01/13/17 – Statement of Ambassador Mark W. Lippert

01/13/17 - Statement of Ambassador Mark W. Lippert

Habib House
January 13, 2017

Good morning. I’m here today to let my friends and colleagues know that I have orders from the Department of State to return to the United States on January 20, 2017.  My family and I will depart Korea on that date.

With the change of Administrations in the United States, other political appointees serving as ambassadors at ‎U.S. Missions around the world will also depart their positions on or around that same date.

With that said, let me state that this has been an incredibly rewarding experience – both personally and professionally – for my entire family.  It has made a profound and indelible impression on all of us, impressions that we will all carry with us for the rest of our lives.

The best evidence is plain for all to see: half of our immediate family was born during this posting.  This has inexorably linked our family’s history to this country.  Robyn, Sejun, Saehee, Grigsby and I have come to care deeply – almost beyond words – for the Republic of Korea, its people, its culture – past, present and future.

Therefore, leaving this country is extremely bittersweet.  ‎ It’s a day that we knew would eventually come.  We are each intensely patriotic Americans who love our country and miss our family and friends.  But, that doesn’t make it any easier to leave.

We take solace knowing that we had the honor of serving beside some of the finest diplomats, military personnel, and civil servants that both the United States and the Republic of Korea has ever known.

We will also take with us the warmth we enjoyed during our travels throughout your beautiful and historically rich land, meeting Koreans from all walks of life.  We have so many good memories – learning the Korean language, touring the UNESCO world heritage sites, swimming across the Han River, visiting all of the KBO baseball stadiums, attending the Daegu Chimek festival, presenting at the KBS Drama awards, being the first Ambassador in more than 36 years to visit Chonnam University, and experiencing the outpouring of support we received following my March 5, 2015 attack.  This hospitality, this goodwill, and this friendship will always be with us.

We are also incredibly proud of all our two countries accomplished working together to get to the point where we can make a simple – yet immensely powerful — statement: the Alliance is the best it’s ever been.

  • North Korea policy is completely aligned.  After continuing to hold the door open to negotiations – throughout President Obama’s entire term of office — we have responded to Pyongyang’s growing missile and nuclear threats, and their refusal to even talk about their programs, by unifying the international community.  Programs that are in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and international law.  We imposed the toughest ever sanctions, augmented U.S.-ROK conventional and missile defenses, rationalized the OPCON and U.S. force posture, and enhanced trilateral cooperation among the U.S.-ROK-Japan.
  • We continued strong work on full KORUS-FTA implementation.  We also started to address the next set of challenges beyond KORUS by working to improve the business environment, especially regulatory reform, so that the U.S. can continue to be the biggest investor in Korea and Korea can invest in the U.S.  Simply put, we worked hard to create economic benefits, especially good-paying jobs, from Seoul to Iowa and from Busan to Ohio.
  • As we moved forward on our joint efforts to solve the toughest global problems, we opened New Frontiers of cooperation, including:

o   On space cooperation, we signed the first space framework agreement with an Asian country and an agreement to cooperate on lunar exploration;

o   On energy, we opened the way for historical crude oil and condensate shipments to Korea for the first time in decades, and concluded, after 5 and a half years, the 123 Agreement;

o   On global health we rolled back Ebola in West Africa and MERS here on the Peninsula and invested hundreds of millions in Africa to fight infectious diseases;

o   On the environment, we worked together to ensure entry into force of the landmark Paris Agreement, helping preserve this planet for our children; and

o   On cyber, reached a historical agreement to develop new technologies to counter cyber threats;

  • We formally  upgraded our American Presence Post in Busan in 2016 to a Consulate, paving the way for future expansion and enhancing our people to people ties in this critical community;
  • And, perhaps most importantly, we deepened our shared values of democracy, human rights, free-market economics, and a rules-based international order – and especially mutual support for the unification of the Korean Peninsula.

And what is striking is that these are just some of the examples of what we can do together when the alliance is at its very best.

Let me wrap up by offering some humble advice to those who will watch over this great relationship in the future.  The Alliance is in the best shape in its history.  The mechanisms to promote dynamic change and manage disagreement are strong.  The opportunities for deep cooperation — across a huge array of issues — are virtually boundless.

At the same time, the security and economic situations in the region and the world are serious.  Time is of the essence.

We need to build on this great foundation and seize the opportunities for a deeper cooperation that lie before us.  Rather than rehashing old negotiations, we need to write the next chapter – ensuring peace and prosperity for all of our peoples in the 21st century.

We should be building.  We need to strengthen.  We need to move forward.

Let me conclude with a saying in Korean, which is “옷깃만 스쳐도 인연” (even a slight touching of sleeves makes a shared destiny).  Again, this is a hard, bittersweet moment for my family.  But let me say to all of the tens of thousands of Koreans with whom our paths have crossed, I say thank you for help in strengthening our friendship and our Alliance.  In my very first speech in Korea – I postulated that our collective destinies are intertwined.  From deep experience, I now know this to be true.  You touched us deeply.  I know your future is bright.  And we intend to return many times to witness it, partake in it and be inspired by it.

Katchi Kapschida.