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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

U.S.-Republic of Korea Alliance

FPC Briefing
Gen. Walter Sharp
Commander, U.S. Forces Korea
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
July 14, 2009


Date: 07/14/2009 Location: New York City Description: Gen. Walter Sharp, U.S. Forces Korea, speaks about the U.S.-Republic of Korea Alliance at the New York Foreign Press Center on Tuesday, July 14, 2009.
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11:00 EST

General Sharp: Good morning, and thank you all for coming. For those in Washington, it’s good to see you out there on the TV.

What I planned to do today is just a short opening statement and then be able to give the majority of the time to you all to ask questions about the opportunities and the challenges of what’s going on in Korea today.

I’ve been the Commander of the United Nations Command Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces in Korea for just a little over a year now. When I took command I established three priorities, three goals for the commands. These priorities are first, to be prepared to fight and win; to be prepared for anything that North Korea can throw at us. Second, to strengthen the alliance; to strengthen the Republic of Korea/U.S. alliance. And third, to improve the quality of life for all of our service members, Department of Defense civilians and families that we have stationed in Korea. These priorities have remained constant and really everything that we do in Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea supports them.

On this trip I’ve either met with or will meet with the Council on Foreign Relations, the Korea Society and the United Nations Secretary General. With all of them I’ve been speaking about the strength and the importance of the Republic of Korea/U.S. alliance, an alliance with a 60 year history that will only grow stronger in the years ahead as we transform it to meet today’s current and emerging challenges.

It has certainly been an interesting time to be the commander in Korea with many opportunities and many challenges. The recent Summit between President Lee and President Obama points towards the opportunities. The recent provocations by North Korea serve as a ready reminder as to why the Republic of Korea/U.S. alliance remains so important today and well into the future.

I can assure you that the alliance is fully prepared to respond to any situation as we continue to closely monitor the activities in the region. In the face of the recent provocations the alliance stands strong and ready and in fact is getting stronger every day.

As President Obama recently said, the Republic of Korea is one of America’s closest allies. Our friendship has been forged in a history of shared sacrifice and is anchored in our shared democratic values.

I would also echo the thoughts of the Commander-in-Chief by saying the Republic of Korea/U.S. alliance has never been stronger. Since the end of the Korean War the Republic of Korea/U.S. alliance has deterred aggression, maintained peace on the Korean Peninsula and promoted security and stability in a vital region of Northeast Asia. We remain fully capable of performing these tasks.

The President went on to say the challenges of our young century can only be met through partnership and the United States is honored to partner with the Korean people. We will be resolute in the defense of our security and we will strengthen and deepen the friendship among our people. That’s our commitment as friends and allies.

The world and the region of Northeast Asia has changed since the ROK/U.S. alliance was forged in the Korean War. The opportunities and challenges facing it have also changed.

Some of the most profound changes have occurred in the Republic of Korea which has risen from the ashes of war to a very robust economy, becoming a leading developer of advanced technology and successfully adopted democratic institutions.

Some veterans of the Korean War recently returned to Korea as part of the celebration of the nation’s 60th Anniversary last year. They found a modern Korea of the 21st Century, simply unrecognizable from the war-torn country that they helped defend more than a half century ago.

Americans serving in Korea today stand shoulder to shoulder with one of the most capable, one of the most professional defense organizations in the world. The Republic of Korea military is well trained, it is equipped, it is disciplined, and it is superbly led.

While the alliance was a critical force in supporting the incredible changes in growth that have occurred in Northeast Asia, it remains as vital today as it did when it was first formed. But it also has to transform in order to take advantage of the opportunities and to meet the challenges of the new century. We are focusing on transitioning war-time operational control of Republic of Korea military forces to the Republic of Korea in April of 2012, normalizing U.S. military tours in Korea, and repositioning U.S. forces in Korea into first class, enduring military facilities.

The future will see a Republic of Korea led defense structure with U.S. forces operating with current troop and capability levels consolidated at two hubs at Pyontek and Deigu. The majority of these forces in Korea will be on three-year accompanied tours.

War-time operational control transition is the next logical step in the natural evolution of the alliance. The Republic of Korea military is trained, professional, and will be ready to accept that role in 2012.

As is the case today, after OpCon transition the United States will remain committed to a long-term presence in Korea and in the region.

It has been an exciting time, and is an exciting time to be in Korea, full of challenges and opportunities. Over my first year in command the Republic of Korea and U.S. forces have become stronger in our ability to fight and win; we have strengthened the Republic of Korea/U.S. alliance; and we continue to improve the quality of life for all of our service members, DoD civilians and their families.

