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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Upcoming Visit to the Republic of Korea

FPC Briefing
Kurt M. Cambell
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian & Pacific Affairs
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
January 27, 2010

Date: 01/27/2010 Location: Washington, DC. Description: Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Briefing at the Washington Foreign Press Center on the "Upcoming Visit to the Republic of Korea." - State Dept Image
3:15 P.M. EST

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Let me just say just at the start, I’m happy to take any questions. But I will be part of a small delegation that will be visiting Northeast Asia next week. The following week, Deputy Secretary Steinberg will be visiting. I will be in Japan and South Korea, and very much looking forward to my stop in Seoul, and will have conversations and discussions with my counterparts at the ministry, and also at the Blue House, and the Ministry of Defense, about virtually every aspect of our relationship. And we’ll want to talk and compare notes about recent provocative actions in the West Sea.

We’ll talk about next steps in terms of ensuring that the United States and South Korea are closely aligned, as close as possible--no light--on the next steps with the Six-Party framework. And we’ll also want to talk about a variety of other issues – political, strategic, economic – that are animating our domestic agenda, our bilateral agenda.

I never had a chance to say this, but I’d like to just tell you all something from my own perceptions from the President’s visit to Korea in November. I have been in many meetings between leaders in the past. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a more productive meeting; and I don’t think I’ve been in a meeting in which a foreign leader made – not only such a positive impression, but demonstrated an incredible sense of leadership and command as President Myung-bak.

And I could tell, watching the President, what an impact he made both by his discussions of developments on the Korean Peninsula, but not just that. He had very wise counsel about China on regional developments, and he was a very articulate advocate of a set of initiatives which have come to be known and called Global Korea. The idea is that Korea’s influence and interests extend now far beyond Northeast Asia.

So I just wanted to indicate how much the President appreciated that. We have a very busy year of bilateral meetings coming up, the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War, a number of important meetings. We think that the G-20 meeting in Seoul stands to be one of the most important meetings on financial and economic and strategic issues in the history of Asia, literally. And the fact that it is being held in Seoul is an indication of Korea’s growing importance and weight in all matters of global affairs.

I’ve seen many relationships go from high to low to in-between, and I must say one of the things that we take great comfort in, in Washington right now, is a sense and a feeling that U.S.-ROK relations are at an absolute high point. We know we have to work to keep them there. But we feel very confident with the team that the President has assembled in Seoul, and we look forward to working together on dealing with all of the challenges that we face in a very complex and dynamic region.

I’ve got more details on climate change, on Afghanistan, on Korea’s support for other initiatives such as in Haiti, but why don’t I stop here and then I’ll take whatever questions and we’ll spend as much time as you have. And again, it’s so rude to make you wait. I really apologize for that and I’m just sorry that you had to be here for a while.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) you mentioned the North Korea’s provocative actions. Why do you think North Koreans are making provocative actions (inaudible) including yesterday’s shooting?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Well, I think it’s enormously difficult to try to discern the motivations in Pyongyang beyond such actions. But I do know that we are very clear about condemning such actions. We think they’re provocative, they’re untimely, and they’re not conducive to dialogue, either for a talk dialogue or a larger dialogue as part of the Six-Party process.

So I think that’s all I can say about it. I have no idea the motivations that are behind such actions which, frankly, undermine confidence generally, in terms of our interactions with North Korea.

QUESTION: You just mentioned about confidence. Will this kind of provocative actions set back resumption of Six-Party Talk in any way?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Let me just say that the United States is clear, after close consultation with all of our partners, that we think the appropriate next step is for North Korea to return to the Six-Party framework, and that in that context, it’s possible to have bilateral meetings and to look at a variety of issues. We are insistent that North Korea abide by its commitments made in 2005 and 2007. And we will not consider lifting sanctions in advance of such a meeting and without credible progress on the issues. Now, to be honest, one of the reasons that I’m going to Seoul is to consult with South Korean officials on specific next steps.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) such provocations as something to (inaudible)?


QUESTION: Because you mentioned about (inaudible) especially South Korea. We all know that you have already delivered clear positions to North Korea (inaudible) right now, but could you elaborate a little bit more about the U.S. Government’s recent effort after this joint talk in North Korea to persuade North Korea to come back to the Six-Party Talks by U.S., by South, or without a country since Six-Party Talk?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Thank you. I think the United States and South Korea have been in very close touch concerning our mutual desire to see China convene a Six-Party meeting in the near future. And we have both communicated directly with Beijing on numerous occasions about the desire for that to occur. So I think – we think that the appropriate next step is going to be moving decisively and decidedly to a Six-Party framework.

