Remarks With Republic of Korea Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha at a Press Availability
In the years since, the citizens of South Korea took the hard-earned freedom and transformed their war-shattered country into an economic wonder. The Republic of Korea is now the 11th largest economy in the globe, the sixth largest trading partner of the United States, and a key force multiplier for U.S. leadership in the world. The U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance has been fortified by the trials of history and is unequivocally now stronger than ever. Over 28,500 men and women of the United States Forces Korea serve as the forward-deployed face of the ironclad U.S. commitment to the security of the Republic of Korea, its people, and indeed to the entire region.
The prospect of peace and security in the Korean Peninsula and across the Asia Pacific region is why we have stood shoulder to shoulder for more than six decades. Just yesterday, I returned from Pyongyang, where I had productive discussions with Chairman Kim Jong-un in preparation for President Trump’s summit with him. It was an honor as one of my first actions as Secretary of State to negotiate the safe return of three U.S. citizens and bring them home to freedom. We wish these Americans and their families the best as they reconnect after a very difficult time apart. On behalf of the American people, we say welcome home.
The release of these three citizens helps set the conditions for a successful meeting between President Trump and Chairman Kim. We look forward to our continued preparations with the DPRK to make the summit in Singapore on June 12th a true success for the American and Korean people and for the world. I congratulate South Korea and North Korea on their historic meeting last month. The United States is encouraged by President Moon and Chairman Kim’s stated goal of complete denuclearization in the Panmunjom declaration.
Today, Foreign Minister Kang and I discussed the summit, my trip to North Korea, and the bold step President Trump is about to take when he meets with Chairman Kim. We would not be where we are today without the close and coordinated leadership of Presidents Trump and Moon. The United States and the Republic of Korea remain committed to achieving the permanent, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. If Chairman Kim chooses the right path, there is a future brimming with peace and prosperity for the North Korea – North Korean people. America’s track record of support for the Korean people is second to none.
If North Korea takes bold action to quickly denuclearize, the United States is prepared to work with North Korea to achieve prosperity on the par with our South Korean friends. The United States looks forward to continued close cooperation with our South Korean allies on this issue and many others.
Foreign Minister, thank you for being with me today. It was a pleasure to work with you.
FOREIGN MINISTER KANG: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary, for the very warm welcome. Let me reiterate my congratulations on your becoming the top diplomat of the United States at this historic moment. Secretary Pompeo, you have already been at the center of our joint efforts on North Korea, and I very much look forward to working closely with you.
We spoke on April 28th right after the momentous inter-Korean summit, and today we met just after Secretary Pompeo’s return from Pyongyang. During our meeting, I congratulated him and President Trump for the successful release of the three U.S. citizens, all Korean Americans, from North Korea. This is a promising signal for the upcoming summit between President Trump and Chairman Kim.
Over the past weeks, both Korea and the United States have been engaged in intensive diplomatic efforts regarding North Korea, and we briefed each other on the latest endeavors, including Secretary Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang and the Korea-Japan-China trilateral summit in Tokyo, which adopted a special statement welcoming the outcome of the South-North Korean summit and expressing the strong hopes for the success of the upcoming U.S.-North Korea summit. In this context, Secretary Pompeo and I discussed preparations for the summit meeting between President Trump and Chairman Kim in Singapore on June 12th. We agreed that the summit would be a historic opportunity for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue and securing enduring peace on the Korean Peninsula. We reaffirmed that our goal is to achieve the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.
In this regard, Secretary Pompeo and I agreed the next few weeks will be critical, requiring air-tight coordination between our two countries. As announced, President Moon will visit Washington, D.C. soon to meet with President Trump. The close communication and trust between Presidents Trump and Moon have been the driving force that has brought us to this point of breakthrough for the denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula. So their meeting on the 22nd will be instrumental in preparing for a successful U.S.-North Korea summit.
Secretary Pompeo and I reaffirmed that the ROK-U.S. alliance, which celebrates its 65th anniversary this year, has long served as the linchpin for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the region. We also reaffirmed that for the last 65 years, the USFK, the United States Forces in Korea, has played a crucial role for deterrence and peace and stability of the region, and we would like to emphasize again that the U.S. military presence in Korea is a matter for the ROK-U.S. alliance first and foremost.
After today’s meeting, I am even more confident that our alliance is as robust as ever and that there is no daylight in our cooperation on the denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Once again, I would like to thank Secretary Pompeo for today’s fruitful discussions and look forward to building a close working partnership relationship with him. And in addition to the upcoming summit meeting in Washington, D.C. on May 22nd, I hope to see him again in Seoul and reciprocate the hospitality very soon. Thank you very much.
MS NAUERT: Thank you. And we have time for two questions total. The first goes to Rich Edson from Fox News Channel. Rich.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. You just mentioned and have mentioned before, as have the South Koreans, that you are looking for permanent, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization. How does the United States specifically define that? Is it inspections, full facility dismantling? Is it more than that, less than that? And also, you have had more substantive conversations with Kim Jong-un than arguably any other Westerner. What is your impression of him? Do you think he’s rational? And simply, what’s it like to talk to him?
