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Background Briefing En Route Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam


Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesperson
Senior State Department Official
En Route Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
December 13, 2013

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MODERATOR: Okay. All right. So we thought we would give an overview, as usual, of the stops in – the next two stops, Vietnam and the Philippines. Obviously, background, State Department – senior State Department official, and then of course take some questions.

So with that, I’ll turn it over to the one and only.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay, thank you. Well, before I begin on the trip, let me just remind you all that this is the fourth visit by the Secretary of State to the Asia Pacific region in the span of maybe eight or nine months. So let it never be said that Secretary Kerry hasn’t invested his time and energy in the Asia region in a way that’s commensurate with the strategic priority that the President has placed on it. And this is of course above and beyond all of the meetings that he has had with Asian leaders.

It’s worth noting that he has already met numerous times with Vietnamese top officials, including President Sang who will not be in country because he’s participating in the ASEAN-Japan Summit Meeting in Tokyo, but also with Prime Minister Dung and Foreign Minister Minh, and in the Philippines, of course with Foreign Secretary Del Rosario, with whom he’s met numerous times, as well as President Aquino.

So the context for this visit is the sustained rebalance. Secretary Kerry has wanted to come to Vietnam and the Philippines for some time. He’s been looking forward to this visit very much. He has an extraordinary personal history with both countries. The fact is that we’re – just 45 years ago, he was in Vietnam in the military commanding a patrol boat in an area not too far from where we will be visiting on Sunday. And however long it is – twenty-seven or eight years ago, he was in Manila as a young senator with Senator Lugar observing the elections that culminated in the presidency and the restoration of democracy of Cory Aquino, the mother of the current president of the Philippines.

So in terms of this visit and these two stops, as is reflected in our overall policy, I’d say there is a security dimension, an economic dimension, and a values dimension to his objectives. On the security side, clearly both Vietnam and the Philippines are, as claimants in the South China Sea, faced with significant tensions and the risk of coercive action that could undermine their interest. And each in a very different way seeks the continued, constructive presence and engagement of the United States in the Asia Pacific region as a security partner and a security guarantor.

On the economic side, Vietnam is a participant in the endgame negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is a huge development with strategic as well as economic implications. And the Philippines is the second-fastest growing economy in Asia, and the U.S. is engaged with the Philippines not only in --

QUESTION: The Philippines is the what? I’m sorry.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The second-fastest-growing economy in Asia.

QUESTION: Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The U.S. is engaged with the Philippines across a broad spectrum of trade, investment, and commerce, including through longstanding programs such as the Partnership for Growth, but also more recently, in connection with the enhanced economic engagement that President Obama launched at the U.S.-ASEAN Summit in Cambodia a year ago, to develop further our trade and investment ties and to help move the Philippines in the direction that TPP is taking the rest of – many of the other countries in the region.

And then in terms of values, first of all, there are tremendous people-to-people ties between the United States and both Vietnam and the Philippines. The U.S. is enriched by a vibrant Vietnamese and Philippine American community. And there’s a very considerable number of American citizens who live in the Philippines in particular. But both countries, although they have dramatically different political systems, are engaged in the challenge of reform and addressing the needs and the aspirations of their citizens.

In the case of Vietnam, which is not a democracy, Secretary Kerry, as he always has in his meetings with the Vietnamese officials, will advocate for the principles of democracy, human rights, civil rights, which tie intimately to the prospects for both stability and economic development. In the Philippines, where President Aquino has aggressively fought against corruption and has led in the international Open Government partnership to advance good governance principles. Secretary Kerry will lend his support for the advancement of human rights and justice.

So let me talk first about Vietnam more specifically. As I said, the Vietnamese are looking to the United States to help Vietnam modernize its economy and to deal with some of the strategic and security challenges that it faces. The United States is, of course, not an ally. In fact, not long ago, we were the bitterest of adversaries. But we do see considerable shared interests and are more than prepared to help the Vietnamese develop their legitimate ability to manage their maritime space through capacity building and other forms of assistance. And the United States is also prepared to assist Vietnam in its economic development and growth, but at the same time, as I mentioned, believes – and the Secretary will make clear – that progress on human rights and rule of law is an essential prerequisite for the kind of growth and the kind of long-term stability as well as the kind of bilateral relationship that the Vietnamese want.