We’ve also had some other conversations, but overall, our primary focus has been on trying to move quickly to a Six-Party. We’ve had no authoritative response yet from China, but we are continuing to ask and to request and make clear that such a meeting is, in our view, the best interest of peace and stability in the Asian Pacific region.

To the previous question, when I say I don’t know, I would want to say one thing – that for some of these actions, there is almost a ritualistic quality to them. And so I must say that we have to compliment South Korea in the sober and careful manner in which the leadership has dealt with this most recent set of provocations.

QUESTION: You mentioned that the bilateral relations between two nations (inaudible), but I don’t think that that necessarily means there’s no pending issues that --


QUESTION: Right. So what is the biggest concern right now, or what’s the major agenda that you have to deal with at this point? Even though you previously mentioned what should be the biggest (inaudible) or can you point out what is the biggest one that (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Well, I mean, the most important thing is to be clear that both sides – neither of us-- can take such positive relations for granted. This is an alliance that requires hard work. It requires labor and consultation, and frankly, appreciation. One of the things that we want to do more and better is to say thank you to Korea for the things that Koreans do on a regular basis in Afghanistan, on climate change, in Haiti. One of the most responsible and proactive states that we deal with currently on the global scene is Korea. That would be number one. Let’s just not take it for granted and be more appreciative of contributions more generally.

Secondly, it is absolutely essential that trust and confidence remain at a very high level between our two governments on North Korea. I think there have been times in the past where there have been questions, primarily in South Korea, about the United States and our approach. This Administration is committed to making sure that we work hand-in-glove, in complete coordination with one another. And that is something that requires not only consultations, but a very clear and determined approach. That would be number two.

Number three, we have heard very clearly from the Korean Government the importance that they attach to the Korea free trade agreement, the KORUS. And I think the President’s specific language speaks for itself that it is incumbent on our Administration to take the necessary steps that will allow us to make progress, perhaps later in the year. But we understand very clearly and we share that sense of importance and urgency, so that would be number three.

Number four is that like all alliances, there are some housekeeping matters. We want to make sure that issues associated with training and relocation are handled in a way that limits disruption, that allows for the continued training and hopefully the long-term stability of the presence of U.S. forces, but also reduces the burdens on host nation communities. And so those issues are important and we’ll want to work closely on them.

And then I would say there are a whole set of regional and global matters, including talking about China’s rise and its importance in the Asia Pacific region, and the various aspects of the global Korea agenda, including support for U.N. actions in Afghanistan and elsewhere and a broader dialogue on new and emerging trans-national challenges like climate change. So this is an extraordinarily full agenda.

I can’t help but saying I’m quite confident that our governments are going to be able to work closely together, and I must say it is a welcome relief recently to be able to go to Seoul, honestly, that it should feel so positive about the relationship. We know there are things that we need to do. We know that. But we also very much appreciate the patience and support and the determination that we’ve seen exhibited by your leadership.


MR. CAMPBELL: Oh, yes please. (inaudible) – women always are (inaudible) men are jumping in. (Laughter.)

Go ahead, you go first. Now that I said that, I’ll let you go first. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: One of the necessary steps for the United States (inaudible) there were no signs that the U.S. Congress and the Administration are ready to (inaudible). What will be the necessary ending?

MR. CAMPBELL: If I could just say, first of all, I think President Myung-bak made a powerful and impassioned strategic argument to President Obama, not just on economic and commercial and financial matters but on a strategic argument about the American role in Asia and in Northeast Asia, and particularly how important it was to secure this American position in the current context. And the argument was powerful and persuasive. And so I think, as I said earlier, I think the President and his senior team came away very much impressed by such an argument.

Now, I don’t think I need to tell any of you that last week’s election in Massachusetts changes many things – calculations on domestic politics and the like. It is still too early to say what this means over the course of the next couple of weeks. But all I would tell you is that the determination and the statements made by the U.S. side about their desire to move forward remain unchanged. But we’ll need, probably, a little bit more time to reflect on some of the implications of the recent election in Massachusetts. But ultimately, I’m quite confident and I know that there will be a process put in place. The timing of it, I agree, we’ll have to wait and see.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the timeline?

MR. CAMPBELL: Once we get to that, I will let you know. (Laughter.) We’re not yet at the start of the --

QUESTION: By the end of (inaudible) in the first month of the year or a later month of the (inaudible)?

MR. CAMPBELL: I just think I’ll just stay with that. And ultimately, the responsibility for the next steps lies with the US trade representative’s office. And Ambassador Kirk understands very clearly the importance of this and has talked a little bit about sort of what the timing might look like later in the year. I don’t think I need to get into much more detail than that, but just to say that we understand very clearly and have heard with great certitude the importance of this from the Korean side.

