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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and South Korean Minister of National Defense Lee Jong-sup Hold a News Conference

PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY BRIG. GEN. PAT RYDER: Thank you, everyone, for being here today.

It is my pleasure to introduce Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III and Republic of Korea Minister of National Defense Lee Jong-sup. The Secretary and the Minister will deliver opening remarks and then we'll have time to take a few questions. I will moderate and call on the journalists. And with that, Secretary Austin, over to you, sir.


Good afternoon, everyone. And let me again warmly welcome Minister Lee and his team to the Pentagon for the 54th security consultative meeting.

Minister Lee, it's great to have you here. And before I begin, I'd like to express my deepest condolences for the terrible tragedy that occurred in Seoul this past weekend. Our hearts go out to the families of all the victims from across South Korea and around the world, including two young Americans. And we stand together with the people of South Korea during this time of national mourning.

Now, it's highly unfortunate that the DPRK has chosen to interrupt this solemn period with the illegal and destabilizing launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile last night, as well as additional missile launches today. I've consulted with Minister Lee, and we've decided to extend Vigilant Storm, which is our long schedule combined training exercise to further bolster our readiness and interoperability. And we'll continue to work closely together to develop options to protect the United States and our allies in the region.

Now, let me turn to the work of the security consultative meeting. As you know, it's the annual capstone event for the U.S.-ROK alliance. And it brings our defense leaders together to discuss our challenges and opportunities and to deepen our cooperation and friendship. Next year will mark the 70th anniversary of the signing of the U.S.-ROK mutual defense treaty and the establishment of our alliance.

For nearly seven decades this alliance has been an anchor of peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and across the broader Indo-Pacific. And today the ROK is a tremendously capable ally and a provider of security in the region, and a defender of the rules-based international order that keeps us all secure.

Now, Minister Lee and I had an outstanding discussion today. We talked about the DPRK's continued provocations and destabilizing actions. And at this time of heightened tension, our alliance is ironclad. The United States remains fully committed to the defense of the ROK. And our extended deterrence commitment is firm. And it includes a full range of our nuclear and conventional and missile defense capabilities.

Minister Lee and I also talked about the tremendous progress that we've made in recent months to deepen our cooperation and bolster our shared security. Just within the past year we have conducted a very successful summit between our Presidents that charted a shared vision for our alliance's future.

In July, we deployed fifth-generation fighters to the Republic of Korea, and in late September, the USS Ronald Reagan conducted its first port call to the ROK in five years. On the Peninsula, we're returning to large-scale exercises to strengthen our combined readiness and our ability to fight tonight, if necessary.

We're committed to building on these efforts to strengthen integrated deterrence and to ensure that this alliance continues to bolster security and stability on the Korean Peninsula and throughout the Indo-Pacific.

You know, for decades, U.S. and ROK service members have fought side-by-side to defend the ideals of freedom. This alliance is founded on that shared sacrifice. So we will confront the challenges of the future the same way that we have for nearly 70 years: by standing shoulder-to-shoulder as proud allies.

I'm enormously proud of what we've accomplished together, and I'm very grateful for the Republic of Korea's partnership.

So thank you, and let me turn it over to Minister Lee for his comments.

MINISTER OF NATIONAL DEFENSE LEE JONG-SUP (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Hello. I'm ROK Minister of Defense. First of all, thank you very much for your sincere condolences to the tragedy (that) happened in Korea. Also, thank you for your effort for the peace and security in the Korean Peninsula and development of ROK-U.S. alliance and your support. Thank you very much for that.

Today, through the 54th security consultative meeting, hosted for the first time since the inauguration of the Yoon administration, we once again affirmed the robustness of the ROK-U.S. military alliance and the steadfastness of the combined defense posture. Furthermore, we reaffirmed that ROK-U.S. alliance is developing its global comprehensive strategic alliance based on shared values, such as liberal democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

Secretary Austin and I held two ministerial meetings this year to work on the details of the agreement on defense areas, as agreed upon during the May ROK-U.S. presidential summit. Today was my third time to meet Secretary Austin and we made a lot of achievements during this 54th SCM.

First, Secretary Austin and I assessed the daily advances of DPRK nuclear and missile threats as a grave security challenge to the peace and stability not only on the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia but for the international community. And in order to practically deter and respond to such threats, we agreed to further strengthen the alliance capabilities and posture.

Secretary Austin committed to the provision of extended deterrence to the Republic of Korea, leveraging the full range of military capabilities, including not only nuclear and conventional forces, but missile defense capabilities, but also advanced non-nuclear capabilities, such as space, cyber, and electromagnetic capabilities.

