Ms. Mary Beth Polley: Hi. Thank you, everyone, for joining us, and a special thank you to Marc Knapper for doing this call. The President has just gone wheels up in Seoul on his way to China. So, Marc Knapper, thank you so much.
For the reporters on the call, Marc Knapper has more than 20 years in the Foreign Service. He’s a member of the Senior Foreign Service with repeated tours in the Republic of Korea. And he’s served as Charge d’Affaires at the mission in Seoul since January 2017, and prior to that was the Deputy Chief of Mission there.
Sir, if you want to go ahead? Thank you again for your time.
Marc Knapper: Okay. Well, thanks, Mary Beth, and thanks to everyone who’s on the line. I look forward to hearing your questions, and thank you for waiting.
I apologize for the delay, but, literally, I was just coming back from the air base from which President Trump and his delegation took off about 90 minutes ago; but what I thought I would do is go briefly through the schedule and hopefully give you a little flavor for how things worked during the various meetings and activities; and then maybe go into a little bit — some of the broad themes which I think we can identify, you know, during the President’s visit.
But, yeah, so he arrived, let’s see, about noon/12:30 here yesterday, Tuesday, in Seoul, and immediately proceeded from his arrival, which is Osan Air Base, to Camp Humphreys, which is a large U.S. base south of Seoul. And there he met with President Moon. The two of them dined together with both U.S. and Korean troops.
And, really, what was significant about this stop that I think their encounter was: This is a base that’s virtually 100% complete. It’s been upgraded/refurbished over the last several years at a cost of a little over $10 billion, and $9.2 billion was funded by the Korean government.
And so, really, for us, this was an important stop, not only for a chance for the President to meet with U.S. and Korean troops, but also for the two leaders to highlight just how much of a commitment Korea is making for this Alliance and for its defense. This is an alliance –the burden of which is very well and equally shared in terms of the number of troops Korea provides; in terms of the amount of funding that Korea provides; in terms of housing the U.S. forces and other bases here. And so, really, this was a great chance for the President to see with his own eyes just what Korea’s own stake in this Alliance is and its own investment into this Alliance.
And, plus, it was a really nice chance to see U.S. and Korean troops together over lunch. This isn’t anything that’s fake or made up. I mean, these troops are working together every single day. And it was really a pretty special activity for our two presidents to join them and break bread and, really, it was a pretty neat time.
While down at Camp Humphreys, the President also received a briefing from General Vincent Brooks. He’s the four-star who’s in charge of U.S. Forces Korea along with what we call the Combined Forces Command, which is the combined U.S.-Korean Armed Forces here on the Peninsula. And it was again a chance for the President to listen about the current situation here, to ask some questions about the situation vis-a-vis the North.
And from there the President proceeded up to Seoul, where he had a very elaborate and really special welcoming ceremony at the Blue House, which is –President of South Korea’s residence. And it was a really special occasion. I mean, it was – the weather was nice. And the President remarked several times, along with the First Lady, just how special and how much thought and effort had gone into this ceremony, and it really did, I think, reflect the warm hospitality that President Moon and South Korean First Lady and the South Korean people wanted to show the President and the First Lady upon their arrival.
And as we were going from the helipad here in town to the Blue House, both sides of the streets were lined with people waving U.S. flags, Korean flags. And this is a free country, a free society, and so there were pockets of individuals who were exercising their right to free speech and were expressing their opposition to the President and his policies, but that was a pretty small number compared to, I’d say, the folks who had come out in the cold to welcome and show their support for the President.
Following the welcome ceremony, the two presidents had time together for a very small meeting, basically just the two of them; and then we proceeded to a larger bilateral meeting which covered — there was a range of subjects from North Korea to some trade issues to how we can strengthen even further our Alliance, especially as we approach regional matters.
And then following the bilateral summit, after a little downtime, we had the State Dinner, which was, again, really reflective of Korea’s warm hospitality with very gracious events showcasing some of Korea’s great culinary traditions. And then there was a performance afterwards with a pretty famous Kpop star and Korean orchestra with traditional and Western music. So all in all, it was a really successful day.