In his itinerary, the Secretary will begin Saturday in Ho Chi Minh City, which is the economic center of Vietnam, and he will start his day visiting the consulate general in Ho Chi Minh City, which is – why are you looking so surprised?

QUESTION: I know. I thought that was --

QUESTION: I thought that changed.

QUESTION: I thought that changed.

MODERATOR: But the meet and greet – it’s possible that the meet and greet moves later in the day, but it will happen tomorrow.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. His day will be highlighted or garlanded by his visit to the consulate general. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: It will be a bookend of sorts. (Laughter.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Which is on the compound of the former U.S. Embassy in what used to be Saigon. And the Secretary will also meet with the business community, including the American Chamber of Commerce. That is a mix of very large, multinational U.S. companies and smaller firms as well as Vietnamese firms that – companies that do a considerable amount of business with the United States.

And he will also in that connection meet with the Fulbright Education Training Program, which entails a really unique effort to assist midlevel government officials to learn about and develop the capacity for economic administration. And I think it gets at the connection between trade and education, which are priorities for both Vietnam and for the United States.

On Sunday, the Secretary will visit the Mekong region. And this is a place that really ties together the history and the future of the U.S.-Vietnam relationship. Certainly the history is well known to you. As I mentioned, Secretary Kerry himself served in this area. But the future is in the cooperation between the U.S. and Vietnam on environmental issues and climate change. The United States, along with the five countries of the Lower Mekong, has now for several years been advancing the Lower Mekong Initiative, LMI, and Vietnam is a key partner in that effort.

Some of the programs that the U.S. is supporting are directly germane to what you will see when we visit the Mekong in terms of the ability of the country to combine development with responsible stewardship of a delicate and important ecosystem. Many, many people earn their livelihood from the river, and that livelihood is threatened both by climate change and environmental degradation. So the Secretary will see for himself what impact some of these programs are making and how the people of the Mekong are contending with a range of problems from upstream dams to pollution, infrastructure development, and changes in the global weather pattern. He will have an opportunity to travel along the waterways of the Mekong and meet with some of the students in the area who are involved in and focused on these environmental challenges.

QUESTION: Vietnamese or American students?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Vietnamese. On Monday in Hanoi, the Secretary will have his official meetings with Vietnamese Government representatives. He will meet with and then have a working dinner with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Minh, who I believe has recently also taken on the position of deputy prime minister. The Secretary will meet with Prime Minister Dung, with whom he has already had at least two meetings in the recent past. And he will, importantly, meet with the general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam. That’s important for a couple of reasons. First of all, Vietnam has a collective leadership. And the head of the party plays a very important role in policymaking and in governance. Secondly, it’s consistent with the Secretary’s belief in hand-to-hand diplomacy, meeting directly with senior leaders, even those who come – or perhaps especially those who come from different systems, to establish a personal relationship and to allow for a direct and very candid dialogue.

In addition to those meetings, the Secretary will also visit the Embassy for a meet-and-greet and discussion with the Embassy team there.

In terms of the issues that the Secretary will work on with the top Vietnamese officials, I think at the head of the list would be TPP and economic growth in Vietnam and in the region. As I mentioned, the TPP negotiations are coming to the endgame, and I’m sure the Secretary will exchange views on where things stand and what we believe needs to happen for Vietnam to successfully see this effort through.

Secondly – and this relates directly both to TPP specifically but to the issue of economic growth in general – is the discussion of human rights that Secretary Kerry has had every time he has met with Vietnamese officials. And I would expect him, as he has in the past, to emphasize the direct relevance and the impact of Vietnam’s policies on their prospects for long-term economic growth as well as on the ability of the U.S.-Vietnam bilateral relationship and comprehensive partnership to flourish.

And the third issue I would flag is the South China Sea. Vietnam is a claimant, and is faced with significant challenges. The United States isn’t backing one party against another, but the U.S. has for decades served as a guarantor of stability and security in the region. And that security and stability is aided by countries’ ability to make their own choices and to defend their own sovereign interests in peaceful ways. And so the manner in which the U.S. and Vietnam coordinate and cooperate on the principles involved in these territorial disputes, we think can have a very positive impact on the prospects for diplomatic resolution. There are also various bilateral issues that are being worked on that one side or the other is likely to raise.