I am convinced over the next several years we will see even a stronger Republic of Korea/U.S. alliance. I thank you and look forward to your questions.

Press: I’m going to start with a very general open-ended question and let you answer it however you choose.

Recently we’ve been covering a lot of the North Korean actions around the UN and how does the recent change of stance and dropping out of the 6-Party Talks and the nuclear tests affect -- First of all, what do you see in the near term for the North Korean situation, and how does that affect your command in the area?

General Sharp: First off, what we hope and what all the governments around the world are hoping and pushing for Kim Jong Il to change his provocations that he’s done in the past, to move towards denuclearization as he promised at one time, and to take a new path where North Korea can emerge as a nation that takes care of its people and does not continue to threaten the world.

From a military perspective over the past year and as a result of the provocations, as I said in my opening remarks, the Republic of Korea/U.S. military alliance has really gotten stronger. In the past we had worked very closely and we work really side by side with the Republic of Korea military, but it was done mostly from an exercises perspective, which are very stressful and very realistic, but there’s nothing like the real thing. The ability to be able to over the past several months work very hard between Combined Forces Command and the ROK Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the military structure there in order to be able to make sure we’re seeing the same picture of what’s going on in North Korea and prepared for any of the provocations has made us very much stronger. I think the same thing has happened on the diplomatic side with Ambassador Stevens and Minister Yu in Korea. Rally, that extends, as I said, to many other countries around the world.

Again, we hope and continue to push North Korea to take a different path, but if they decide not to as, as I said, are getting stronger every day. We’re prepared now for provocations in the future, and we’ll continue to get even stronger along those lines.

Press: You say in the past several months you’re approaching change from an exercise based to what it is now. Can you talk a little bit about what the difference is and how you’re approaching it?

General Sharp: I won’t say the approach is from an exercise to what we’re doing now, I’m saying in the past we’ve mainly focused on exercises as opportunities to make sure we’re ready to execute any of our war plans. But now because of the recent provocations, again, we deal with this on a day-to-day basis, working collaboratively with the ROK Chairman and with the Republic of Korea military to make sure that the intelligence is properly shared, that any reactions or any planning for any future provocations we work very very closely together with them to be able to be prepared to do that.

In the past, again, side by side every day, but when you have real provocations, real things going on, it allows you or forces you, depending upon how you look at it, to be able to really work this very closely and to work out the mechanisms as to what you need to be prepared for in the future based upon those provocations.

Press: There have been reports about Kim Jong Il’s health issues. Some news told that Kim Jong is suffering from pancreatic cancer. Even though the U.S. government and the Korean government are not [inaudible] the news, it seems apparent that Kim Jong Il’s health issues is getting serious. What is your view about the possibility of the military standoff as Kim Jong Il’s health is getting worse and worse in the near future?

General Sharp: I’m sorry, the military?

Press: Standoff. Military tension on the peninsula.

General Sharp: Again, as you just said, the U.S. government, nor am I going to confirm or comment on Kim Jong Il’s health. But the recent provocations, as I said, we call on North Korea to stop and to return to the 6-Party Talks. We’re prepared for future confrontations or future provocations and continue to look at that very closely on a day-to-day basis.

We hope he does change his path, but if he does not, we’re prepared for that.

Press: Let me ask you a question about recent cyber attacks.

Press: I would like to ask you if the possible situation after the possible death of Kim Jong Il and the [inaudible] between politicians who would like to get onto the top of the command in North Korea would present a chance to press North Korea to some extent, or do you hope there will be some possibility that could be presented by the fight among the politicians who are looking to replace Kim Jong Il after his possible death? The situation there is not so clear as it was after the death of Kim Il Sung when Kim Jong Il was the only one leader emerging. So do you think that this possible [inaudible] could lead to some gains, political gains? Or do you think that on the opposite it could lead to some possible problems?

General Sharp: Again, I really can’t comment on the internal politics of North Korea.

North Korea has the opportunity now and will in the future to take the correct path of denuclearizing and to be able to properly take care of their people and stop threatening others. They have that now and they will have it in the future.

Press: Do you have any confirmed information about the recent cyber attack by North Korea to South Korean government and also the U.S. government? And the South Korean Intelligence Agency believes that North Korea is behind the cyber security attack. Can you confirm that, or the jury is still out?

