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Joint News Conference with Secretary Mattis and South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo in Seoul, South Korea

STAFF:  Minister Song will first deliver his remarks.


            DEFENSE MINISTER SONG YOUNG-MOO (through translator):  Secretary Mattis and I help the 49th ROK-U.S. Security Consultative Meeting, which was an opportunity for us to engage in a candid discussion on the ROK-U.S. alliance's readiness posture for the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and the alliance's current issues.


            First and foremost, the ROK and U.S. government condemn in the strongest terms the reckless provocation by North Korea, including the six nuclear tests and the multiple ballistic missile launches.


            Our two governments have once again urged North Korea to comply with the multiple UNSC resolutions.


            Furthermore, we have agreed to continue supporting the diplomatic efforts by the Korean and U.S. governments to denuclearize North Korea and back up our government's efforts with firm ROK-U.S. combined defense posture.


            Furthermore, in conjunction with the agreement made by the ROK and the U.S. presidents to expand rotational deployment of U.S. strategic assets, we have agreed to expand relevant cooperation, including joint studies to improve the implementation of extended deterrents and commitments.


            Today, we have agreed to continue expanding the acquisition of high tech capabilities for the ROK military, and we will continue our cooperation as necessary, including the agreeing to limit, agreeing to remove the warhead payload limits on the revised missile guidance.


            And furthermore, Secretary Mattis and I have agreed to consider the timing and the conditions on the conditions-based OPCON transition.  And as such, we will continue to work, and develop and refine the plans for the wartime OPCON transition by next SCM.


            And we have also agreed on the principle of pursuing the OPCON transition in a way that further strengthens and develops a current ROK-U.S. combined defense posture.


            Secretary Mattis and I have agreed to continue close cooperation between our two countries in order to improve cooperation in the newly emerging security fields such as cyberspace defense industry and defense science and technology, as well as to more effectively respond to regional and global security challenges.


            I believe the 49th SCM started as an important opportunity to further strengthen the robust ROK-U.S. alliance.


            Going forward in the future, we will continue to further our close cooperation based on solidarity and trust rooted in tradition in order to develop the ROK-U.S. alliance and mutually reinforcing our future (inaudible).


            Thank you.


            STAFF:  Next we will hear from Secretary Mattis on his opening remarks.


            SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JIM MATTIS:  Well, good morning ladies and gentlemen.  And thank you, Minister Song, for your very warm welcome and for your leadership.


            The Republic of Korea was the first nation I visited after becoming the secretary of defense, and it's good to be back.


            I appreciate you hosting me and sharing your assessment of the situation we face today, with a much more serious DPR threat -- DPRK threat today than in 1972 when I first came to the ROK, as a Marine infantry officer, serving alongside your forces.


            Then, as now, we serve united, to preserve stability, and peace and freedom.


            This alliance grows more important by the day.


            The threat from North Korea has grown markedly even since my trip here earlier this year.


            In the past few months, the North has conducted two ICBM threats -- tests, has launched two intermediate-range ballistic missiles over Japan and conducted a sixth nuclear test.


            I'm here to underscore America's priority commitment for a bilateral alliance, and make clear the Trump administration's full commitment to the United Nations mission for the defense of your democracy, standing as it does as a bedrock countering DPRK's efforts to destabilize this region and be a threat to the world.


            We are working closely together to strengthen our already strong alliance.


            I also met with President Moon, National Security Adviser Yong and Foreign Minister Kang.


            In these meetings I was heartened by the deep trust and shared understanding our countries have felt.


            This trusted alliance is based on shared interests and values, and shared combat experience, beginning in 1950.


            The United States stands by its commitments, and we stand with our allies.  The people of this thriving democracy, our alliance is a testimonial to our mutual commitment and respect.


            As Vice President Pence said his visit to the ROK in April, and I quote, "Our alliance is the linchpin of peace and security."


            Our trusted, respectful and mutually supported relationship shows what democracies can accomplish, and guided by a spirit of collaboration in defense of peace and prosperity.