From Hanoi, the Secretary travels to --

QUESTION: Particular mention what any of those bilateral issues were?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, no.

On Tuesday, the Secretary travels to Manila. Now, the Philippines is one of America’s oldest friends, a very close ally, as I mentioned, economically developing at a fast clip. It is a thriving democracy. And the people-to-people ties between the U.S. and the Philippines are really, really quite extraordinary. I think there’s something like 350,000 Americans who live in the Philippines. If I’m not mistaken, there’s maybe 10 times that many, somewhere over 3 million Philippine Americans. And this is – frankly, is an important anchor in the bilateral relationship.

Most recently, in response to Typhoon Haiyan, the United States launched a massive relief effort that was fast and effective. As President Obama said, this is how we help our friends. And so it’s very appropriate, in light of the history and the connection between the two countries, that the Secretary’s visit will begin with a stop and a wreath-laying ceremony at the American Cemetery in Manila where many, many U.S. and Filipino veterans are interred. I think I read there were something like 29 Medal of Honor winners in this cemetery, which is uniquely, in Asia, administered by the Battlefield Monument Commission. And the Secretary will end his visit to the Philippines with a trip to Tacloban, the area most directly affected by Typhoon Haiyan and the epicenter of the massive U.S. relief effort.

When he is in Manila on Wednesday, he will meet with business – the business community and – I’m sorry – excuse me, I’m sorry. On Tuesday in Manila, he will meet with the foreign secretary, Secretary del Rosario, who he has gotten to know quite well. And they will have a joint press conference.

And the president of the Philippines has invited Secretary Kerry as a special gesture to have both a meeting and then a banquet dinner at the Malacanang Palace, and that will afford them an opportunity to speak in depth about the relationship and issues of common interest. And then on Wednesday, the Secretary will meet with the American business community before going to Tacloban, where he will be able to talk with some of the victims of the typhoon, some of the aid workers, and Philippine Government officials.

I think he can assess the post-typhoon recovery efforts; make, I hope, some judgments about our own investment in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief programs, which form an important element of our engagement with ASEAN. And he can discuss on the ground the questions relating to the transition from the emergency phase to longer-term reconstruction.

So in the Philippines, in his discussions with President Aquino and Foreign Secretary del Rosario, I would expect the Secretary to discuss alliance issues. We are trying to modernize our alliance with the Philippines in ways that bolster the U.S. ability to respond to disasters and respond to crises. On this --

QUESTION: Does that mean reestablishing our presence in Subic Bay or anything like that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. It means finding ways to facilitate easier and greater access by U.S. military such as we were compelled to do in responding to Typhoon Haiyan. But it does not encompass any thought of reestablishing bases in the Philippines.

Secondly, of course, the --

QUESTION: So they haven’t asked for that, for any kind of a reestablishment of bases even on an informal basis?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There’s no intention on the part of the United States to --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) have they asked for any of that? Because there was some talk after Haiyan that they were seeking us to have a more formalized return of some sort of a presence that would allow for that (inaudible).

MODERATOR: You should talk to them about it, about what they’ve asked.

QUESTION: To know what they’ve asked you about that.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I would just speak for myself. I’m not familiar – I don’t know precisely what report you’re quoting, but we’re not – we are not in the business of establishing or reestablishing military bases in the Philippines.

QUESTION: Can I ask just why not? It would seem to be a smart thing to do if you are, in fact, concerned about coercive action – I presume you meant the Chinese – to have a more robust presence, even if it’s not hugely long-term. But wouldn’t it send a powerful signal to the Chinese that you really are the security guarantor and a player?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t think there’s any doubt that we are the security guarantor and a player. We’re in the 21st century, and the footprint and the character of U.S. military deployment in the region need not and is unlikely, in fact, to be identical to what was warranted in the previous century. But I’m not the best person to answer --

QUESTION: Well, it just seems to me --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- a specific question about bases.

