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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook Hold a Press Conference Following the 53rd U.S.-Republic of Korea Security Consultative Meeting in Seoul

DEFENSE MINISTER SUH WOOK (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Through the 53rd ROK-U.S. Security Consultative Meeting, Secretary Austin and I exchanged broad, honest views on the security landscape of both the Korean Peninsula and the region, including in depth discussions on the major ROK-U.S. alliance agenda. As the first SCM to be held since the start of the Biden administration, today's meeting served as an opportunity to reaffirm once again the solidarity of the ROK-U.S. alliance, which has been maintained steadfastly over the past 68 years.

Indeed, in evaluating and reviewing the progress and achievements in major alliance agenda through consultation between both our countries since -- countries since last SCM, I assess that we prepare the framework to upgrade the ROK-U.S. alliance to a new level.

In this year's SCM, Secretary Austin and I assess the conclusion of the 11th Special Measures Agreement negotiations. The secretary and I share the view that through the successful execution of Operation Miracle, we demonstrated the value of the ROK-U.S. alliance to the entire world.

In addition, in reviewing the progress made by -- via ROK-U.S. joint efforts, including the return of the Yongsan Garrison and transition of wartime OPCON, we share the view that the ROK-U.S. alliance, based on mutual trust and shared values, is more steadfast than it had been in any other past period.

First, the secretary and I assess that the ROK-U.S. alliance maintains formidable combined effective posture based on the Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States and the Republic of Korea, and the combined command post training 21-2 -- excuse me, 21-1 and 21-2, were successfully conducted even under COVID-19. Furthermore, the secretary and I reaffirmed the U.S. commitment towards combined defense and provision of extended deterrence. Additionally, the secretary and I reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to continue maintaining the current force level of the U.S. Forces Korea.

Furthermore, the ROK and the U.S. agreed to continue cooperating in order to achieve the shared objective of complete denuclearization of and establishment of permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula based on the ROK-U.S. alliance, linchpin peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia. The ROK and the U.S. agreed that the current inter-Korean and pledged based U.S.-North Korea diplomacy and dialogue are absolutely necessary in achieving permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula, and agreed to continue backstopping the government diplomatic efforts while maintaining combined defense posture and international sanctions.

In addition, Secretary Austin and I assess that the confidence of military agreement contributes to the prevention of accidental clashes on the Korean Peninsula, and agreed to continue the related cooperation between the ROK and U.S. defense authorities while supporting inter-Korean dialogue, engagement and cooperation.

Furthermore, Secretary Austin and I share the view that through ROK-U.S. joint efforts, tremendous progress has been made to satisfy the conditions for OPCON transition and discussed the ways ahead. Considering the changed situation, the ROK and the U.S. have pushed ahead the comprehensive joint study on conditions-based OPCON transition plan capabilities, and have carried out a review to revise the annexes and appendices, evoking a change on basic text which was public -- published to swiftly proceed with COTP.

In today's meeting, we share the many progress statuses related to these two tasks and agreed to conclude them within the next year. In addition, reaffirming the conditions listed in the COTP must be sufficiently satisfied, we decided to execute the future CFC/FOC assessment in 2022. The fact that we agreed to conduct a future CFC/FOC assessment next year to focus bilateral consultation may be assessed as the ROK and the U.S. achieving another progress regarding OPCON transition discussions.

Today's meeting also included in-depth discussions on cooperation between the ROK and the U.S. and with other friendly countries for the promotion of security in the region, as well as means to enhance multilateral cooperation. In particular, the ROK and the U.S. agreed on the importance of ROK-U.S.-Japan trilateral security cooperation for responding to North Korea's nuclear and missile threats, and agreed to explore cooperation means to connect our New Southern Policy and the U.S.-Indo-Pacific strategy.

Furthermore, in consensus that space and cyber have become core domains gravely influencing national security, Secretary Austin and I agreed to strengthen cooperation in various areas in order to enhance the alliance's comprehensive response capabilities.

In addition, the ROK and the U.S. reaffirmed the position to return a significant portion of the Yongsan Garrison's land until -- by 2022, and agreed to push ahead with the terms as soon as protection measures are completed for Yongsan Garrison areas that are no longer in use. We also review the progress status of the CFC Headquarters relocation to Camp Humphreys; agreed to complete the relocation within the next year.