            Our alliance has had more impact than any other factor in keeping the imperfect peace, and it's allowed ROK citizens to thrive and to step their own path.


            As you know, our military and diplomatic collaboration has taken on a new urgency.


            North Korea has accelerated the threat that it poses to its neighbors in the world through its illegal and unnecessary missile and nuclear weapons programs.


            It engages in outlaw behavior, threatening behavior, condemned by unanimous U.S. Security Council resolutions.


            Regardless of how North Korea behaves or what actions it takes, we stand with the peace-loving people of the Republic of Korea, our ally that maintains stability on the peninsula and in the region.


            President Trump has made clear that America's commitments to defending our allies and to upholding our extended deterrence here at (inaudible) are “ironclad.”


            North Korea should harbor no illusions: the DPRK is overmatched the Republic of Korea-United States alliance.


            If it remains on its current path of ballistic missile and atomic bombs, it will be counterproductive.  In effect, the DPRK will be reducing its own security.


            The United States does not accept a nuclear North Korea.


            Diplomacy remains our preferred course of action.  As I have repeatedly emphasized our diplomats are most effective when backed by credible military force in this sort of situation.


            Make no mistake any attack on the United States or our allies will be defeated.


            Any use of nuclear weapons by the North will be met with a massive military respone, effective and overwhelming.


            Due to North Korea's aggressive and destabilizing actions, we have taken defensive steps as an alliance, steps such as deploying the highly effective THAAD anti-missile system in the ROK.


            Millions of ROK citizens and our combined forces are now better protected by this fully defensive system.


            Diplomatically around the world, responsible nations have downgraded their relationship with North Korea, expelling their ambassadors and curtailing trade, all for the goal of denying the regime the funds it needs to continue developing and fielding its nuclear and missile programs, leaving them diplomatically isolated, and growing discontent in their unfortunate country.


             In part of our military effort to reinforce the diplomacy, Minister Song has said today we co-chaired the 49th Annual Security Consultative Meeting.


            We reviewed alliance progress over the last year, and set the agenda for coming years on a number of important issues.


            Further, we ensured that our actions whether acquisition of inter-operational capabilities or the transfer of wartime operational control to ensure that this alliance grows stronger, not weaker, and our militaries are always ready to protect those threatened by the Kim regime.


            Minister Song, we’ve had a rich and productive seven days together with our staff, and made clear that we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you and the Korean people in confronting the DPRK’s threat.


            I look forward to continuing our partnership, as together we strengthen our strategic alliance.


            Together, we're guided by a spirit of collaboration.  I'm confident we'll continue to be the best hope for a continued prosperity and security of our nations and the region.


            Kam sa ham ni da and thank you.


             STAFF:  Next we'll take some questions.  We'll take two questions from the ROK press pool and two questions from the U.S. press pool, and if you're selected to ask a question, please identity yourself and the media that you work for.  Thank you.


            First we'll take some questions from the ROK press pool.


            Q (through translator):  Good morning.  I am (inaudible), a journalist from (inaudible).


            I have a question each to -- one to Minister Song and one to Secretary Mattis. 


            The first question goes to Minister Song. The question is two part.  The first is that, when it comes to addressing the North Korean nuclear threat in times of contingency there was some concerns raised that the U.S. may have trouble with assisting Korean Peninsula.  And as such, they were having some suggestions from the public that there needs to be an explicit document stating assisting by the U.S. in terms of contingency on the Korean Peninsula.


            My question is, whether at this SCM, whether there was any kind of discussion regarding to this issue, relating to this issue?


            And secondly, you had mentioned high-tech assets for acquisition by Korea and whether this means a nuclear-powered submarine.


            And the second question goes out to Secretary Mattis.  I understand that, Secretary Mattis, your highest priority is to make sure that the diplomatic and economic measures work against North Korea, but I also know that your (inaudible) military officers (inaudible).  In a recent questioning, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of Republic of Korea, he had answered that he is not aware of military options that the U.S. is considering at the moment.