Secretary Austin and I affirmed that any nuclear attack by the DPRK, including the use of tactical nuclear weapons, is unacceptable and result in the end of Kim Jong-un regime by the overwhelming and decisive response of the alliance. This is a strong warning against the DPRK.

Also, Secretary Austin and I pledged to further strengthen alliance capability and posture in respective areas, including information sharing, consultation process, joint planning and execution to effectively deter and respond to the DPRK's advancing nuclear and missile threats.

In particular, Secretary and I will work on response options towards all possible nuclear use scenarios by the DPRK. To this end, Secretary and I noted that progress in revising the Tailored Deterrence Strategy, or TDS, and pledged to put efforts to complete the revision of the TDS by the 2023 SCM, and prepare response options by annually conducting Deterrence Strategy Committee tabletop exercise, or DSC TTX, under the scenario of DPRK nuclear use.

In addition, Secretary Austin pledged to effectively respond to any DPRK provocation by employing U.S. strategic assets to the level equivalent to constant deployment through increasing the frequency and intensity of strategic asset deployment in and around the Korean Peninsula.

Along with the efforts of the alliance to deter and respond to DPRK nuclear threats, Secretary Austin and I pledged to encourage DPRK to choose denuclearization and the path for a brighter future. We also pledged to continue our cooperation to achieve a complete denuclearization of North Korea.

In this context, Secretary Austin assessed that the ROK government's audacious initiative is a practical approach and expresses his support for it. ROK government's audacious initiative is along the same line as the U.S. approach to the DPRK, an approach of deterring DPRK threats based on overwhelming combined defense capability and posture while, in parallel, seeking for a diplomatic solution by keeping the window of dialogue open.

As stated, both countries will adhere to the principal DPRK policies through close cooperation until the day DPRK decides to denuclearize, and the ROK Ministry of National Defense and the U.S. Department of Defense will backstop the efforts with strength.

During the meeting, there were earnest discussions and cooperation between the ROK and the U.S. and our partners for the promotion of regional security and all measures of bolstering multilateral cooperation. 

In order to respond to DPRK nuclear and missile threats, Secretary and I affirmed to continuously advance the ROK-U.S.-Japan security cooperation, for which we agreed to activate trilateral senior level policy consultation, information sharing, training, and personnel exchanges.

And Secretary and I also pledged to resume early next year the ASD level policy consultation body called Defense Trilateral Talks, or DTT, which has been suspended for the past years. 

Secretary and I also shared a strong sentiment on the importance of the rules-based international order and pledged to closely cooperate for the peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. In particular, Secretary Austin expressed much interest in the Indo-Pacific Strategy framework, which the ROK government is currently developing.

The Republic of Korea, as a responsible, global, pivotal state of the international community, will more closely cooperate with the United States, the only ally of our nation, in order to overcome global security challenges.

Next year marks the 70th anniversary of the ROK-U.S. alliance while pursuing the goal of global comprehensive strategic alliance. Secretary Austin and I concurred to plan and hold various joint events in celebration of the 70th anniversary for future advancement of the alliance. 

The events will serve as an opportunity for us to commemorate the noble sacrifices made in the battlefield by ROK and U.S. service members, and to consult on the challenges which alliance faces today and to envision the path forward for ROK-U.S. alliance.
By reaffirming the unwavering U.S. defense commitment to the Republic of Korea, efforts to strengthen the capabilities to implement the extended deterrence, as well as the robust combined defense posture based on the capability and resolve of our two nations through the 54th SCM, Secretary Austin and I assessed that we have demonstrated values and trust of the ROK-U.S. alliance to the people of both nations and a grave message of warning to the DPRK and the robustness of the alliance to the international community.

Lastly, I once again extend my sincere gratitude to Secretary Austin and the staff at the Department of Defense for their warm hospitality towards myself and the ROK delegation. Thank you very much.

BRIG. GEN. RYDER: Secretary Austin, Minister Lee, thank you gentlemen. Ladies and gentlemen, we'll be switching to consecutive translation for the question-and-answer portion, so would ask you to kindly remove your headsets.

First question will come from Reuters, Phil Stewart.

Q: Thank you. Secretary Austin, do repeated and increasingly regular North Korean missile tests show the U.S.-ROK alliance needs to adjust its deterrence strategy? And on Russia, is it your assessment that Ukrainian forces will be able to retake Kherson City and that the Russian forces are preparing to leave?

And to Minister Lee, you've called for a shift in strategy away from trying to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons but what would a shift from the denuclearization look like? And do you believe the U.S. needs to consider reintroducing tactical nuclear weapons to the Korean Peninsula? Thank you.