Above all else, I would like to express great -- great satisfaction that today's meeting proceeded under a notably friendly atmosphere based on personal trust between Secretary Austin and me initially formed when we first met in March. It was through this friendly atmosphere that particularly frank and constructive exchange of views on various topics was possible, and the secretary and I gained conviction that the ROK-U.S. alliance will further develop in a future oriented and mutually-complementary manner.

I extend my special gratitude to Secretary Austin and the U.S. delegation for traveling a long way from home for today's Security Consultative Meeting. I am convinced the ROK -- the Republic of Korea and the United States will continue developing into a global alliance jointly responding to many challenges facing us, while resolutely maintaining combined defense posture.

Thank you.

STAFF: (UNTRANSLATED)

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, good afternoon, everyone.

And Minister Suh, thanks for welcoming me back to Seoul, and for the second time this year. That's yet another testament to the importance of the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea.

Our commitment to the U.S.-ROK alliance remains ironclad, and our alliance serves as a linchpin of peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in the Indo-Pacific.

Now today, we completed the 53rd U.S.-ROK Security Consultative Meeting, the capstone annual event for our alliance, and I'd like to give a sense of what we achieved. We discussed a wide range of topics, including our unity in the face of the threat from North Korea and our progress in our bilateral alliance, readiness and training exercises, and the ways that this alliance contributes to stability throughout the Indo-Pacific.

We also reaffirmed our shared assessment that the DPRK is continuing to advance its missile and weapons programs, which is increasingly destabilizing for regional security. The United States and the ROK remain committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK, and we continue to call upon the DPRK to engage in dialogue. But we also discussed measures to enhance our combined deterrence posture and to defend against the -- a full range of threats. We also approved new strategic planning guidance, an important step forward to frame forthcoming alliance planning efforts.

Minister Suh and I exchanged views on the importance of the “fight tonight” readiness of our combined force, and we explored opportunities to further enhance that readiness through new and different approaches to regional training. The minister and I also agreed to conduct a full operational capability assessment of our future Combined Forces Command during next fall's combined command post training. This represents an important task toward meeting the conditions necessary for OPCON transition.

Additionally, we discussed ways to broaden our alliance's focus to address issues of regional concern. We shared our assessments of the changing and complex regional security environment, and we emphasize our shared commitment to the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific.

We also reaffirmed the importance of deepening trilateral security cooperation among the U.S., the Republic of Korea and Japan. And moreover, we worked to build upon the commitment made by President Biden and President Moon to align the ROK's New Southern Policy and America's Indo-Pacific strategy, and we agreed to explore ways to expand and enhance regional security cooperation and capacity building.

So it's been a very productive visit, and that's why we always look forward to being here. For more than seven decades, our alliance has stood together shoulder-to-shoulder to confront challenges to peace and security. So as we look forward to the next seven decades we remain united by our shared values and our history of shared sacrifices, and we look ahead together to new opportunities, building on our long-standing friendship and trust.

Thank you.

STAFF: We'll now take questions from the media. If you're -- if you want to ask a question, please raise your hand and introduce yourself and which agency you're from.

QUESTION: Thank you. (inaudible) for YTN, Korea's 24-hour news channel.

I have one question to Secretary of Defense Austin. First of all, welcome back to South Korea, Your Excellency. To counter pacing threats of China and North Korea, does the United States have a plan to bring back tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea and share them with South Korea like NATO, or reinforce specific capabilities of THAAD, the former USFK Commander Abrams already mentioned, or military capabilities related to ballistic missile defense in Korea?

SEC. AUSTIN: Yeah, so nothing's changed about our goal. We seek the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and we believe the best way to achieve that goal is a calibrated and practical approach to explore diplomacy with the DPRK, and that's obviously backed up by a credible deterrent and military readiness. And so we'll continue to consult closely with the Republic of Korea and Japan and other allies and partners every step of the way.