Yes. Actually, I’m going to --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. CAMPBELL: No. I’m good.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) follow-up. (Laughter.)

MR. CAMPBELL: Can I just tell you, just generally, I don’t – I’m not trying to dodge your question. There’s just not much more to say on the FTA right now.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR. CAMPBELL: So if I had more, I would tell you, but I just – I think my statement really stands for itself right now.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) or I just want to have an add to it is that I think the Koreans and the Korean Government also are running out of patience on this FTA issue. And you said that Obama – the President and his senior officials fully understand Korea’s position, but still, I think, the Korean people, right now, they are more – I mean, assume there was other issues, (inaudible) FTA and concerning how the US is taking care of this. I think it is kind of very disappointing. And also – we Koreans also are coming out of patience on this issue. So we want, I think – not only the government but also the people want to see some kind of a response from the US Government, and we don’t see anything. You’re just saying wait more, wait (inaudible).

MR. CAMPBELL: I understand that very clearly, but I will say that one of the points that the President and his senior economic team tried to make is, in many respects, the unprecedented level of economic challenge the United States is facing right now. And you all live here in the United States, so you experience this. You understand what we’re talking about here. But it’s very real. And one of the points that Myung-bak made was that, look, there are trade imbalances and then there are trade imbalances. And with China, China’s trade imbalance with the United States is not in the same – nowhere near a much more balanced and, I think, healthy trade balance between – and relationship between the United States and South Korea, and he wants to be viewed in that context. And I think that’s an appropriate point to make, and I think it’s understood.

The point I would simply say is that the President takes office in an environment of the worst possible economic news, basically, since the Great Depression. He has gone to Korea. He has worked very hard to make sure that the G-20 includes South Korea, that the summit is held there, we are working hand-in-glove on the strategy on Six-Party talks.

One thing I would say is I think there are times when Korean or Asian friends said, look, have understanding and have some patience with us. We hear that a lot in various capitals. This is an enormously challenging time for the United States. And I believe very sincerely that this Administration and the United States in general and this President have enormous respect for Korea and its desire to work very closely. And so I would just simply say yes, please have patience, but also put it in a larger context. We are doing many other things that could not be more supportive of South Korea, and so we’d ask you to take that into consideration. But we are aware that patience runs out, and so we’ll want to work closely and in close coordination with our South Korean friends. And that’s one of the reasons that I’m going next week, is to hear directly from South Korean (inaudible).

QUESTION: Do you have any plan to propose talks with South Korea on the FTA?

MR. CAMPBELL: No. In fact, all the FTA discussions are handled by another ministry in government -- from the United States trade representative’s office. And we help support those and we encourage them but, in fact, no. My primary discussions will, (inaudible) the FTA will be on a very general level, like this, that sort of gives you an overarching strategic perception. I’ll primarily talk about political, strategic, military and foreign policy issues while I’m there. So I will be only generally discussing about the next steps on the (inaudible).


QUESTION: Thank you. (Inaudible) back to nuclear issue, even if (inaudible) nuclear security summit (inaudible) Washington by President Obama’s initiative, I think (inaudible) importance to regional Six-Party Talks until April (inaudible) summit to achieve summit goal.

MR. CAMPBELL: I’m sorry. (Inaudible), say it again. You think it’s important to hold Six-Party before --

QUESTION: Yeah. It is important to resume Six-Party Talks until at least April, beginning summit.

MR. CAMPBELL: I’m sorry (inaudible). I’m just – so you’re saying it should be before or after?

QUESTION: Yeah. Before. Before.

MR. CAMPBELL: But (inaudible) we are – we would like to hold Six-Party Talks. (Laughter.) So we are not the inhibiting factor right now.

QUESTION: Yeah. And my question is, do you have a time scheduled to handle nuclear issue? Something like deadline for North Korea to come back Six-Party Talks?

MR. CAMPBELL: No, we – for now, the door is open. But there’s only one door, and it’s the Six-Party door. So we encourage North Korean friends to try that door and to work with South Korea, with the United States, with Japan, with China.

Earlier questions were to ask about motivations or predictions. I’ve now worked long enough on North Korea to understand how difficult that is. And so I just don’t know what the leadership will decide. All I can tell you is that, having dealt with South Korean friends, I know they are sincere in wanting a legitimate, real dialogue, not a return to the – some of the practices that we saw in the past but a legitimate, real process involving all the parties. Yes, I think we would be prepared for that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Yeah. So you have been dealing with the North Korean issue pretty long and you know how to keep the (inaudible). Do you think it’s time for Mr. (inaudible) to (inaudible) North Korean counterparts again? Or do you have any plans – make sort of plans to induce them to Six-Party (inaudible)?

