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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Joint Press Conference with Republic of Korea Minister of National Defense Shin Won-Sik Following the U.S.-ROK Security Consultative Meeting, in Seoul, South Korea

STAFF: We will now begin the joint press briefing of the 55th Security Consultative Meeting. First, Mr. Shin with his opening remarks.

MINISTER OF NATIONAL DEFENSE SHIN WON-SIK (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Good afternoon. This is the minister of national defense, Shin Won-sik.

We are in the face of a grave international security situation today. While the North Korean nuclear missile threats are advanced by the day, the armed conflict between Israel and Hamas is intensifying and the war in Ukraine is prolonging.

Amid such circumstances, the fact that Secretary Austin and I are closely cooperating for three days through(inaudible) defense ministerial meeting with Japan yesterday, the 55th Security Consultative Meeting today and (inaudible) defense ministerial meeting tomorrow clearly displays to the world that the ROK-U.S. alliance that's celebrating its 78th anniversary this year is making both qualitative and quantitative leaps forward for peace and stability and prosperity of not only the Korean Peninsula, but the world.

During the 55th Security Consultative Meeting, which is the core of the three-day course of our schedules, Secretary Austin and I affirm the robustness of the ROK-U.S. alliance and the strength of the combined defense posture. At the same time, we also materialized agreements of the defense sector, developed the alliance into a global comprehensive strategic alliance.

North Korea continues to advance its nuclear and missile capability. It's making blatant threats of nuclear usage by stipulating offensive nuclear force policy in its constitution.

Secretary Austin and I reaffirm the steadfast commitment of both countries to the powerful ROK-U.S. combined defense posture to deter and respond to such threats by North Korea.

As part of the commitment, the Republic of Korea and the United States conducted the largest-scale Combined Joint Live-Fire (inaudible) training in history this year, and will expand the scale and level of combined exercises and field training exercises, thereby establishing a formidable, combined defense posture that can punish North Korea immediately, powerfully and until the end, when it provokes.

Additionally, Secretary Austin reiterated current U.S. commitment to the provision of extended deterrence to the Republic of Korea, utilizing a full range of U.S. defense capabilities. Along with the observation of ICBM test launch on Vandenberg Space Force Base by the alliance officials, the increase in frequency and intensity of U.S. strategic asset deployment, including the first visit of a U.S. ballistic missile submarine to Korea in 40 years and the first-ever landing of B-52H strategic bombers in the Korean Peninsula demonstrated the U.S. commitment to the defense of ROK, as well as its will and capability to implement the commitment.

The ROK-U.S. alliance now, based on the Washington regulation announced by the presidents the Republic of Korea and the United States will jointly plan and execute the ROK's conventional support to the U.S. nuclear operations. The extended deterrence will evolve into one that is executed together by the ROK and the U.S.

Secretary Austin and I noted that we can never accept any nuclear attack by North Korea, and if it does use nuclear weapons, North Korea will face immediate, overwhelming and decisive response from the Republic of Korea and the United States which will lead to the end of the Kim regime.

Secretary Austin and I share the sentiment that the ROK-U.S. alliance is playing a pivotal role for the free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific, and that the Republic of Korea and the United States will generate the effects of synergy by closely cooperating in the process of implementing their respective Indo-Pacific strategies.

In particular, we concur on the importance of strengthening bilateral security cooperation among the Republic of Korea, the United States and Japan and peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the Indo-Pacific region, and pledge to firmly continue the momentum of security cooperation created by the agreements made at Camp David in August.

As discussed in the trilateral defense ministerial meeting with Japan this week, Secretary Austin and I emphasized the importance of deepening the trilateral security cooperation in both quality and quantity by operationalizing the ROK-U.S.-Japan real-time missile warning data sharing system to jointly respond to North Korean nuclear and missile threats and conducting systematic exercises by establishing multi-year trilateral exercise planning.

Secretary Austin and I assess that the United Nations Command has successfully fulfilled its role of implementing, managing, and executing the Armistice Agreement, to deterring North Korean aggression and coordinating multilateral contribution for security on the Korean Peninsula.