I would say that, aside from the President’s schedule, the First Lady also took part in some activities. One was when she joined some Korean athletes and Korean Olympians to help kind of kick off – or — or I should say, to help build enthusiasm for the Olympics here, the Winter Olympics, which are less than 100 days away; and there was also an opportunity to promote girls’ participation in sports. And so that was pretty fun. And then from there, the First Lady joined the Korean First Lady, Mrs. Kim, and the two of them enjoyed time together, kind of a tea event elsewhere on the grounds of the Blue House.
So, really, it was a great opportunity for not just the First Ladies, but then later on they were joined by their husbands. And so, really, I think this visit from the time the two leaders — the two First Couples spent together yesterday helped to cement their friendship, cement their relationship, and continue to build a personal rapport between and among all of them.
Today — and you’ve probably seen in the news, but the President did try to fly up to the DMZ, but, unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate. And as these things go, given that helicopters have pretty stringent safety rules, it was really overcast this morning. And I think they tried, but it just became apparent that it wasn’t — it just wasn’t safe to continue given the overcast and foggy conditions.
So the President wasn’t able to do that. And he expressed his disappointment later when he was addressing the National Assembly, and also pledged to go next time he visits Korea. But he did, of course, give his speech to the National Assembly, which was a major anchor of this whole Asia trip.
And I think — I recommend it to all of you if you haven’t had a chance to see the transcript; but it was a really powerful speech in which he contrasted the tremendous success of South Korea, the Republic of Korea, over the past six, seven decades in terms of economic development, political development, democratization, also in terms of just the tremendous strides that Korea’s made to become a world leader in all walks of life, whether it’s sports or — or scientific and medical achievements; and looking at this and then saying look at North Korea and look at the choices that North Korea’s made in terms of its own political system, in terms of its own tyrannical leadership.
And, it was a message directed towards the leadership of North Korea saying, you have a choice. And if you choose to change your ways, to give up your nuclear and missile programs and to, essentially, re-join the international community, there’s no reason why North Korea can’t be like South Korea, given the incredible will and capabilities of the Korean people.
And so it was a pretty powerful message, I thought. And, we’re still waiting to see what some of the editorials in here have to say; but so far these small anecdotal comments and the impressions that I’ve received have been very positive, very good. I think people here are pleased with the President’s remarks.
And then on the final event, he paid his respects at the National Cemetery, which I don’t know if you know, in the U.S. is kind of like our Arlington Cemetery in Washington, but it was a chance to pay respects to Korean War dead from the Korean War through Vietnam and — and beyond.
And then he took off, like I said, about 90 minutes ago; but, you know, it was a very compact visit, a very tight schedule, but it was good; I mean, the first state visit that we’ve had from a U.S. leader in 25 years, which is pretty significant. For you trivia buffs, the last U.S. President’s state visit was George H. W. Bush in 1992.
But, I think the President painted some pretty broad strokes in terms of the big issues that he and President Moon discussed. And the President raised in his public remarks, really — I mean, the first is just our absolute commitment to this Alliance, that the U.S. and– and Republic of Korea have an alliance built on the battlefield here in Korea in 1950 to ‘53. And it’s gone from strength to strength over the past six decades, and it’s going to continue to get stronger.
And our commitment to the ROK remains ironclad. And this is a relationship built not just on our security ties, but so many others: People-to-people ties; economic ties; ties between researchers and scientists and teachers. And it’s a relationship that is deep and abiding and just continuing to get stronger and stronger. So that was really one comment that you might think was just this idea of a strong U.S.-Korean Alliance and one that will continue to deepen going forward.
I think another major theme was that of our – the U.S. and Republic of Korea shared commitment to denuclearization of North Korea and our shared commitment to the pressure campaign to try and urge North Korea to return to meaningful negotiations to denuclearize; and at the same time to work closely with allied partners like Japan, but also those in the region like China and Russia, but, really, those throughout the international community.
As the President himself said civilized nations who share a commitment to peace and preserving non-proliferation norms and others, to call on the entire international community to take steps to pressure the North, to isolate the North, to get the North to give up its nuclear and its missile ambitions.