SEC. AUSTIN: Thanks, Phil. On the first question, in terms of whether or not we need to adjust our strategy, I'll just say first that -- and you've heard me say this a number of times -- that we -- you know, our commitment to defending the ROK is ironclad.

We strongly condemn the DPRK's irresponsible and reckless activities. As we said before, these kinds of activities are destabilizing to the region potentially. So we call on them to cease that type of activity and to begin to engage in serious dialogue.

On the issue of whether or not the Ukrainians can take the remaining territory on the west side of the Dnieper River in Kherson, I certainly believe that they have the capability to do that. Most importantly, the Ukrainians believe that they have the capability to do that.

We've seen them engage in a very methodical but effective effort to take back their sovereign territory. I think you'll see them continue to press until they secure the territory on the west side of the river. So to answer your question, I do think they have the capability.

MIN. LEE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): As for the question that was asked of me, I believe the question was regarding the redeployment of tactical nukes of the United States. To state our government's stance of denuclearization policy on the Korean Peninsula, I'd like to say that there's no change in our denuclearization policy and that, for now, we do not have a -- we are currently not thinking to redeploy tactical nukes on the Korean Peninsula. Thank you.

BRIG. GEN. RYDER: Thank you, gentlemen. All right, next, we'll go to Korea Herald, Da-gyum Ji.

Da-gyum Ji from The Korea Herald. I have two questions for Secretary Austin. My first question is on the effectiveness of the U.S. extended deterrence. North Korea has so far launched more than 40 missiles of different types since late September and North Korea has threatened to start targeting South Korean territory with tactical nuclear weapons. Clearly, North Korea has continued saber rattling and provocations but do you still think that the current extended deterrence arrangement has been effective in deterring North Korea? And what kind of North Korean behavior should the U.S. and South Korea seek to deter?

And my second question is on the inter-Korean military agreement. North Korea has repeatedly violated the inter-Korean comprehensive military agreement. It has fired around 1,000 artillery shells toward the inter-Korean maritime buffer zone. Do you think the inter-Korean comprehensive military agreement is still effective in reducing tensions between the two Koreas? Do you still support the -- do you support inter-Korean military tension reduction agreement or should we abandon the deal?

SEC. AUSTIN: On the second question, I certainly -- yes, I do think it's effective and I certainly would invite comment from my colleague here, Minister Lee, as well.

In terms of the effectiveness of the -- our deterrence, yes, I do think we've been effective. I would point out to you that we have recently gone back to conducting a number of exercises that are focused on increasing our readiness and our ability to be able to fight tonight.

As a matter of fact, right now, we have one of the largest exercises that we've seen in the -- in recent history. There's some -- over 240 aircraft that are part of that exercise and they're doing, you know, a number of high end types of training events -- conducting a number of high end types of training events, and all of that is designed to ensure that we have the ability to defend the peninsula when -- if called to do so.

And so I think this increased focus on readiness, this -- you know, our ability to redeploy or deploy strategic assets to the peninsula, as you've seen us do here with the fifth generation fighters recently -- you've also seen us move a carrier into port there recently, and I think that's -- that sends a pretty strong signal as well.

But it could be that -- you know -- our neighbors in the north there may be concerned about our increased focus on readiness. So yes, I do think we've been effective and we will continue to look at this and ensure that we remain effective.

Q: So what kind of North Korean behavior should U.S. and South Korea specifically seek to deter?

SEC. AUSTIN: What kind of behaviors would we --

Q: Behaviors the U.S. and South Korea seek to deter?

SEC. AUSTIN: Expect to deter?

Q: Yes, I mean, like, what is the desired behavior that the U.S. and South Korea are trying to bring about?

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, certainly we don't want to see, you know, anyone make a decision to employ a nuclear device. And lately, as you've seen, North Koreans have engaged in activity such as an inter -- testing an intercontinental ballistic missile, a number of short-range ballistic missiles, firing artillery into the ocean. And so all of this activity is potentially destabilizing.

And so you know, again, you know, I think it's possible that they could continue to do that kind of thing, but certainly, we are focused on making sure that they don't choose to employ a nuclear weapon or choose to attack South Korea, so --

BRIG. GEN. RYDER: Our next question will go to CNN, Oren Liebermann.

Q: A question for each of you: Secretary, sir, the Minister said just a moment ago that you'd pledge to effectively respond to any DPRK provocation by employing U.S. strategic assets equivalent to a constant deployment through increased frequency and (inaudible) of strategic asset deployment. What strategic assets do you intend to deploy to the Korean Peninsula? And is this a change in U.S. posture in the region?