            My first is that, whether the U.S. is reviewing -- whether the U.S. reviewing military options against North Korea without consultation of the Republic of Korea, so counterparts.


            And secondly, you had mentioned expanding rotational deployments of the U.S. strategic assets, and if that means -- and I wonder if this means whether the -- the U.S. strategic assets will stay on the Korean Peninsula for a fixed amount of time, or a decided amount of time.


            When answering the question, both Mr. Minister and Mr. Secretary, please do not include in your answer that you are cooperating (inaudible) affirm the ROK-U.S. alliance.


            MIN. SONG (through translator):  Thank you very much for the question.  The first question regarding the -- whether the U.S. is able to assist the Korean Peninsula in terms of contingency and nuclear weapon use by North Korea, as Secretary Mattis -- Secretary Mattis has made statements.  Please refer to that -- the one he just made.  And you will be given, I don’t know if you’ve been given the 49th SCM joint communique, but it will distributed to you shortly.  Please refer to that.


            And your second part of the question was regarding the high-tech weapons acquisitions by the Republic of Korea.  If you word your question like that, sir, I'm afraid that I'm very -- it is very difficult me to answer your question.  Sorry.


            SEC. MATTIS:  Thank you, Minister Song for taking the first question.


            In terms of military options that we have they are designed to keep the peace, to reinforce diplomats, to make certain diplomats from the United Nations anywhere in the world are speaking from a position of strength, and that is our position.


            And although you asked that I not address it, and I will tell you in over 40 years of working with allied nations, the collaboration level between the ROK and the United States are a model, perhaps the best example I've ever seen of close collaboration of trust, and affiliation and shared appreciation of dangers.


            Regarding our strategic assets, they are global in their positioning.  They are global in their reach, and we are quite assured that they are in a position to be responsive if the combined forces commander (inaudible) necessary.  So that's all I've got to say about that.


            Thank you.


            STAFF:  We'll take one question from the U.S. press pool.  And when you're asking questions, considering the interpretation, please break your question into small pieces.


            Q:  Gordon Lubold from the Wall Street Journal.


            A few questions.  Secretary Mattis, the South Korean government is pushing for an accelerated transfer of OPCON to enable the military (inaudible).


            Do you think that accelerated timetable is realistic?  Did you try to persuade your counterpart to hold off on that?


            Mr. Song, can you tell us why you would like to have OPCON sooner and if I may ask a separate question to you, minister.  The rhetoric out of Washington is sending mixed signals.  Oh, I’m sorry.


Mr. Song, do you believe that on the OPCON issue that there are risks that South Korea could be dragged into a conflict with (inaudible) the U.S.  And then separately, some believe the rhetoric out of Washington is refusing the issue to the North Korea leader.  I wondered if you could comment on that. (Inaudible) increasingly risk (inaudible).


            SEC. MATTIS:  Gordon, thanks for the question.  On the transfer of operational control the U.S. has had a consistent position on this for many years.  We have an integrated process here between the ROK and the U.S.  In that regard, by mutual consent it was a conditions-based process.  And this is a point that was emphasized by Minister Song during our discussions here in Seoul.  So we are working together in the U.S. to assist in the ROK as we move forward on this issue.


            STAFF:  Thank you for your question.


            Q (through translator):  Just to clarify, President Moon has also promised to speak on that.  He will expedite the OPCON transfer.


            And the meaning behind this is we are not looking to hurry, but rather as we enter the ranks of the middle powers, who have advanced industrial economies, it seems -- he believes it’s strange that a national command authority, which is the President Moon himself, does not have the wartime OPCON authority.


            MIN. SONG (through translator):  So we're not looking the shorten the timeline that we have in mind, but rather we are looking to meet the conditions that is necessary for operational transition ahead of time that we may be able to transfer the OPCON.


            Even after the wartime OPCON transfer, the ROK-U.S. alliance has become even stronger and they will -- and we will have even better environment for combined operations.


            All messages that are put out by our governments, whether they’re diplomatic or security policy or economic policy, they all follow their own logic and they all follow they’re own (inaudible).  So it is just that -- our government puts out messages as deemed necessary, but we’re not looking to confuse anybody.