MIN. SUH (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Yes, the question was on the Strategic Planning Guidance. The Strategic Planning Guidance is a policy guidance -- guidance that is given to the -- our military committee in order for -- in order to develop our -- the combined OPLAN, and it's from a policy-level guidance to the military committee. While the SPG -- SPG that is signd in 2010 is still in effect, there have been changes to the threats that we face, as well as changes to our military organization per Defense Reforms 2.0, as well as changed in the combined -- combined defense structure. We share the recognition that there have been such changes, and in order for us to effectively develop a new OPLAN, we have -- we -- we have agreed to deliver a new SPG to the military committee.

And in terms of the end-of-war declaration, it is a political -- a political announcement, political declaration, so it'll be difficult to say that the end-of-war declaration and the SPG have any specific relations to each other.

STAFF: (UNTRANSLATED)

QUESTION: Hello, Minister Suh. I'm Tara Copp with Defense One.

The Republic of Korea has had an important trade relationship with China. Former Japan Prime Minister Abe suggested this week that if China attacks Taiwan, Japan would come to Taiwan's defense. Would South Korea's military also come to the -- Taiwan's defense if China attacked? And then second, if President Biden affirms a no-first-use policy for nuclear weapons, would South Korea need to develop its own?

And then Secretary Austin, should South Korea and Japan be concerned by China's hypersonic missile launch this summer? And are you concerned that China has shown the capability to launch a missile that can achieve orbit? Secondly, the U.S. has not conducted a large-scale military exercise with South Korea since 2019. Do you expect that these large-scale exercises will be reinstated under the Biden administration? And then last, how can you reassure allies, including South Korea, that the U.S. will continue to provide extended deterrence if the Nuclear Posture Review determines there will be no-first-use policy?

Thank you.

MIN. SUH (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Today during our discussions, we mostly focused our discussions on the alliance response capabilities. The Republic of Korea and the United States are a global partnership, and we're working -- we're working closely together, cooperating to ensure the peace and stability of the entire world, and we're still -- we're always exploring different means for continued cooperation between our countries. And rather than discussing threats from a -- specific countries, we -- we are continuing to explore the cooperation areas, potential cooperation areas between our government's New Southern Policy and the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy.

In terms of North Korea and the missile threats -- missile threats that are arising from changes in the U.S. nuclear policy, we do have -- between our countries, we do have the Deterrence Strategy Committee -- we -- where we -- where we continue to discuss -- continue to discuss to effectively deter and respond to North Korea's nuclear missile threats. DSC -- the DSC also carries out various activities, including tabletop exercises to prepare against such contingencies. And the secretary and I share the view that -- share the view that the alliance has -- alliance has sufficient preparations and efforts in future, coming forward.

And the -- and furthermore, the Republic of Korea and the United States reaffirmed that -- reaffirmed the continued maintenance of the ROK-U.S. Combined Defense Posture and the -- and the ironclad U.S. extended deterrence commitment.

SEC. AUSTIN: So regarding hypersonics, as we've said before, we -- we have concerns about the military capabilities that the PRC continues to pursue, and the pursuit of those capabilities increases tensions in the region -- region. And we know that China conducted a test of a hypersonic weapon on the 27th of July. It just underscores why we consider the PRC to be our pacing challenge. And we'll continue to maintain the capabilities to defend and deter against a range of -- of potential threats from the PRC to ourselves and to our allies.

And I would just point out that the -- the hypersonic capability is a capability, but certainly not the only capability that the PRC has the capability to develop, and my job is to focus on the broader picture and to make sure that we can defend ourselves against any and all threats.

Regarding the training, as you would expect, military readiness is a priority for Minister Suh and me. When we say we're ready to “fight tonight,” we really mean it, so training is important. I've discovered over the short 41 years that I spent in uniform that troops will fight exactly as they train, and so training is important.

I would highlight to you that any decision that we make about training events, as we -- I've always done, those decisions will be made together, and we don't have any announcements to make today.

Thanks.

STAFF: (UNTRANSLATED)

QUESTION: My name is (inaudible) from (inaudible) News Agency, and my question goes to Secretary Austin. I also would like to say welcome back to Seoul, sir.