QUESTION: I mean, it just seems to me that you were just in Asia with the Vice President, right, in China and when they – and the ADIZ thing.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And they’ve basically not listened to you. I mean, they’re going ahead with this to the point where it looks like they’re expanding their footprint and their operation, and if you really want to be the security guarantor and a friend of the – and an ally of Japan, an ally of South Korea, an ally of the Philippines, and potentially have a more robust security cooperation relationship with the Vietnamese, that it wouldn’t be – it would be – it would seem to be a smart move unless, of course, it’s a money thing and the Chinese would end up being – they would be paying for it, whether they knew it or not, right?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, you come to --

MODERATOR: There’s a lot that just happened. (Laughter.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes. (Laughter.) You come to a different conclusion than the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon, and the National Security team in the United States. We believe in --

QUESTION: I came to a different conclusion with them on Iraq, too, just so you get --

MODERATOR: Noted. (Laughter.)

PARTICIPANT: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Okay. All right. So it’s fine. I didn’t mean to interrupt.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. So in addition to alliance-related issues, they will certainly discuss the specific issues pertaining to the South China Sea, and that spans the gamut from practical cooperation in assisting the Philippines to develop its own adequate capacity for things like maritime domain awareness, finding out who is in their territorial waters and what they’re doing there, to the legal issues pertaining to the Philippines filing in the UNCLOS tribunal challenging the Chinese claim to the so-called nine-dash line. So there’s a lot to talk about on that score.

They will talk about the Haiyan typhoon recovery effort, and they will discuss trade and investment. As I mentioned, the Philippines is already an active member of the Partnership for Growth program, and we have a lot of work underway in building out trade and investment cooperation as part of the so-called E3, the Enhanced Economic Engagement Initiative.

Those, I think, are the main issues, although there’s a lot of space for discussion of broader regional issues as well as other bilateral issues.

MODERATOR: Should we go to questions?

QUESTION: Can I – just on Vietnam and human rights, you said that there will be – that the Secretary will make a big case for it and explain to the Vietnamese, or at least reinforce to them that unless there are changes in their behavior on the human rights and rule of law, that they can’t expect the kind of relationship that they want. That view that you expressed does not seem to be shared by significant numbers of members of Congress who are very concerned that the U.S. isn’t making human rights enough of a priority and want to make – would like to – you’ve seen the letters, I’m sure.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So I’ll shut up. Can you respond to that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’ve been in every meeting that Secretary Kerry has had with a senior Vietnamese official – that’s the foreign minister, the president, and the prime minister. And if you look at what I said earlier, I said that he would make the point, as he has before, that we believe there is a direct correlation between human rights, civil rights, and both the economic growth and stability that the Vietnamese leaders seek, as well as having an impact on the prospects for continuing progress in the U.S.-Vietnam bilateral relationship and comprehensive partnership. The Secretary has always made this case to the Vietnamese and he will continue to do so on this visit.

QUESTION: So he – is he prepared to raise specific issues of political prisoners and that kind of thing? Because I mean, some of the demands are pretty specific --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes.

QUESTION: -- going down to the immediate – calling for the immediate release of a small group overall (inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. The Secretary has raised specific cases in the past and he will undoubtedly do so again in the future. We care deeply about many of the individuals who have suffered for legitimate civil activities, and we believe, the Secretary believes that a society that creates space for its citizens to freely express their views, in person or via the internet, will be the kind of creative and innovative society that will prosper in the 21st century.

Now, I should add that the human rights pictures in Vietnam is a mixed bag. There are a number of instances of real progress, one of which is the decision by the Vietnamese to sign the Convention against Torture and they’re in the process of ratifying it, but also in a more practical and granular way.

Over the course of 2013, there have been a number of court actions to suspend sentences and to vacate punishment against civil society activists who have been allowed to return. So in those instances as well as on the matter of religious freedom, where the Vietnamese Government has expanded and accelerated the licensing of churches, for example, there – it’s not uniformly bleak.

But these are conversations, not lectures. And because the Secretary has developed good working and personal relations with top officials, and I believe that because he is perceived as speaking in good faith, I’ve heard him make some very tough and very direct points. And I think that it’s reasonable to expect that to continue.

