This is a homecoming of some kind for Foreign Minister Yun, who completed a degree at SAIS at John Hopkins, so we’re delighted to welcome him back to Washington to his old stomping ground. And it’s a privilege to have him here in a city that he knows very, very well, and to return the favor of his very generous welcome to me when I visited Seoul last spring.
Minister Yun is the first foreign minister that I’ve had the privilege of welcoming here to Washington and the State Department in 2014, and that is clearly from our point of view an indication of the strength of the relationship and the high regard that we hold for our relationship with the Republic of Korea.
As President Obama has said, South Korea is one of our closest allies and greatest friends. Last year, we celebrated a remarkable 60th anniversary of our alliance. And just a few hundred feet from here at the Truman Building is the Korean War Veterans Memorial, where Foreign Minister Yun laid a wreath on Sunday to pay his respects and to honor those who gave their lives from both of our countries in an effort to stand for freedom and democracy. It is a fitting reminder – the memorial and the visit of the foreign minister – of our friendship that was forged through shared sacrifice.
I believe the greatest memorial, though, to the thousands of Koreans and Americans who served and sacrificed together is the deepening solidarity, the deepening strength between our nations, through six decades of partnership and shared prosperity. Our relationship has matured from one that was focused primarily on security to one that is now defined by a very broad and comprehensive partnership. Last year, we participated together in a series of high-level summits and meetings, beginning with President Park’s visit to Washington last spring and continuing through Vice President’s successful visit – Vice President Biden’s successful visit to Seoul last month.
So with this visit we build upon that trust and we build upon the legacy that we celebrated last year, and that is the closeness of our relationship founded in shared values of democracy, human rights, rule of law, and all of which are strengthened through people-to-people ties. Our comprehensive political partnership with the Republic of Korea is a significant example of our overall commitment, the commitment of the United States, to engagement in the Asia Pacific. Indeed, our alliance is the linchpin of security and stability in Northeast Asia.
The United States and the Republic of Korea stand very firmly united, without an inch of daylight between us, not a sliver of daylight, on the subject of opposition to North Korea’s destabilizing nuclear and ballistic missile programs and proliferation activities. And the international community stands with us.
The United States supports President Park’s firm, principled approach to North Korea. I want to confirm that Foreign Minister Yun and I spent the lion’s share of our time – though we touched on a lot of topics, we were deeply focused on the challenge of North Korea, particularly with the events that have taken place in recent weeks in North Korea.
Together, we call upon Pyongyang to start down the path of fulfilling its international obligation and commitments. And most importantly, we call on the Republic – on North Korea to denuclearize. We will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state nor as a nuclear-armed state, and nor will the international community abide by that.
I assured Foreign Minister Yun that we remain fully committed to the defense of the Republic of Korea, including through extended deterrents and putting the full range of U.S. military capabilities in place. We will continue to modernize our capabilities so that we are prepared to face any threat.
We are also working hard to reach agreement on burden sharing and the transfer of wartime operational control so that we can continue the great advances that we have achieved to date.
Today, the people of the United States really do take enormous pride in South Korea’s incredible rise. It’s an example of how we can move from aid to trade. Not so many years ago, the United States of America was giving aid to South Korea for development. Today, South Korea is giving aid to other countries and taking its place among the community of nations in exercising global responsibilities. It’s an example of what we can achieve when the United States does help another nation to define its future and when we create jobs and opportunity here at home, even as we do that.
Our trade relationship with the Republic of Korea is also an example of President Obama’s strategic rebalance in Asia and the benefits of the President’s determination to promote export-led growth. Because of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, which will be two years old in a few months, our trade has grown to $130 billion a year. That is an enormous sum. And it is important that we continue to work together so that all of the obligations of our treaty are met.
We also welcome South Korean’s interest in the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership, which can be the foundation for high-standard trade and shared prosperity throughout the Pacific, and it would create a trading agreement that would include 40 percent of global GDP. That will have a profound impact on the trading practices of the rest of the globe.
Today, the Republic of Korea is not only one of the most dynamic economies in the world; it is also a leading contributor of humanitarian assistance. That commitment was clear in the Republic of Korea’s contributions in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, where our two nations stand shoulder-to-shoulder, providing urgent relief. And we’re very proud of the efforts that we made together.
I just recently visited the Philippines. I went to Tacloban. I saw exactly, personally how unbelievably destructive that typhoon was. But most importantly, I saw the remarkable efforts of nations joined together in order to help another nation in a time of distress. And no two nations worked more closely together in that effort than we have.
Of course, the Republic of Korea and the United States have also stood side-by-side in Iraq, in Afghanistan. And there is no greater sign of the United States commitment to regional security than the 28,500 U.S. soldiers who are stationed in South Korea.