And to the foreign minister, are South Korea and regional allies discussing providing any sanctions relief to North Korea before the summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, and what kind of outcome does South Korea need to secure its security, and does that include the maintenance of current U.S. military assets in the region? Thank you very much.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I have spent more time with Chairman Kim other than perhaps President Moon working on this incredibly important challenge that lays before the world. President Trump and the world have set the conditions for a successful outcome from June 12th and the activities that are necessary to follow there from. You asked about my conversations with Chairman Kim. This question is sort of undignified, “Is he rational?” Yes, we had good conversations, substantive conversations, conversations that involve deep, complex problems, challenges the strategic decision that Chairman Kim has before him about how it is he wishes to proceed and if he is prepared in exchange for the assurances that we’re ready to provide to him if he is prepared to fully denuclearize. And I’m not sure how to define it fully.
It’s pretty clear what that means. It would be an activity that undertook to ensure that we didn’t end up in the same place that we’d ended up before, or multiple passes at trying to solve this conundrum for the world, how to ensure that North Korea doesn’t possess the capacity to threaten not only the United States but the world with nuclear weapons. And so in order to achieve that, it will require a robust verification program and one that we will undertake with partners around the world, which will achieve that outcome in a way that frankly no agreement before it has ever set forth. A big undertaking for sure, but one that Chairman Kim and I had the opportunity to have a good, sound discussion on so that I think we have a pretty good understanding between our two countries about what the shared objectives are.
QUESTION: What’s he like?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m sorry.
QUESTION: What’s he like?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We had good conversations. There – it was – there’s some videos that have been released. You can see our conversations were warm. We were each representing our two countries, trying our best to make sure that we were communicating clearly, that we had a shared understanding about what our mutual objectives were. But we had good conversations about the histories of our two nations, the challenges that we’ve had between us. We talked about the fact that America has often in history had adversaries who we are now close partners with, and our hope that we could achieve the same with respect to North Korea.
MS NAUERT: All right. Thank you, Rich. Our next question goes to Yonhap News Agency.
FOREIGN MINISTER KANG: Could I just --
MS NAUERT: Oh, pardon me.
FOREIGN MINISTER KANG: -- answer that --
MS NAUERT: Yes.
FOREIGN MINISTER KANG: I think your question about sanctions relief, I think we were very clear that the sanctions remain in place until and unless we see visible, meaningful action taken by North Korea on the denuclearization track. The North Korean leader has committed to denuclearization, and formally so through the Panmunjom Declaration. We very much hope to see further steps, more concrete steps towards denuclearization being produced at the U.S.-North Korea summit. So we’re not talking about sanctions relief at this point.
Your question about what are we looking in terms of for our own security, we are confident of our security through the Korea-U.S. joint security stance, which is why we say the issue of the alliance – any issue of the alliance, including the troop presence in our country, is a matter for our two allies to discuss and not to be put on the table with North Korea.
MS NAUERT: Okay. And our next question goes to Yonhap, to Mr. Lee Seungwoo.
QUESTION: Hello, Secretaries.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hi.
QUESTION: So I have two questions for each of you. So --
MS NAUERT: We only have time for one, please. Thank you.
QUESTION: Oh, yeah. One for --
MS NAUERT: Yes, one.
QUESTION: Okay. So one for our Minister Kang. Can I say in Korean?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Sure.
FOREIGN MINISTER KANG: Sure.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Recently, there was a talk that possibly USFK can be reduced. Was it discussed in your bilateral talks today? And when President Moon visits Washington D.C. before the Pyongyang and Washington, D.C. talks, what kind of coordination did you make in the run-up to this upcoming discussion between Pyongyang and Washington, D.C.?
(In English) (Inaudible) Pyonyang and (inaudible) Kim Jong-un, and our historic summit between President Trump and Kim is fully set up. However, the key issue is dismantling North Korea’s WMD. And I guess there’s a quite a big gap between U.S. and north standpoint. So did you actually discuss the issue with Kim, with – this issue with Kim? And have you two narrowed the differences? And do you think he’s willing to give up his WMD? Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER KANG: (Via interpreter) So there was no talk about reducing USFK at all. If there was any talk about USFK, it was only about how solid our alliance is, and any issue, any discussion about USFK or alliance should be discussed as such, between our two nations which are in alliance, and not in North Korea and U.S. talks, which was confirmed by Secretary Pompeo. And May 22nd is the day when U.S. President, the South Korean president will meet again. And along the way, President Trump and President Moon have a close relationship and trust with each other, and it played a key role. So in the run-up to the North Korea and the U.S. summit, discussion between the two leaders will play a key role in preparing and setting the tone for the talks. So we are making our best effort to best prepare for this summit.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Your question was about were details discussed. We had quite a conversation about it. I’m not going to share that here; we’re not going to negotiate the details of the agreement in this setting. We’ll do it in conversations between our leaders and our working teams that are hard at preparing for the summit. I am confident that we have a shared understanding of the outcome that the leaders want – certainly Presidents Trump and – President Trump and Chairman Kim, but I think President Moon as well. I think we have a shared vision for what we hope, when this process is completed, the Korean Peninsula looks like. I think we have a good understanding, and I think there is complete agreement about what the ultimate objectives are.
We began to work through the modalities, how we would achieve that, but I’ll leave conversations about that to another time. So thank you for your question.
MS NAUERT: Thank you, everyone. Have a great afternoon.