QUESTION: In public? Was he prepared to call them out in public on this, or this something that you’re only going to do behind closed doors? Because that’s another one of the points that they make that this these private chats don’t work and need to be made public.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Secretary has been clear when, for example, Vietnamese leaders have been in Washington. He’s made clear the importance that the United States places on human rights. I think that the visit to Vietnam and the opportunity to meet face to face with senior leaders affords him an opportunity to be direct in private in a way that I hope will be effective.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary not going to go to Mass? Is he still going to Mass (inaudible)?

MODERATOR: So we’ll deal with this in the transcript, but we’re just not going to announce it in advance.

QUESTION: Well, can I just ask would that have – can we interpret that as having anything to do with this whole issue of being able to worship wherever you want to? Has it got to a meaning to it or not?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I’m – I can’t speak to the Secretary’s religious practice and religious belief. But were he to attend a religious service in Vietnam, I think it would certainly have a positive resonance as symbolic of the appropriateness of freedom and the importance of freedom of worship.

QUESTION: And Senior Official, could you talk a little bit more about the South China Sea thing and how much the East China Sea dispute feeds into this? Does that heighten concerns in the South China Sea? I mean, how does it feed into it?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, there are both differences and analogies between the situation in the South China Sea and in the East China Sea. The commonality is that in both cases, China has a dispute with a neighbor in which it is arguing that its claim is historic and indisputable, as well as manifesting behavior that is perceived to be coercive, such as the regular and massive deployment of coast guard vessels or fishing fleets in contested areas. The behavior, whether it’s in the East China Sea or the South China Sea, that the United States and China’s neighbors want to see is a rules-based approach that is consistent with international law, specifically the Law of the Sea, that engages through diplomacy, not coercion or the threat, let alone the use, of force. That’s the real point of similarity.

Right now, the ten leaders of ASEAN are in Tokyo meeting with the Japanese prime minister. And undoubtedly, they are comparing notes on the South China Sea and the East China Sea.

QUESTION: Who all’s meeting right now? I’m sorry. You’re saying all of the –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: ASEAN leaders.

QUESTION: Oh, right. ASEAN-Japan meeting.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: In each of these cases, the issue for the United States is not who wins the sovereignty argument, but rather how that argument is conducted. Our concern is with behavior, and we categorically oppose the threat or the use of force. And we similarly oppose unilateral actions that aim at advancing a claim through extralegal and nondiplomatic means. Those are the common principles in both cases.

Now, what’s unique to the South China Sea problem is the fact that there are five claimants, not two. Four of these claimants are ASEAN members. They are not identical in their positions, but they are unified, as is ASEAN as an organization, in taking the position that it’s necessary to both come to closure with China on a code of conduct that would govern, regulate behavior in the affected areas or more broadly throughout the South China Sea, but also that in the near term there’s a need for practical measures to prevent incidents or manage them if they occur in a way that avoids escalation.

This is very much the kind of thing that Vice President Biden urged the Chinese to undertake with Japan. In any of all of these cases, the risk of conflict and escalation is too high to take inasmuch as the East Asia region is the engine of growth for the global economy, and the global economy is too fragile to be put at risk.

QUESTION: Would you mind if I asked you one more question? It’s on the TPP. I mean, I know that the Secretary’s going to talk, but exactly how close are you? Do you think you’re going to meet the deadline?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: What deadline?

QUESTION: At the end of the year.

QUESTION: Let me think. Where were we sitting? Bali. And Mr. Froman set the deadline for the end of the year around.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: He said what?

QUESTION: The – a deadline for the end of year.

MODERATOR: I doubt he used the word “deadline.”

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No.

QUESTION: Timeline.

MODERATOR: Goal.

QUESTION: Goal.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Look, I’ll let the U.S. Trade Representative be more --

QUESTION: Well, just --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- answer that specific question. But the – we know that the meeting of the trade ministers in Singapore made a tremendous amount of progress. We know that in this, as well as in any negotiation, the toughest issues are saved for last, and ultimately, they rest on political decisions made by leaders.