General Sharp: First off on your second question, I do not believe it was the South Korean Intelligence Agency. I think there was an article in one of the newspapers in South Korea that said that it may be coming from North Korea. I can’t confirm that. I think there is still work ongoing to see where the cyber attack came from, so we can’t confirm right now where it came from.

We in the Department of Defense, our operations have not been affected by these cyber attacks. Our networks are within, our ability to be able to operate from a military perspective have been protected and we’re not affected by those. However, they are a concern to us. We are on the U.S. military side working very hard to make sure that we have the proper defenses in place across all of our networks to be able to stop any sort of the viruses or any sort of the attacks. We work on that on a daily basis.

So it is a concern. We obviously call upon anyone that is doing these attacks to stop them. But from a military perspective, we’re prepared for them.

Press: Recently the U.S. Navy followed the North Korean ship Kang Nam. It is believed to have returned to North Korea. What made the U.S. Navy to believe that the ship was carrying something related to nuclear materials or some other weapons of mass destruction related material?

General Sharp: Again, obviously I can’t talk intelligence sources. But we believed there was a possibility they were carrying some things that were against the UN Security Council Resolution, and made that known to the world and I think there was a lot of concern about that ship. The actions that resulted out of that with the ship turning around I think is countries realizing they have an obligation to fulfill the UN Security Council Resolutions and to not allow North Korea to ship the different components that are in direct violation of that resolution.

Press: General, notwithstanding provocations and their seriousness, in your opinion how real and serious is military threat from North Korea, and how would you characterize its nature, whether it is missile threat or threat of land invasion or something else? As a military man.

General Sharp: As a military man, I believe that first off, we’re prepared for any sort of military attack, provocations from, as you said, from ballistic missiles, from any sort of missiles, all the way up to a full range of combat.

We have very good missile defense preparations in South Korea, and I’ll speak specifically about South Korea where I’m in command. We have very extensive plans as far as being able to deal with provocations, any sorts of attack out in the west sea area or bigger attacks from North Korea.

We exercise the high end attacks throughout the year at different times to make sure that us, the U.S. forces there, and the very very strong Republic of Korea forces are prepared for any sorts of those attacks.

The Republic of Korea military has continued to get stronger in capability both from an equipment perspective, a professionalism perspective, and a training perspective. We and the Republic of Korea, as I said, exercise to make sure that we’re prepared for anything that North Korea should come at us.

The threat as far as on the high end is of course the fact that North Korea has so many forces located very close to the demilitarized zone, to South Korea, so we have to be prepared for that type of quick attack and again, I am absolutely confident that we are and that we would be victorious if there was any attack along those lines.

Press: Do you take seriously missile ballistic threat to the continental part of the United States? I mean Alaska or --

General Sharp: I think we call upon North Korea to stop doing what the UN Security Council has said they should stop doing, which is increasing to develop missile technology that could range the United States. Are we concerned? Of course we’re concerned about a country who has developed missiles and continues to test them in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions. But again, with the defenses that we have, I’m confident that we could properly defend against that also.

Press: -- will conduct another nuclear test in the next month or two and/or a long range ballistic missile test. There’s been lots of speculation about both.

General Sharp: Roger. We hope he does not. It is Kim Jong Il’s choice as to whether he will do either of those or any other provocations in the future, both in the short term and the long term. And again, as I said earlier, we’re prepared if there’s any of those provocations that come about. But it’s up to Kim Jong Il whether he does any of those over the next several months, and we call upon him not to.

Press: May I just follow up? What is your visibility on the preparation for either of those events? And have you seen any preparations for either of those events that would indicate something in the near term?

General Sharp: Again, we’re able to have very good intelligence into North Korea, obviously, that I’m not going to talk about. And I’m not going to confirm any of that intelligence at this time.

Press: Earlier in the year North Korea said they pursue a uranium enrichment program. So after that do you see any sign that North Korea actually now is starting uranium enrichment program or they are preparing it?

General Sharp: Again, we call upon Kim Jong Il to go back to what he agreed to at one time through the 6-Party Talks, to stop his nuclear program and in fact to start denuclearizing it.

Kim Jong Il has said, as you just said, that he’s going to start reprocessing again. We call upon him to stop it if that’s what he has started to do.

Press: There was a news report that North Korean power succession is still going on from Kim Jong Il to his son, Kim Jong Un. Can you confirm about that information?

General Sharp: No, I can’t confirm that. The internal politics inside of North Korea and what they are doing right now for either succession or internal politics, I’m not going to comment on. But I will say again that we call upon Kim Jong Il or any of the succession that any changes that can be made, that they be made in the right way in North Korea, right from the perspective of going to denuclearization, taking care of his people, and stopping the provocative acts that he’s been doing.