And Minister, sir, do you believe a North Korean nuclear test is imminent? And is China playing a constructive role in preventing them from carrying out such a test?

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, you've seen us recently redeploy fifth-generation fighter aircraft. You've seen us exercise our strategic assets from time to time. And again, we -- to answer your question, we don't have a plan to change permanent positioning or stationing of assets on the peninsula currently. But you know, what we're doing together not only to -- on a bilateral basis, but also with our allies in Japan. In each and every case, we'll assess what -- you know, what's going on, and we'll work together to ensure that we provide the right kind of deterrent message. So to answer your question, no new deployment of strategic assets on a permanent basis, but you'll see assets move in and out on a routine basis.

MIN. LEE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): So to respond to the answer asking whether North Korea is ready for a nuclear test, I can state a statement that as for a third underground facility in North Korea, they are ready to conduct the nuclear test at that area. But when they will carry out the nuclear test is currently still a curiosity, as North Korea will have to take into account the political purpose and to exactly estimate when they will carry out the nuclear test, is a difficulty for us, as well.

And to answer the question about Chinese effect and influence on North Korea, if you traditionally look at the influence that China had in North Korea in the past, there's been a time when despite Chinese opposition to North Korea carrying out a nuclear test, North Korea still carried out the test anyway. So it's difficult to say that China has a decisive effect in North -- in choosing North Korea, as well.

Q: Thank you.

BRIG. GEN. RYDER: And for our final question, we'll go to Yonhap, Sangho Song.

Q: Yes, I have two questions, one to both Secretary Austin and Minister Lee, and the other question is for -- only for Minister Lee. And I think my question is similar to Reuters -- I mean, CNN and my colleague. But even when South Korea and the United States are talking about extended deterrence at the SCM at this point, North Korea fired missiles and artillery shells into the ocean. So -- and when the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier was in South Korea, still, North Korea fired missiles. So the question is if the deterrence works when it comes to North Korea's conventional forms of provocation or low-intensity attacks, you know, so there's still concern of whether or not the terms of the alliance really working fine. So did you actually discuss that issue at the SCM today? And did you come up with any effective measures beyond rhetorical excoriations? 


SEC. AUSTIN: To answer your question, yes, I believe our activities are effective in deterring. You know, one of the things that sends a strong deterrent message is our ability to work together and to be interoperable, and our ability to train our troops to a high level of capability, and also maintain a combat-credible force in the region. And most recently, you've seen us focus on that in a major way. Again, I point to the major exercise that we have ongoing. I -- you know, you mentioned the carrier. That is a serious demonstration of commitment and combat capability. Again, we are focused on making sure that nobody attacks South Korea, and we're committed to that. Our commitment is ironclad. And we're also committed to deterring anyone from using a nuclear device. And yes, I do believe we've been effective in that, and we'll continue to work to make sure that we're working together building increasing capability and increasing our ability to work together, so --

Q: (inaudible) said a criticism that North Korea's artillery and nuclear missile firings are a deterrence failure. You don't accept that?

SEC. AUSTIN: Criticism of --

Q: That North Korea's continued provocations can be seen as a failure in terms of deterrence.

SEC. AUSTIN: I don't. It -- you know, I believe that they are deterred from attacking North Korea -- South Korea -- excuse me. And I also believe they are deterred from employing a nuclear device, either against the -- in the peninsula or against our homeland here in the U.S. Yes, I do believe that.

MIN. LEE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): So the question was regarding the development of OPLAN and how the endorsed SPD and SPG from security consultative meeting last year and how the OPLAN is developing on top of those agreements that were made in SCM. The question was about how the process was going and when the OPLAN was going to be completed. And as for OPLAN to provide my answer, when you're developing the OPLAN, it's not a one and done deal. It's something that you continue to develop, given the -- take into account the environment of the situation. So it is difficult to say when it will exactly complete. However what I can say is that we will -- in the process of developing the OPLAN we are seeking to expedite the upgrade. However as for the specifics of the information that I can divulge, there is a limitation due to military confidentiality. So I will keep my answer to this.

SEC. AUSTIN: And one final note here, again, in terms of our deterrent efforts and at the types of things that we're deterring. I would point out that we're committed to deterring that type of activity against any of our allies and partners in the region. We remain committed to maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific region. So thank you very much.

BRIG. GEN. RYDER: Secretary Austin, Minister Lee, thank you, gentlemen. Ladies and gentlemen, that is all the time we have available today. This concludes our press briefing. Thank you for joining us.