Secretary Austin and I will participate together in the first-ever ROK-U.S.-UNC members-based defense ministerial meeting hosted in Seoul tomorrow. We will seek for options to expand combined exercises among the Republic of Korea and UNC member states and strengthen interoperability in order to enlarge the USC contribution to security on the Korean Peninsula. We will also exchange our opinions of expanding the scope of UNC by promoting the inclusion of like-minded countries of the Republic of Korea and the United States to the United Nations Command based on the principles and resolve of the U.N. Charter.

During the meeting, Secretary Austin and I endorsed the defense vision of the ROK-U.S. alliance, a blueprint preparing the future 100 years of the alliance beyond the past 70 years. The defense vision of the ROK-U.S. alliance is a blueprint for the realization of the will the two countries' presidents that the alliance, as a global comprehensive strategic alliance, will stride forward to the future further expanding its depth and scope.

Going forward, the Republic of Korea and the United States will evolve into an out -- an alliance of size and technology based on the defense mission by applying cutting-edge science and technology in the areas of space, quantum, cybersecurity and A.I. to the defense sector, security supply chain resilience and pursuing interoperability, as well as (inaudible).

For the past 70 years, the ROK-U.S. alliance has developed into the lynchpin of peace, stability and prosperity of not only the Korean Peninsula, but the world, and one of the strongest alliance in history.

Secretary Austin and I are certain that the 55th Security Consultative Meeting has reaffirmed the ironclad ROK-U.S. alliance as well as the strong combined defense posture and served as a cornerstone in which the alliance can develop into the global comprehensive strategic alliance. I promise the people of both countries by going forward as well, I will closely cooperate with Secretary Austin so that the alliance can deter and respond to North Korean threats based on the robust combined defense posture and become the lynchpin of peace and stability for the world beyond the Korean Peninsula. Thank you.

STAFF (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Now, Secretary Austin with his opening remarks.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, good afternoon, everyone. Let me again thank Minister Shin for hosting the 55th Security Consultative Meeting. It's always great to be back in Seoul, and I'm especially honored to be here during the 70th anniversary of our alliance.

For seven decades, this alliance has been an anchor of peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and across the broader Indo-Pacific. We're about to conclude an historic year for the United States and for the Republic of Korea, and I'm proud to say that our alliance is stronger than ever. And our deterrence commitment to the ROK remains ironclad. That includes the full range of our nuclear, conventional and missile defense capabilities.

And today, during the Security Consultative Meeting, Minister Shin and I discussed shared opportunities to strengthen the alliance ever further. We discussed continued destabilizing actions by the DPRK that threaten our regional security environment, as well as PRC and Russian activities that undermine the rules-based international order.

Minister Shin and I also had the opportunity to review the strong progress that we've made in advancing the ambitious -- ambitious agenda that our presidents charted in April during the ROK State Visit to the United States.

We have deployed a number of strategic assets to the ROK, including a port visit in July to Pusan by a ballistic nuclear submarine. This was the first such port visit to the ROK in more than 40 years.

Last month, we also had a B-52 bomber land on the Korean Peninsula for the first time this century. Now, that's a milestone for our deterrence efforts. And through our regular combined exercises, we are continuing to strengthen our shared readiness in our ability to fight tonight if necessary.

And as you heard Minister Shin say earlier, we had a great trilateral teleconference yesterday with Japan's new minister of defense. And our three democracies will continue to work together to ensure stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.

Minister Shin, we're doing more than ever to strengthen our alliance. So thanks again for your outstanding hospitality and your leadership.

And we'll be glad to take some questions.

STAFF: At this time, we'll receive questions from the media. Please raise your hand to be called for a question. And once you're called, please say your name and your association (inaudible).

Q: Secretary Austin, according to the joint statement you and Mr. Shin exchanged opinions about the 2018 inter-Korean Military Agreement, and I was wondering whether (inaudible) in Washington are on the same page over the issue. Do you think (inaudible) affect ROK-U.S. combined defense posture, and it should be reconsidered to better counter those planned provocations using similar tactics to Hamas's surprise attacks on Israel, or is it an effective mechanism that prevents potential clashes near the border?