And, finally, I think a third theme was in the trade and economic realm. And the President remains very committed to strengthening U.S. trade ties throughout the world, to make them not just free but also fair. He did talk about the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement and how our two leaders are committed to making this a stronger agreement.
And so we’ve, — our trade negotiators have been tasked going forward to sit down and try and make this an agreement that is fairer. And we’ll hopefully work on lowering the deficit between our two countries, but at the same time improve the lives of consumers and manufacturers and employees in both countries.
And so I think I will stop there. I’m sure you-all have a lot of questions. And with that, I will leave it to our moderator.
Question: Yes, thanks. Marc, thanks for giving us this time. It’s much appreciated for those of us who were sitting quite a long way away from the action here.
I was very interested in the state – the — the parts that you highlighted earlier on about the contrast with South Korea, the passage about offering a path to a much better future, seeking a — a — a future of alliance and — and being prepared to discuss a brighter path for North Korea if its — abandons its nuclear program. I’m — I’m just looking for a bit of guidance on that.
I mean, obviously, implicit in the offer is that North Korea gets to avoid self-destruction if it abandons its — its present course, but what about the upside? What – what should we – what should we assume that the President is offering that might actually make the Kim Regime feel safer and will provide the opportunity for North Korea to get on that path of light and prosperity? Would it involve some kind of security guarantee; some kind of financial assistance to allow economic reform and growth?
I just think that prosperity — prosperity and peace would likely threaten the regime rather than safeguard it, from its own point of view, unless it is carefully managed. So I’d just like to – like to ask about that.
And — and, just finally, does — does North Korea actually have to denuclearize before those conversations would even begin? Because it’s just a bit hard to see why Kim Jong-Un would be prepared to negotiate only after giving away his — his main bargaining chip.
Marc Knapper: Right. No, thanks. Those are good questions.
And I think first I would point you to the — what we’re now calling the “Four Nos,” which were — which Secretary Rex Tillerson enunciated a few — I guess now, maybe a couple of months ago, in terms of our approach to North Korea, these four no’s being: We do not seek regime change. We do not seek the collapse of the North Korean system. We do not seek an opportunity or an excuse to send troops north of the DMZ. And we’re not looking to remove Kim Jong-Un from power.
And I think our hope is that the North will see this –as a kind of a de facto pledge of non-hostility, nonaggression. I mean, these are and, in fact, we’re on record as not having hostile intent towards the North.
And so, hopefully that in and of itself should be — these, four no’s should themselves be inducive to the North to realize that we don’t seek to destroy them or to undermine their system, but rather want to approach them in discussions that we hope will lead to a brighter future.
And I would also point to the 2005 Joint Statements among the six parties as a good road map to look at in terms of what all sides can hope to achieve in the event of some kind of positive movement in negotiations; but, as for preconditions and, “If you do this, we’ll do that,”I don’t think we’re ready yet or — to get into concrete details like that.
Suffice to say that, as the President said, look, we want a peaceful resolution to this. We’re looking for a path forward that not only benefits the people of North Korea, but also keeps us out of any kind of conflict; because that’s the last thing any of us wants.
Question: All right. Thank you.
Ms. Mary Beth Polley: Wow. It looks like we answered – sir, it looks like you answered everyone’s questions. And I know you’re tired, so unless –
Marc Knapper: Sure.
Ms. Mary Beth Polley: – unless someone else has any other questions about the trip — we’ll give it another moment — we will let you go ahead and get some rest.
All right. Well –
Marc Knapper: You never know what the [Inaudible].
Ms. Mary Beth Polley: All right, then. Thank you so much. Sir, is there anything else you wanted to add? Otherwise, we’ll wrap up the call and let you get some much needed rest.
Marc Knapper: Well, thanks, Mary Beth. No, I think, again, I’m very happy for this opportunity. I think it’s great that we’re doing this.
And I would hope that whoever’s on the line, if they have any follow-up issues or questions to raise, they know how to reach us. You know, we’re happy to — to – help however we can.
Ms. Mary Beth Polley: All right. Thank you so much, sir. And thank you, everyone, for joining the call. We’ll let you know when the next one will be. Thank you.