So the relationship between our two nations has always shown its ability to be able to adapt to face new challenges. And it is clear that the foundations of this relationship are built to endure. Our commitment to one another remains rock solid.
And so I want to thank Foreign Minister Yun for his friendship, for his continued efforts on behalf of both of our peoples, as together we work to make the world more secure and to deal with very complicated and difficult security challenges and humanitarian challenges across the globe. We hope that this year will mark a year of greater prosperity and opportunity and stability and peacefulness for both of our nations and for all of our neighbors. And this marks the first year in the next 60 years of our great alliance. Thank you for being here with us. Appreciate it.
FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: Thank you, Secretary Kerry, for your kind words with regards to me. I have already expressed the meetings with Secretary Kerry so productive and enjoyable without fail. Nevertheless, I believe that we have outdone ourselves today, as our meeting has proved to be all the more timely and significant in a number of ways.
As you recall, President Park and President Obama held a successful summit in May last year. Secretary Kerry and I also enjoyed plentiful discussions throughout the year, sometimes face-to-face, and sometimes on the phone. As a result, our two countries have been able to make notable achievements in a wide range of areas, encompassing bilateral, regional, and global issues. As we embark on a new year’s journey, it has to be said that the latest developments on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia warrant our special attention and close coordination.
First of all, Secretary Kerry and I reviewed the serious recent developments in North Korea and their potential implications on the Korean Peninsula and beyond. We agreed to enhance policy coordination to tackle North Korean issues, which include maintaining stability on the Korean Peninsula and seeking progress in the resolution of the North Korea nuclear problem. In this light, we decided to intensify our consultations to assess the North Korean situation and explore our policy options. These efforts will ensure that our two countries remain very much on the same page in dealing with uncertain North Korean situation. In the event of any North Korean provocation, the – South Korea and the United States will firmly respond based on our robust combined defense posture. In addition to our actions, we’ll ensure that the UN Security Council will take prompt measures which it deems necessary.
We share the view that it is important to keep China and other related parties closely engaged to achieve substantial progress in the denuclearization of North Korea. In this regard, we agreed to place this issue at the top of our agenda so that we can better cope with the increasing volatility of the nuclear issue arising from the evolving political situation in North Korea.
Going beyond the nuclear issues, we agreed to strengthen our strategic cooperation on building sustainable peace that will pave the way for the unification of the Korean Peninsula. We also redouble our efforts together with the international community, including the United States, to induce North Korea to embrace the path of peace and cooperation through the trust-building process on the Korean Peninsula.
Secretary Kerry and I also recognized the growing uncertainty pervading Northeast Asia in recent times. In particular, I pointed out that historical issues stand in the way of reconciliation and cooperation in this region, and I emphasized the need for sincere actions. The Secretary and I agreed to strengthen our efforts to alleviate tension and promote peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia.
On the U.S. policy of rebalancing to Asia, I welcome this reaffirmation as a positive contribution to the stability and prosperity in the region. In this regard, we underscored that R.O.K.-U.S. alliance will continue to serve as a linchpin of regional peace and stability. Secretary Kerry and I share the view that the R.O.K.-U.S. alliance could not be in a better shape. Building on the achievements we made over the last year, we’ll explore concrete ways to further upgrade our cooperation based on the shared vision of the R.O.K.-U.S. alliance.
We are pleased to note that the consultations regarding the review of transition of wartime operational control are on track. The Secretary and I also agreed to ensure that ongoing negotiations concerning Special Measures Agreement and civil nuclear agreement result in win-win solutions befitting the spirit of our alliance and mutual trust.
We noted that our bilateral trade has registered sharp growth since the R.O.K.-U.S. FTA entered into force two years ago amid global economic downturn and reaffirmed our commitment to further deepen our economic cooperation. Furthermore, we recognized that South Korea’s participation in the TPP will contribute to the economic integration of the Asia Pacific region and agree to expedite bilateral consultations on South Korea’s participation in the TPP negotiation.
Today, I was very pleased to renew my personal friendship with Secretary Kerry. We continue to work together as we embark on the journey into the next 60 years of R.O.K.-U.S. comprehensive strategic alliance. Thank you very much.
SECRETARY KERRY: Byung-se, thank you very much, appreciate it.
FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: Thank you, John.
SECRETARY KERRY: As I was listening to Byung-se talk a moment ago, we were celebrating 60 years of an alliance, and I suddenly thought, 45 years ago, as I heard him refer to R.O.K.'s, I was thinking that in Vietnam when I was a young officer, we worked with R.O.K. troops. I worked with them very directly. So all of a sudden, I’m saying, God, 60-year alliance, but I was there 45 years ago. (Laughter.) That’s a little scary.
Anyway, I thank you for those many, many years of friendship, and your troops were very, very tough and capable people. Thank you, sir.