Q: Question rererred to Minister Shin. The series FCM had included a discussion of revising the Tailored Deterrence Strategy with TDS, and also methods to improve the execution capability of the extended deterrence was also discussed. How are the discussions that occurred something different from other ones that happened in the past, and also given that the Republic of Korea is relying on -- on the U.S.'s nuclear capability to defend itself, does this cause any concerns regarding the security of the -- of the Republic of Korea? And is this enough to deter nuclear threats caused by North Korea? And if there are, what are some improvement measures that can be taken?

SEC. AUSTIN: So the first part of your question, I believe, was in -- was regarding the CMA. We have an opportunity to exchange views on -- on this. And we agreed to stay in close consultation going forward.

MIN. SHIN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The question was regarding the revision of Tailored Deterrence Strategy and how it differs from the past? Tailored Deterrence Strategy was first established 10 years ago, and 10 -- the biggest difference would be that throughout the 10 years, North Korea has greatly advanced its nuclear capability, and the second difference would be that there were outcomes of the Washington Declaration which led to the launch -- launching of Nuclear Consultative Group, or NCG.

And therefore -- and therefore, by utilizing these agreements, we have now included the U.S. nuclear forces, which were exempted in the past. Currently we have included these into the consultation between the Republic of Korea and the United States.

And it's significant that that item is now in the range of discussion between the two countries. In the past, Tailored Deterrence Strategy used to be an item based on our concepts. However, this year, we have made the improvements, and throughout the year, we have made the improvements so that the Republic of Korea and the United States are now at a stage where we can jointly plan and execute combined exercises as well.

Additionally, another question was on whether the Republic of Korea's security is currently developed to the point where it is -- where the efforts are sufficient, or if the efforts are sufficient enough to protect the security of the Republic of Korea.

For this, I'd like to say that the Republic of Korea and the United States are continuously developing the extended deterrence, and by doing so, we are sending a message to North Korea and other countries that could possibly assist North Korea, and that is -- North Korea's attempt to draw a wedge between the ROK-U.S. alliance is a fruit -- is a fruitless and useless effort.

And also, additionally, we are also sending a message that through -- excuse me -- and also it's very significant that we are developing the consultation at a strategic level as well. And therefore, that we are overall -- it causes a this brings about the positive effect to the security of the Republic of Korea.

And also, we are improving (inaudible) into both -- on -- in all aspects, including policy at a strategic level and also operational aspect as well. Thereby, we are strengthening the deterrence that our -- our country has.

Q: Thank you very much. My name is Ryo Nakamura, Japan’s Nikkei Asia. Two questions. First, to the -- Secretary Austin, U.S., Japan, South Korea have made major progress on (inaudible) defense cooperation. Do you think it is time for the three countries to discuss operational, trilateral operational plan for contingency with North Korea?

And secondly, on China, the -- President Biden is going to meet with President Xi this week to -- to -- to restart the military-to-military talks. And you to (inaudible) to participate in an international conference. Are you planning to meet with the head of the Chinese delegation on the sideline? And do you believe renewed military-to-military talks could stop Chinese unsafe intercepts in the air and (inaudible)?

And to Mr. Minister, U.S. military is now (inaudible) two -- two conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine and also focusing on handling the challenges presented by China. How concerned are you the U.S. could be -- is (inaudible) from handling the threat posed by North Korea moving ahead? Thank you very much.

SEC. AUSTIN: Thanks, Ryo. I lost track of how many questions that was but -- but it appeared to be more than two, so.

For the two questions that you asked of me though, the first one was on the relationship between the ROK, Japan, and the U.S. and whether or not we should be doing combined planning going forward.

Ryo, I could tell you that I'm really proud of the progress that we have made in recent years in terms of the cooperation between our three countries. We see more trilateral cooperation than we -- than we have ever seen.