I would ask you about the -- the AUKUS security platform and -- and White House Coordinator Kurt Campbell. He called it an open architecture, meaning that this can be sort of expanded to include more members, especially in the Indo-Pacific. So as a Pentagon chief, do you regard South Korea as a potential member of the security platform, the new security platform? And -- and -- and if so, what do you think about South Korea's role within that security platform? And have you given any thought to the idea of South Korea securing a nuclear-powered submarine? Because South Korea has been considering it for -- for quite some time.

And -- and in a related news, you have just completed the Global Posture Review and -- and we know that some -- some decision vis-a-vis the U.S. Forces Korea. That -- but other than the -- the announced decision, do you think that there is any force posture reinforcements vis-a-vis the strengthening of the U.S. Forces Korea? And -- and was there any consideration vis-a-vis the scope of the U.S. Forces Korea? For example, like, you know, to -- to -- to counter the -- the -- what you call the pacing challenge from China?

Thank you.

SEC. AUSTIN: Okay, regarding the AUKUS agreement, that agreement is specific to Australia and it answers some of Australia's pressing needs, and it's in the initial stages of -- of development there, and we're going to work very hard to -- to address requirements going forward. But it will give us capability that will be relevant to the region for some time to come.

I would just point to you that the -- our alliance with the ROK is very strong, and we talked a lot about that today, the number -- that all the things that we're doing to strengthen that alliance even -- even further, and -- and we did not discuss this capability.

Regarding the GPR, of course, I believe that what's contained in the document is pretty straightforward and clear. You see in the document a continued commitment to the defense of -- of the ROK, and we're going to do what we need to do to continue to work together, train together and be ready to -- to fight tonight. And we don't have any -- don't contemplate any -- any announcements; don't have any announcements to make regarding force posture changes today.

STAFF: (UNTRANSLATED)

QUESTION: Thank you. Jeff Seldin with Voice of America.

Minister Suh, how does the Republic of Korea see itself stepping into the larger regional role that these talks envision? Do you think that it will help when it comes to North Korea, or is there a risk it might help fuel -- fuel tensions in the region?

And Secretary Austin, what are you seeing right now from the Russian forces along the border with Ukraine? Are they continuing to grow in number? And how likely is it that they may attack Ukraine? Also, Secretary of State Blinken has spoken about sanctions against Russia. Would the U.S. or NATO response to Russia be limited to economic consequences, or does Moscow need to understand its provocations risk an international military response?

Thank you.

MIN. SUH (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Our government's New Southern Policy is based on the principles of openness, transparency, inclusivity, as well as respect for international rules. And I -- I believe it is -- it is in line to the alliance with the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy whose goals are to -- whose -- whose goals are to maintain a rules-based order in the region, as well as a open and free regional -- regional environment. Our government's position is that we will continue to respect and adhere to the international rules, as well as a rules-based order, and we have -- we have shared the view today through our meeting that we'll continue looking for a -- continue looking for areas of mutual cooperation. And furthermore, as a global -- global partnership that seeks to maintain peace and the entire world, we'll continue looking -- continue coordinating very much closely together, as well as continue to look for areas of -- areas of mutual cooperation. However, in terms of actual specific means, specific measures in terms of these -- this cooperation, these were not discussed in today's meeting.

SEC. AUSTIN: So as you know, there -- Russia has a substantial amount of forces in the border region, and we remain concerned about that. We also see troubling rhetoric -- rhetoric in the infospace. We've heard President Zelenskyy express concern about efforts to undermine his administration. And so we remain concerned, and we would encourage -- you've heard me encourage President Putin publicly before to be more transparent, and we would hope that he would do so.

In terms of potential responses, I don't -- I won't -- I don't care to speculate on potential responses. I would just say that, you know, we'll use -- we'll -- we'll continue to use the -- the -- the best methods to -- to address whatever the situation is that occurs. And again, whatever we do will be done as a part of an international community.

The best case, though, is that we won't see an incursion by the Soviet Union into Ukraine. And so we -- we would hope that -- that, you know, Putin would be a lot more transparent and they -- we would work to resolve issues and concerns and -- and lower the temperature in the regions. 

Thanks.

STAFF: That concludes the international Korean press conference. Thank you very much.

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