very good working relationship with Tom Donilon, contrary to what you may have read.  And I look forward to continue working with him.

                On the second issue, I think we’ve been seeing signs for quite a long time that the succession was moving in this direction in North Korea.  I don’t know that there -- there clearly were some steps taken at the -- at the party meeting in terms of new appointments for him, for the potential successor.  I’m not aware that there’s been any further formal indication that he will be the successor, but frankly, that’s the assumption that we’re all working on, that he will, in fact, at some point take on that leadership role.

                Q     Do you think that portends any change in North Korea’s behavior?

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think it remains to be seen.  There’s a lot of speculation about the circumstances that lay behind the sinking of the Cheonan and whether other provocations may follow.  I think that our meeting today should reinforce what we said, that provocations will not be tolerated.  And I think it’s a good thing, at this point of transition in North Korea that our alliance is, in fact, as both the minister and I have agreed, perhaps the strongest it’s ever been.

                Q   Mr. Minister?

                MIN. KIM:  I will be very deliberate in watching against North Korea.

                Q     (Through interpreter.)  Recently, in North Korea, they are officially moving to go forward with third-generation succession.  And I believe there was some discussions on this matter during today’s SCM.  And the secretary and yourself discussed how successful you will be -- that this succession will be, and the possibility of an instability situation -- of an instability situation in North Korea, and the population that are undergoing response to this possibility.  Also, there were -- I believe that there were -- there was agreement on defense cooperation guidelines, and I would like to ask you to explain what those might be regarding the more detailed vision for the future ROK-U.S. alliance.

                MIN. KIM:  First, North Korea, their party delegates convention has moved forward to officialize the succession of Kim Jong Un.  And when there is -- and when Kim Jong Il’s health may deteriorate or if there is a movement of public opinion in North Korea, we cannot eliminate the possibility that there will be an instability situation in North Korea.

                And such a situation would be a significant issue that would influence the national security of both countries.  So both the ROK and U.S. government -- I believe it is the responsibility of both the ROK and U.S. government to prepare for such possibilities.  The ROK and U.S. will prepare against all possible contingencies in North Korea. 

                And as you mentioned, Korea and the United States -- and regarding the future direction for the alliance, as you mentioned, the ROK-U.S. alliance will go beyond its current form to play a -- to develop further in a regional and global dimension.  And -- while on the Korean Peninsula we will go -- we’ll continue to prevent the north and deter the North Korean threat.  But when it comes to more regional issues, we’ll go about broadening our boundaries some more in the future.

                (Inaudible.)

                SEC. GATES:  Kevin Baron.

                Q     A question for both of you.  There have been signs recently of increasing engagement between the South and the North.  Are you encouraged that any of these engagements will lead to direct talks?  And what are your expectations that from any kind of initial talks between the two governments that could be significant?

                SEC. GATES:  I think that the minister’s probably in a better position to answer that question than I am.

                MIN. KIM:  First, let me reply to this question, please.

                Recently North Korea has taken more of a stance towards appeasement and there have been attempts -- there have been some changes to see North Korean attempts at dialogue.  However, it is the basic position of the Republic of Korea government that we need a recognition of North Korea’s role in the Cheonan incident, and we need an apology from North Korea and a punishment of those responsible.  And North Korea must also take clear measures that will prevent any further provocations of this sort.  

                And when these measures are taken, the dialogue between the South and North will be more substantial, will be able to move forward in that direction.

                And regarding the issue of -- and if North Korea is -- becomes a more responsible member within the international community and takes more responsible actions, we’ll go about coordinating further in a more substantial manner and help North Korea overcome its economic troubles.

                Q     (Through interpreter.)  Also in the joint communiqué there has been a mention that there would be an increase in ROK-U.S. intelligence and surveillance assets.  So I’d like to ask you to please explain this in more detail.  Have there been any significant movements of North Korea that have been identified prior to the G-20 summit?

                MIN. KIM:  In order to facilitate the successful G-20 summit, we will go about strengthening our readiness posture in a systematic fashion.

                Regarding the combined watch posture and the matter of surveillance and reconnaissance assets, there is robust coordination ongoing between Korea and the U.S.  In regard to specifics, more detailed collaboration is still needed, but we will go about watching against North Korean threats and any possibility of North Korea provocation. 

                And we’ll also make sure that we can -- we are currently in the process of coordinating on the details of an immediate response in the case of a biological or chemical threat by North Korea.  And currently there have been no -- nothing significant from North Korea in regards to the G-20 summit.  But in preparation, the ROK and the U.S. have combined their assets to watch against this -- watch against North Korea in prior and will continue to do so.

                SEC. GATES:  Thank you very much.