We certainly -- because -- well -- well, an outcome of the summit that was conducted in -- in Washington with our -- our three leaders -- agreed to share data -- and -- and we have made a -- a lot of progress towards that end. In -- in the coming weeks, you'll see us making some announcements here.

We -- you've seen us most recently conduct a combined air exercise, where all three countries flew together, and that's a -- that's really a -- a remarkable accomplishment. And we'll continue to build on that going forward.

The Minister of Defense and I both mentioned our trilateral defense ministers meeting that we just conducted, a very, very good meeting. It's things like that that will enable us to continue to build our relationships and work closer and closer together.

I have to commend the leadership of our three countries for the great example that faced that for other – for, for everyone to follow in terms of meeting and -- and agreeing to work together on pretty significant issues.

Your second question, I think, Ryo, was regarding our opportunity to have mil-to-mil engagements with the Chinese going forward. I don't have anything to announce today and I won't speculate on any outcomes of President Biden's meeting with President Xi, but you've heard me talk about how important this is before. I think, you know, for our countries, we -- we -- we have to make sure that senior military leaders and defense leaders are talking so that we don't allow a competitive relationship to turn and to develop into crisis, and that we can communicate on things that -- that are concerning whenever required. But these -- these talks these needs to -- need -- need to be substantiative. And -- and so we're looking to engage with -- with the PRC mil-to-mil at some point in the future. You've heard me say that a number of times, and -- and I'll continue to say that. I think it's really, really important to be able to -- to manage things and -- and -- and to be able to prevent crises from -- from spiraling out of control.

MIN. SHIN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): And I would provide my answer, and I'd like to say that the Republic of Korea, although there are many conflicts occurring around the world, the Republic of Korea and the United States alliance is the strongest alliance in history, and also in the world. And I'd also like to note that if North Korea provokes war, then that will lead to the end of the Kim regime, and also lead to the -- the prosperity that -- of the (inaudible) democracy of the Republic of Korea. I'd also like to add that the combined service members are maintaining the right (inaudible) posture so they are maintaining the defensive posture.

Q (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): So the question was directed to Minister Shin. One of the characteristics of the Security Consultative Meeting this year is that ROK's defense industrial cooperation has been selected as one of the major agenda. And regarding this, I want to ask what type of conversations were held during the meeting, and also, how the two countries have reaffirmed efforts of both countries during the Security Consultative Meeting regarding the signing of RDP, or reciprocal defense procurement. And I would like to ask when do you predict the signing timing is around, and when do you think it would be? And also, I would like to know what type of defense indus- -- and what -- I would like to ask what -- how this signing strengthens the defense industry cooperation between the two countries and what type of advantage it will bring to the two countries, as well.

MIN. SHIN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): During the meeting, Secretary Austin and I have agreed on signing(inaudible) supply arrangements and also RDP, and as we also agreed to carry our specific cooperations so that we can enhance defense industry cooperation between our two countries

We also agreed to set up a high-level consultation between the two countries in order to strengthen our cooperation in areas such as R&D. And as for the timing of our RDP signing, since we are moving to launch this since we have agreed to sign this agreement, we are going to continue to work together to create a roadmap going forward.

Q: I have questions for Secretary Austin. Regarding the incursion concepts and all the sustainability and steadfastness of the US commitment to (inaudible) deterrence. So first, is it realistic to maintain the current frequency of deployment of US strategic assets, especially on the ongoing (inaudible) in Ukraine and in the Middle East.

And similarly, there were public concerns in South Korea that US commitments to South Korea could be influenced by the outcome of a U.S. presidential election. So, what assurance can the U.S. provide that the current level of extended deterrence commitments, including the frequency and intensity of deployments, US Treasury assets, will continue regardless of U.S. election outcome?

And have any steps been taken to institutionalize the current implementation of extra (inaudible) to insure its long-term vigilance? to political changes in both countries? If not, do the allies have any plans to do so?


SEC. AUSTIN: Thank you.

So, for the first part of your question, is it realistic to maintain the current tempo and turning those strategic assets to (inaudible) strategic assets to the region. The answer is yes.