Press: Speaking of missiles, there was a report that the revision of the bilateral missile guidelines between the U.S. and South Korea could be discussed in this coming [inaudible]. Could you confirm if you will discuss the issue? If so, what range could be permitted for Korean military to develop its own missiles?

General Sharp: To begin with, the Republic of Korea government has not asked us to do that, to look at it. That is really a State Department discussion, as far as whether it will take place or not. So no, I cannot confirm that it’s going to be discussed. And again, I am absolutely confident that the capabilities that we and the Republic of Korea have, are prepared for any threat from North Korea.

Press: Let me follow the question. Is there a possibility for the discussion at the coming [inaudible]?

General Sharp: Again, that will be up to, you’ll need to direct that towards the State Department. Again, there’s been no request to do that and I really don’t see a need for that right now.

Press: Getting back to the Kang Nam issue. Do you see that as a one-time event? It happened shortly after the passing of the Security Council Resolution. Do you see it as a one-time event, or is this a new policy that the United States military is undertaking? And what kind of cooperation do you see from other countries in the region?

General Sharp: We hope it’s a one-time event from the perspective that North Korea will stop trying to sell or to proliferate missile technology. We, the United States, and other countries I think around the world, especially in the region, are prepared to enforce the UN Security Council Resolutions and again, call upon North Korea to stop that action.

Press: Thank you for being with us, General.

It has been reported the U.S. government is considering to switch its policy from engagement toward containment of North Korea. I read in Korean Post that containment policy if you have ordered from the President at this moment?

General Sharp: I’m sorry, what was the last part of the question?

Press: It has been reported that the U.S. government is considering to change its policy on North Korea from engagement to containment. Are you ready to impose that containment policy on North Korea as of today?

General Sharp: Again, the press article you're referring to did not come from any U.S. government source so I cannot confirm it and that would really be up to the President to do any, if you will, change of policy.

So we are prepared to follow the President’s orders but what we prepare for right now is from provocations to an all-out attack from the military perspective. We’re prepared for that.

Press: Thank you, sir. My question is regarding North Korea missile range. What is your assessment of North Korean missile capability, especially medium range missiles like Nodongs.

General Sharp: I’m not sure what you mean by capability. They have a large number of shorter range missiles of which some they demonstrated recently. We are obviously concerned and call upon North Korea to stop those provocative acts. But from a South Korean and U.S. military perspective for the defense of the Republic of Korea, we’re prepared for those. We’ll work very hard to be able to intercept those if they were ever launched.

We’ve talked a lot about North Korea, and obviously we are concerned about what’s going on on the peninsula in reference to North Korea. As I’ve said several times, we call upon North Korea to change their path into the future.

But I would like to say I think there are some real positive and some good things going on as far as the opportunities that we have in the future. I’ll talk just from a military perspective. Republic of Korea/U.S. military perspective.

The Republic of Korea military and our alliance, the U.S. alliance today is very strong and it does get stronger on a day-to-day basis. I was in Korea ten years ago, 1996 to 1998. The Republic of Korea military at that time was good. It has gotten great over the last ten years and it’s because of the professionalism and the leadership of the Republic of Korea military and what they have done as far as training with us.

So from a military strength perspective it’s great to have a partner like the Republic of Korea that is engaged around the world in the various UN peacekeeping missions and the world that they are engaged in today. They did a great job in Iraq, in Afghanistan, are off the coast of Somalia today. We as a U.S. military are very proud to be serving side-by-side with the Republic of Korea military.

Secondly, it’s a great country from a U.S. military perspective to be stationed in because of the warmth and the professionalism and the warm reception that we have from the Republic of Korea people. I think that, combined with the fact that we, the U.S., see the importance of the Republic of Korea well into the future for stability and security in Northeast Asia is why we are moving towards being able to have all of our service members who are married to be able to come to Korea for three years at a time with their spouses, rather than one year like they do right now. That initiative will greatly strengthen our alliance just in that, if we have people there for three years at a time rather than one year at a time. It greatly reduces stress on our service members so they don’t have to have another unaccompanied tour somewhere else in the world. Lastly, I think it really does show the commitment of the United States to the Republic of Korea for the foreseeable future.

So it’s an exciting time for me to be a commander in Korea; it’s an exciting time to be in Korea because of the great alliance that we have now and will well into the future.

Thank you all for coming today, and thank you for the great questions today.

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