MR. CAMPBELL: Yeah. I have nothing for you on that, but I think we’ve been very clear with the North Koreans what our expectations are. Our primary focus in the current context, frankly, is to work with China, to encourage China to hold the Six-Party Talks. That’s where we’ve put most of our focus.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) their country (inaudible)?

MR. CAMPBELL: Look, we think that the essential next step has to be part of the Six-Party framework. So we have been very clear about no bilateral negotiations and we also indicated that the this trip by Ambassador Bosworth, Ambassador Sung Kim, was about delivering a very clear message about going to the Six-Party framework. We are not interested in a bilateral negotiation. We’re not prepared to do so. We are interested in the Six-Party. And I will say it ‘til I’m blue in the face. I saw some of you in the audience with Secretary Steinberg; he made the exact same comment, as has Secretary Clinton.

And so, I think the concept that she has suggested, the one of strategic patience, is one in which we are trying to apply. So it’s very hard for Americans to act like Asians. We are impatient sometimes. (Laughter.) But we are trying to learn from you and be careful and to approach this in a very strategic and patient way.

QUESTION: And you believe that time is on your side and the priority is not very (inaudible).

MR. CAMPBELL: Well, I’m not sure I would necessarily. What I would say instead is that it’s very important to be credible and to be clear with North Korea and that’s what we’ve tried to do.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I mean, you said that your major focus is now on China to cooperate, to reconvene the Six-Party talks. And you said that there was no operative response from China. Why is China not, I mean, responding to the requests from the other Six-Party countries, like Korea, US, and also other countries? And is there – is it true that maybe the position of China is a little bit different from the other parties concerning the Six-Party Talks, whether – the lifting of the sanctions or the negotiation of P-5 – I mean, peace treaty? Is that (inaudible) – I mean, are they more, I mean, open to the North Koreans’ position? Are you – are there – is there a risk between the five parties?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: I see no sign of a risk. In fact, what I’ve seen in recent months is greater coordination and more consistency of views across all the major players. And I believe that China is probably evaluating its situation currently. We know it has its own interactions with North Korea, and we will continue to make a very strong argument to Beijing about why the next step needs to be this convening of the Six Party – and we have, not just in this, perhaps, conference, but in all of our bilateral meetings ruled out easing sanctions in the current environment. That would be inappropriate, it would send the wrong message, and we are very clear about that.

QUESTION: So now we have two parties to persuade? I mean, North Korea and China – persuade them to understand the Six-Party Talks should be resumed?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: I actually think China accepts very clearly that the next step is the Six-Party Talk. I think that China has different calculations when it interacts directly with Pyongyang. And we are hopeful that they will make a very strong case to Pyongyang about why a near-term reconvening of the process is in all of our best interests. But everything we’ve seen today suggests that China shares a mutual desire that South Korea and the United States has to go back to the Six-Party Talks, and believes that this is the essential vehicle for making progress on the nuclear issues of the Korean Peninsula.

QUESTION: China still provide (inaudible) assistance to North Korea within the (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Well, remember, many of our sanctions are directed not at the humanitarian situation, and much of what China provides is fuel oil and food, which one could argue plays a major role in supporting the North Korean population. Some of our sanctions, most of our sanctions, are directed at activities that are inconsistent with nonproliferation agenda and are directed either at businesses or individuals that are doing business that enrich the elite of the regime.

And so we think some of our sanctions have had an impact on the lives of the elite. How much, we’re not sure, but we also believe that maintaining them is essential going forward, both as a measure of our commitment, but also as an indication of the deeply provocative steps that North Korea has taken over the course of the last several years.

QUESTION: Secretary, I think one of the thorny issues between two countries which you haven’t touched is, I think, nuclear (inaudible) between South Korea and United States. And as you know, that South Korea’s vice minister has been to State Department and – department and in just a couple of days ago has --


QUESTION: Yes, right. The South Koreans are right to revise their nuclear agreement between two countries. So can you tell us what’s the mood of the Obama Administration regarding that issue? And when do you think the negotiation will start?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Let me just tell you we listened very carefully to the vice minister and very much appreciated his visit. We had our own perspectives that we laid out. I feel very good about the way that these deliberations have been conducted. I think we heard very clearly some signals from the South Korean side, but I must also say my own sense is that South Korean friends also heard directly from us.