            Q (through translator):  My name is (inaudible), and I have a question for both the minister and Mr. Secretary.  The first question is regarding the (inaudible) on the Korean Peninsula, and second is the military option that can reduce the risk to Seoul.


            Could you elaborate on the first question regarding the tactical nukes.  As we live with the North Korean nuclear threat in the north in our daily lives, there are some in the public, the political sphere, as well as experts who asserts that conventional weapons and the minutemen (inaudible) alone are not enough to deter the nuclear threat as such.  However, I also understand that both the minister and secretary stand for a deployment of tactical nukes as a negative one.  However, do you see your stance changing as North Korea's nuclear threat becomes even more tense?


             And the second question regarding a military option that does not put Seoul at risk goes specifically out to Secretary Mattis.  You have mentioned this before in one of your statements, and I wonder if this is truly a realistic statement.


            And I also would like to ask if this military options that you mentioned is a surgical strike to achieve physical effect in North Korea?  And if that is the case, whether U.S.'s policy on a military option is to use military option before North Korea completes its nuclear (inaudible)?


            SEC. MATTIS:  Our military options, as I mentioned, are designed to buttress our diplomats' efforts to make a deterrence stance, and denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.  We must recognize the reality, that this is a regime, a Kim regime, north of the DMZ, that threatens peace and stability, and certainly directly against the people of the ROK. 


            So our combined effort is to deter that sort of threat or to have military options, many different military options, that would realistically reduce that threat as low as possible.  And yes, we do have those options.


            Q (through translator):  I would like to actually hear answers from both the Secretary and Minister on the issue of (inaudible).


            MIN. SONG (through translator):  First, I received a lot of questions regarding the deployment of tactical nukes on the Korean Peninsula from my national assembly as well as the media.  And I have given sufficient answers before I believe.  However, just to reiterate, given the national interest considerations at stake we believe that a tactical nuke is not worth deploying to the Korean Peninsula. 


            And even if we do not have tactical nukes on the Korean Peninsula, in the case of North Korea's nuclear attack, to answer your question, whether there is no -- whether there is any response available, even if there's no tactical nukes, yes, there is, and there is.  We have the ability to respond in case we are under attack.


            SEC. MATTIS:  Let me address it also.  In terms of tactical nukes on the peninsula, I want to remind everyone that unlike the Kim regime in North Korea, our combined effort is to denuclearize the peninsula.  That's also the effort of the United Nations and the People’s Republic of China and I could go on.  This is a global concern right now.  And I would only add to that, we have a global strategic capability that is a deterrent, and I'll just tell you that this subject has not been broached to me by the Republic of Korea government.


            Thank you.


            STAFF:  We'll take one last question from the U.S. press pool.


            Q:  Phil Stewart from Reuters.


            To Minister Song, if you could please speak to it, yesterday you talked about the threat from the artillery to South Korea?  And do you believe that more missile defenses are needed and what kind of higher end weaponry is the South considering purchasing at this point?


            And then to Secretary Mattis, if possible.  Could you, in your opening remarks you said the United States does not accept North Korea as a nuclear power.  So can you see a point where the U.S. might accept North Korea as a nuclear power having foregone all other efforts (inaudible) path forward?


            MIN. SONG (through translator):  Regarding the defense of the Korean Peninsula, with specific regard to missiles, we have an accurate understand of the threats posed at us.


            As a military man, I can tell you that the more missile the better is always the military stance, however given the limited budget and the resources we have at this point, we're looking -- we're in the process of calculating the necessary requirements, requirements for specific caps on missiles.


            And it's difficult to go into specific details of what types of missiles or specifications we're looking for in this venue.


            SEC. MATTIS:  Phil, I cannot imagine in light of Kim's expanded outlaw activities, that we, the world’s all experienced and observed over this last year or two -- I cannot imagine a condition under which the United States would accept North Korea as a nuclear power.


            STAFF:   This concludes the press briefing.  Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.