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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Remarks Welcoming the Republic of Korea's Minister of National Defense, Lee Jong-Sup, to the Pentagon

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well welcome to the Pentagon. Minister Lee, it's good to see you again after our meeting in Singapore in June at the Shangri-La Dialogue. 

I especially want to thank you for coming to Washington this week to attend the dedication ceremony for the Korean War Veterans Memorial Wall of Remembrance. The memorial now enshrines the names of tens of thousands of Korean and American soldiers who fought shoulder to shoulder together and who made the ultimate sacrifice to forge a better future for both of our countries.

We hope to honor their service and sacrifice today by further strengthening our alliance. And that alliance remains a foundation of peace and security for the Korean Peninsula and the broader region. And it remains one of the most robust, interoperable and capable alliances of the world.

As President Biden has said the U.S. commitment to the ROK is ironclad. And we stand together in the face of several key challenges. And foremost among them, is the threat posed by North Korea. The Kim regime is engaged in the most active period of missile tests in its history.

But our alliance remains resolute and ready in the face of these dangerous and destabilizing actions. As the recent joint statement from both of our presidents noted. So President Biden affirms the U.S. extended deterrence to commitment to the ROK the using the full range of defense capabilities, including nuclear, conventional, and missile defense capabilities.

So, I look forward to a productive discussion today on how the alliance can further enhance our deterrent posture against aggression from North Korea and other systemic competitors, including the People's Republic of China and Russia.

We'll continue to work together to protect the rules-based international order that has underpinned the prosperity of both of our countries.

And the United States will continue to stand with the Republic of Korea to meet any challenge just as we have since the founding of our alliance more than 70 years ago. So, Minister Lee, thank you for being here today. And thanks for your enduring commitment to our alliance. And I look forward to today's discussion.

ROK MINISTER OF NATIONAL DEFENSE LEE JONG-SUP (through translator): Secretary Austin, thank you for your words and our opportunity to talk to you at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June. And it's been 50 days since then, to see you again at Pentagon here today, it's a great pleasure.

So, visiting the Pentagon again, it really takes me to a trip down memory lane, because 20 years ago when I visited the Pentagon, I was one of the action officers who sat at the back seat taking notes.

And since then, I've visited the Pentagon numerous times, but being here at the seat as a minister, it makes me feel very happy. But at the same time, I do feel a lot of pressure and responsibility. And especially given that we have to further enhance our ROK-U.S. alliance, and work on the security issues on the Korean Peninsula. And having those tasks on hand I do feel much responsibility.

And for the past week, I do feel that the Wall of Remembrance was a topic that was widely discussed here in Washington, DC. One year ago, Secretary Austin, you were there at the Wall of Remembrance commencement ceremony and a few days ago I was there at that dedication ceremony. I do feel that the Wall of Remembrance had -- this entire project -- was both started and finished with the attendance of the Republic of Korea Minister of Defense and the U.S. Secretary of Defense.

And the names are written -- the names of those who were killed in action during the war -- written on the Wall of Remembrance, and the saying, "Freedom is not free." I do feel that these two are the root and the foundation of the ROK U.S. alliance.

And keeping those historical facts in mind and giving ourselves a reminder that such a tragic historical event should never repeat on the Korean Peninsula. I would like start this meeting with much responsibility on my mind. 

And I feel that it's important to have a thorough understanding on the situation, especially on the situation regarding North Korea. And I hope today's meeting gives an opportunity for us to widely discuss about our deterrence options on North Korean nuclear tests. And also, how to respond to North Korea threats bilaterally between the United States and the Republic of Korea. I also hope that we have an opportunity to enhance our execution capability of extended deterrence and also increase the level of combined training and exercises.

While there are many things that will be discussed during this meeting today, I believe one of the takeaways -- the biggest takeaway from this meeting will be that the more North Korea provokes, the firmer the ROK-U.S. alliance will become.

SEC. AUSTIN: Well Mr. Minister, we're delighted to have you here. And we look forward to this being the first of many visits during your tenure as minister. And so, I look forward to a great discussion. Thank you everybody.