I think we will resume some of these discussions next week when I’m in Seoul. But I would anticipate that we’ll be working through these questions over the course of the coming weeks and months.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what’s the mood of the Obama Administration regarding the issue? Actually, the Under Secretary or Madam Tauscher, when she got confirmed in the Senate, she clearly opposed South Korea’s (inaudible). Do you also have that kind of positions?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: No – look, we’re right in the middle of diplomacy between the United States and South Korea on this issue, right in the middle of it. And so I’d rather not characterize it. All I can tell you is that the manner in which we’re conducting it is consistent with how we do a deal with your closest ally, (A); and (B), a recognition that Korea has very ambitious plans for nuclear exports working closely with other countries. And it is also the case, (C), too that Korea has been deeply supportive of certain aspects of the nonproliferation agenda.

And lastly, Korea is a deeply responsible player in the Copenhagen process. And there is a clear recognition that one of the ingredients in any effort to deal with curtailing greenhouse gases will involve a nuclear component. So we understand all that. That’s one of the reasons that we want to work closely with the Korean side.

I’ll take a couple more questions.

QUESTION: What do you think about the (inaudible) processing? You think it’s part of the (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: I think I’ll just stay where I am on those points. I don’t really have anything more to add on that.

MODERATOR: Two more questions.


QUESTION: If I can ask one more question.


QUESTION: You said about U.S. citizen in Korean Peninsula, Robert Park, who has been detained in North Korea for a month. Last time when two U.S. reporters detained in North Korea, I remember they were allowed consular access in two weeks. But it’s been a month and we are still seeking for consular access. Would you give us a little sense what’s going on in this issue, and why is it taking so long to get information from North Korea about him?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Well, we don’t have very much information about internal movements about whether he’s been moved to Pyongyang or not. We have consistently requested consular access. We’re working with our representative nations in Pyongyang to get access, and we think it’s a matter of the highest importance. We recognize that American citizens – the responsibility of the State Department is to take into account the well-being of its citizens abroad, and this is no exception.

QUESTION: Secretary, one very casual question: You mentioned that when President Lee and President Obama met, it was a very productive and very impressive meeting. And I was wondering if you could give us some – I mean, some explanation why President Obama, when he makes his public speech and other appearances, he’s very – he has a very positive opinion on Korea. Is there any other way he’s being – having a very positive image in Korea? Other people or for --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: That’s a very good question. I mean, I can speak for myself. I mean, I have noted that when I had the honor to be able to serve previously in the 1990s, the people that I was closest with, the people that I developed the deepest relationships with were my counterparts in the Korean ministries. And I am friends with those people to this day. And I don’t believe in caricatures. I think individuals in every society are different.

But there is a quality of Koreans – people that I have interacted with – a lack of pretense, a very clear honesty, a directness, the confidence to show emotion, and tremendous loyalty to things and people that they support, and I think also a striving to want to do better, to want to accomplish more. And I have to say, I mean, just in the meeting, if I don’t want to – I mean, I was in the meeting, I was actually emotional listening to some of the discussion. It was so positive. And the president told the story of – I’m sure you’ve all heard it many times – about his trying to get the blue jeans. I mean, it was powerful. I’ve heard it before.

But I will also say he said something – and you all know how Americans are. Americans want very much – for all the challenges, they want to be appreciated for what they do globally. And I think the president, President Lee Myung-bak, understood that – or understands that. And so one of the things he said was “We have had our difficulties, Mr. President, but the truth is the United States has a lot to be proud of on the Korean Peninsula, and a lot of that we’ve accomplished has been because of your support. Now, we’ve done it ourselves, but we are grateful to the United States for that.” And so I think there is something about the Korean character that has struck a very deep chord, at least – I think with every administration, but with this Administration.

If I could say – and I’ll just conclude with this – the one thing that’s going to be important for this period is that when I go to meetings to celebrate the U.S.-ROK relationship, I find that many of the people in those meetings are older. And I think there’s going to be – needs to be-- a very determined effort to make sure that this generation of Koreans who don’t remember the Korean War – that’s a distant memory to them – who have a very different experience of the United States, maybe a sense of a dominating country – right – that we build and sustain a strong dialogue and partnership into the future. And I think that’s going to be essential.

And that’s going to take hard work and that’s where I would end with, again, making clear that it’s important for the United States not to take this relationship for granted. It’s something that needs to be continually watered and nurtured going forward. Now, all I can say for someone who – I mean, I truly love Korea and have enormous, positive feelings. I was so proud and happy for the President’s visit there and was just extraordinary impressed by Lee Myung-bak. Now, I understand we all have difficulties and challenges, but in this environment and in this context, I’ve rarely seen a leader more effectively deliver for his people and his nation.

Thank you all very much.