ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Hello. Hi, thank you very much. I wanted to say how happy I am to be back in Seoul, Korea, this time as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs.
The relationship between the United States and the Republic of Korea is a top priority for the President, for the Secretary of State, for the U.S. Government, and of course, for me. We have a strong alliance, and we are marking this year, its 60th anniversary. I am very proud of the close cooperation and the progress that we have made, and in my new role as Assistant Secretary I pledge to continue to strengthen and modernize our relationship as well as our alliance.
Korea and the United States are good friends as well as good allies and good partners, and today I am happy to be having a number of meetings with some good friends of mine. Last night, I had a very substantive conversation with Ambassador Cho, the Special Envoy on North Korea Denuclearization Matters. We had a good exchange of views on the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
This morning, I have met with Vice Minister Kim and Deputy Minister Lee. He and I are going to continue our discussions in a few minutes. And, later in the day, I will have the honor and privilege of calling on senior officials of the R.O.K. Government: the National Security Adviser, General Kim; the Minister of Unification; and the Minister of Defense.
The fact of the matter is that the great access and the high-level meetings accorded to me by the government here are indicative of not only the strength of our relationship but of the breadth of our cooperation. Our discussions are covering a range of bilateral issues: security, political, economic, and others; regional issues: of course the Korean Peninsula, but not limited to that, more broadly in Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia; international hot spots: including current challenges such as Syria, but also global challenges of nonproliferation, climate change, and so on.
Again, I am still in the middle of the consultations but I can report that thus far, as to be expected, our conversations are very constructive, any very substantive. So, with that, if we have a minute or two, perhaps I could take one or two questions.
QUESTION: What is your prospect of the resumption of the Six-Party Talks?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Well, I think the right way to ask the question is not “what is the resumption of the Six-Party Talks looking like?” but “what is the purpose of Six-Party Talks?”
It is crystal clear from the Joint Statement of 2005 that the goal of Six-Party Talks, the goal of all diplomatic efforts here, is the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And so, what we are focused on, and what I am discussing with our colleagues here in Seoul, is the strategy and the steps that can bring North Korea to the realization that its security and its interests are undermined by its pursuit of nuclear weapons and a nuclear program, and that only by full compliance with its international obligations with the UN Security Council Resolutions, and only by adhering to its own commitments under the Six-Party process can North Korea achieve the security, let alone the respect, let alone the prosperity and economic growth that it says that it wants.
QUESTION: What is your position with regard to China’s proposal for Track 1.5 meetings of party nations in Beijing?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Right. I do not believe that there is a final decision about participation in these informal meetings. There are a number of Track 2 types of efforts under way. The place where we all must focus is in facilitating authentic negotiations in which North Korea comes to the table prepared to implement the commitments that it has already made, prepared to live up to the obligations that it has. The focus must be on eliminating North Korea’s nuclear program, which constitutes the driver of instability in the region and is vastly out of sync with the developments, not only in Asia but in the international community.
QUESTION: How much are you concerned about the alleged cooperation between Syria and North Korea in preparing to conduct chemical warfare? And is there any added urgency to the need to engage with North Korea because of what is going on in Syria?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Well, there certainly is a long and unsavory history of cooperation between the North Korean government and the Syrian regime. It is highly unfortunate. The issue at hand that has seized the international community’s attention is the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people by the Assad regime. This is a subject that I have discussed already today with my Korean counterparts and will continue to discuss in the course of the day. I know it is very much on the minds of the leaders, including President Park, who are in St. Petersburg today. I think that the consultations between the U.S. and the R.O.K. on this issue reflect a strong unity of view, and I want to commend the strong and clear statements that the Korean government has already issued condemning the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Government and calling clearly for accountability. This is a time when the international community must speak out clearly, and Korea has made its voice heard in a persuasive way on the international stage.
QUESTION: Did your South Korean counterparts agree to the need for military action for what happened in Syria?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: I am not going to speak for the Korean Government. They can answer themselves. And my mission is not to talk about military action in any case.
I have to excuse myself, but thank you all very much.