United States has the most powerful military in the world. And having said that, I will also say that everywhere we are, everything that we do we work with allies and partners, that magnifies our strength. And we'll continue to stand with our allies and partners in the face of aggression, and we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

You know, in the Washington Declaration, our presidents agreed to increase the deployment of strategic assets to the region, and we've lived up to that. You've -- you've seen -- we've talked about already the -- the deployment of a ballistic missile submarine, a B-52. There's been a carrier battle group that's -- that's been -- that's visited the peninsula here in the not too distant past and there'll be another carrier battle group that comes soon. So yes, we will continue to do the things that we have promised to do.

I'd also say, in the past 12 months, we've transformed our posture in the region. And so we are more forward deployed and -- and more capable to respond to anything that could -- could -- could happen.

And in addition to that, we have the most strategy-driven budget in the department's history. Our budget is directly linked to our strategy. And as -- as you -- as you would hope that it would be but I can tell you that we have gone through great pains to make sure that that is in fact the case.

And so we're going to continue to make sure that this region has what it needs to do what we and our partners and allies want to do, and that is to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

And in terms of whether or not the -- the next administration will continue to do what we have done, I am absolutely certain that President Biden will continue to do what he's done to date.

STAFF: Final question from Bloomberg?

Q: Thanks very much. Peter from Bloomberg News. Two questions for Secretary Austin. First, Fox is reporting that six to seven Iranian proxy fighters were killed by a U.S. airstrike in eastern Syria. How concerned are you that Iran might use this as a pretext to escalate the war? And then second, what's your assessment for the current threat level of Hezbollah along Israel's northern border?

And then for Minister Shin, did the U.S. and South Korea's help in providing weapons or munitions to Ukraine during the meetings?

Thank you.

STAFF: Could -- could you repeat the first question possibly?

Q: Oh. Can I -- yes, can I take the -- yes, the first question was that Fox News is reporting that six to seven Iranian proxy fighters were killed by a U.S. airstrike in eastern Syria overnight. So how concerned is Secretary Austin that Iran might use this as a pretext to escalate the war?

STAFF: And the second question on Hezbollah?

Q: Yeah, the second question to Secretary Austin was what is your assessment of the current threat level from Hezbollah along Israel's northern border?

SEC. AUSTIN: Thanks, Peter. On the first question, in terms of the strikes, you know, we -- last night, our U.S. forces conducted precision strikes in eastern Syria against two facilities that are used by Iran's IRGC and affiliated groups.

I just want to remind you that these strikes are intended to disrupt and degrade the freedom of action and capabilities of these groups, which are directly responsible for attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria.

And Peter, as you know, we see a number of attacks against our forces here in -- in recent past. And we have said and we will continue to say that we will take all necessary measures to protect our troops. The safety of our troops and our civilians are of utmost importance to the President of the United States and to me. And so we will do what's necessary to protect our troops.

I'd further say, Peter, that these attacks must stop, and if they don't stop, then we won't hesitate to do what's necessary, again, to -- to protect our troops.

Regarding the threat levels from Hezbollah in the north, what we've seen throughout this conflict, throughout this crisis is tit-for-tat exchanges between Lebanese Hezbollah and Israeli forces in the north. So your question as to whether or not they are a threat, they have been a threat and remain a threat, and it's a threat that is not taken lightly by the Israeli Defense Forces. And -- and so this is something that the Israelis, you know, I predict will remain focused on for the foreseeable future.

But again, in terms of the activity that we've seen up there, it's been tit-for-tat exchanges and hard to predict, you know, what -- what -- what will happen going forward, and certainly, no one wants to see another conflict break out in the north on -- on Israel's northern border there in earnest.

MIN. SHIN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): And a separate answer to the second question, the Republic of Korea government has provided support to Ukraine, including humanitarian aid, and the United States has expressed their gratitude to the Republic of Korea for such an aid provided. And going forward as well, the United States also asked for additional support from the Republic of Korea to Ukraine, and to which I responded that we will -- the Republic of Korea will provide to Ukraine continuously.