I think it’s safe to say that the countries concerned embarked on the negotiations with the full intent of achieving the goal of a comprehensive and high-quality trade agreement. They all maintain that is still their goal. And my understanding is that there will be another round. So it may be --

QUESTION: Do you know when?

MODERATOR: There was a – if this is helpful, there was a – Mike Froman did a briefing on this. I don’t know if you all have seen it. I know it’s not what you cover every day, but I’m sure we can track it down and send it to you guys, that has answers to a lot of these questions.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: Can I just – you just mentioned five claimants in the South China Sea. Including China?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And four are ASEAN members?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes.

QUESTION: Well, then aren’t there six claimants? Doesn’t Taiwan have a claim? They’re not a member of ASEAN, but --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Is it a trick question?

QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking you to call Taiwan a country. I’m asking you to call it a claimant because I think it is.

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: No?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, that’s an interesting theological question.

QUESTION: Is it not? Or is it – or are you saying that China’s claim would include Taiwan’s claim, just because of your “one China” policy?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT FFICIAL: Taiwan is not involved in the discussions among the claimants or on the code of conduct.

QUESTION: Why? Because they --

QUESTION: But they are a claimant.

QUESTION: But they are a claimant and they – and I mean, they’re not involved because the Chinese refuse to recognize as a country and they can’t get into any of the organizations that would help them, right? They are a claimant. I mean, they can’t get into ASEAN, they can’t get into the UN, they can’t --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Let’s just say that there – five countries have competing claims in the South China Sea.

QUESTION: And one economy, since that’s what we call them. At the top of that same answer about the South China Sea, you said something about the claim being indisputable. Were you referring to Vietnam’s claim being indisputable? Before, you were talking about these different claims and you said that you have concern about the regular and massive deployment of coast guard vessels and fishing fleets into contested areas. I think you mean Chinese coast guard vessels and fishing fleets. But when you at the beginning said the claim is indisputable, were you referring to Vietnam’s claim or to whose claim?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You should go back and check the transcript when it comes out. I think that’s not – I think I said exactly what I meant.

QUESTION: I just caught the words “claim is indisputable” and I didn’t hear in reference to whom. Okay, I’ll check it.

QUESTION: All right. What can we say about North Korea now? I’m waiting with bated breath. What does this mean?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You’re referring to the --

QUESTION: Execution.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- execution. The purge of Jang Song Thaek. Well, I would describe it as an act of brutality but not of strength. The decision to not only oust but execute in such a public way a very top official, the number two in the North Korean system, who had loyally served Kim il-Song and Kim Jong-il and had served as a mentor to Kim Jong-un in the transition after Kim Jong-il’s death, is extraordinary. It, to me, does not auger well for Kim Jong-un’s ability to achieve his stated goal of making North Korea a strong and prosperous country.

With Jong Song Thaek goes a large share of such expertise in trade and investment as North Korea possessed. Beyond that, I think it would just be a matter of speculation.

MODERATOR: Other questions?

QUESTION: The nuclear issue in Vietnam – is that going to come up? Is that part of the bilateral issues? I know you signed an agreement --

MODERATOR: Again in Bali.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is this a follow-up to that?

MODERATOR: In Brunei.

QUESTION: In Brunei?

MODERATOR: In Brunei. Brunei. Sorry.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: In Brunei, right. In Brunei, the Secretary and Foreign Minister Minh initialed a 123 agreement. There is still follow-up work to be done on both the U.S. side as well as on the Vietnamese side before that can actually be signed.

Energy is a very big component of the bilateral relationship and will undoubtedly be discussed. And I think because the Vietnamese civil nuclear market is such a large one, and given the importance of the 123 agreement, it’s entirely plausible that the subject will be discussed. But there’s no particular action that the two sides need to take or can take in the context of this visit.

QUESTION: Any economic agreements going to be talked about?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They’ll talk about TPP, which is about as big an economic agreement as you can get. But I know they’ll also – or I presume they will also discuss pending commercial issues and energy.

All right?

MODERATOR: All right. We already have the transcript of the Froman briefing. That’s how quickly we work here.

QUESTION: Oh, good.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you.



PRN: 2013/T20-03



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