Rex W. Tillerson
Secretary of State
Seoul, Republic of Korea
March 17, 2017
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Yes. Now we will begin the joint press conference for the ROK-U.S. foreign ministers meeting. The conference today will begin with Foreign Minister of Korea, Yun Byung-se’s opening statements, which will be followed by Secretary Tillerson’s remarks. Afterwards, we will have a brief Q&A session. First, let me invite Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se.
FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: (Via interpreter) First of all, I am very delighted to welcome Secretary Tillerson on his first visit to Korea since taking office. This visit is a part of a series of high-level consultations between our two nations that has been gaining traction since last February.
Early next week, at the invitation of the Secretary, I myself will visit the U.S. to attend the meeting of foreign ministers of the global coalition on the defeat of ISIS. Our bilateral consultations at this high level will continue with great intensity.
This unprecedented pace of high-level engagements reflects our two governments’ recognition of the urgency and gravity of North Korea’s evolving nuclear and missile threats. Your first itinerary in Korea, your visit to the DMZ, self-attests to this understanding.
Today’s dialogue with the Secretary will be my third one in about a month’s time. North Korea’s latest provocations and additional threats will be analyzed, and our common actions forward will be forged upon this very important occasion.
Especially the U.S. is still reviewing its North Korean policies. As such, Secretary Tillerson and I, in our phone conversations in early February, have discussed a joint approach on the response to North Korea’s nuclear programs, and concretizing our approach in this regard will be the main agenda of our discussions today. In pursuing such coordination, our unchanging goal is something that has already been declared by both countries, and spelled out in relevant UNSC resolutions. It is a complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program CVID-based dismantlement. Under this unwavering shared goal for the denuclearization of North Korea, effective and comprehensive policy options will be discussed extensively.
Furthermore, additional provocations of North Korea are anticipated (inaudible). The assassination of Kim Jong Nam with a chemical weapon has triggered an unprecedented turn of events. As such, in addition to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, its use of chemical weapons and human rights violations will be addressed as we will have in-depth discussions on ways to guide international collaboration regarding these overall North Korea matters.
Our two governments, in a bid to counter North Korea’s threat, which is of a different dimension from the past, have been pushing for the USFK’s THAAD deployment based on the alliance decision. This is attributed to the North nuclear missile threats, and does not target any specific third country. This has been our clear position. To safeguard national security and our people’s lives, the measure was taken as a self-defensive one against any bullying against us. Both our governments will respond bilaterally and on the global stage with clarity and resoluteness.
The Korean Government welcomes the Trump Administration’s announcement of its robust Asia engagement policy and its steadfast commitment to the defense of the ROK. Most notably, the President himself stated that, in a new administration, the ROK-U.S. alliance would be made even stronger. I am very appreciative to bolster the ROK-U.S. alliance, the lynchpin of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific. We are committed to maintaining our close coordination with the U.S. in the coming months and years.
I have no doubt that this meeting today will mark another milestone in developing our comprehensive alliance that contributes to peace and stability, not only on the peninsula, but also the entire world.
MODERATOR: Next we will hear from Secretary Tillerson.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, I am very honored to be here with my friend, Foreign Minister Yun. And I thank him and Prime Minister and Acting President Hwang and the people of the Republic of Korea for hosting me.
For more than 60 years the ironclad alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea has remained strong. And our commitment to this partnership will endure under the Trump Administration. Throughout this time of political change, I want to commend the South Korean people for their commitment to democracy, and the strength of their democratic institutions.
We will continue to work with Prime Minister Hwang for the remainder of his tenure as acting president, and we look forward to a productive relationship with whomever the people of South Korea elect to be their next president. The U.S.-South Korean alliance will continue to serve as a lynchpin of peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and across the Asia-Pacific Region.
We stand together in facing what was once a regional security challenge, but today North Korea threatens not only its regional neighbors, but the United States and other countries. Efforts toward North Korea to achieve peaceful stability over the last two decades have failed to make us safer. The U.S. and our allies have repeatedly reassured North Korea’s leaders that we seek only peace, stability, and economic prosperity for Northeast Asia. As proof of our intent, America has provided $1.3 billion in assistance to North Korea since 1995. In return, North Korea has detonated nuclear weapons, and dramatically increased its launches of ballistic missiles to threaten America and our allies.
The U.S. commitment to our allies is unwavering. In the face of North Korea’s grave and escalating global threat, it is important for me to consult with our friends, and chart a path that secures the peace. Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended. We are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security, and economic measures. All options are on the table. North Korea must understand that the only path to a secure, economically-prosperous future is to abandon its development of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other weapons of mass destruction.
We call on other regional powers and all nations to join us in demanding the North Korean Government choose a better path and a different future for its people. The United States is committed to supporting the defense of our allies, and we will continue to develop a comprehensive set of capabilities to counter the growing North Korean ballistic missile threat.
That is why the United States and the Republic of Korea decided to take the defensive measure of deploying THAAD Missile Defense System. While we acknowledge China’s opposition, its economic retaliation against South Korea is inappropriate and troubling. We ask China to refrain from such action. Instead, we urge China to address the threat that makes that necessary, that being the escalating threat from North Korea.
The United States alliance with South Korea is built not only on security, but our commitment to our core principles that have enabled the success of our nations: a strong economic partnership, deep people-to-people ties, and democratic values. I am encouraged by our productive joint discussions, and pledge continued American support for the shared prosperity and security of our two nations. (Speaks in Korean.) Thank you.
MODERATOR: Next we will have a Q&A session. In the interest of time I will give the floor to two members of the press from each country.
First, a journalist from the Korean media, from (inaudible) Daily.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) I would like to pose this question to the Secretary Tillerson. You are saying that we need a new approach to North Korea in order to resolve North Korea’s nuclear program problem. China probably needs to play a more active part. Have all of the tools in the tool kit probably have not been exhausted. What specific actions can we take, in your opinion?
And the six-party talks were not fruitful, according to a press statement by the State Department. So I wonder — what will be the effective measures, going forward?
And also, regarding a new approach, what will be the Korean Government’s position on this new approach? I pose this question to Foreign Minister Yun.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, as I indicated in my remarks, 20 years of talks with North Korea have brought us to where we are today. Both the ROK and the United States have been quite clear over these 20 years, that we seek nothing but a stable Korean Peninsula and an economically prosperous Korean Peninsula. North Korea has nothing to fear from the United States. But this 20 years of talking has brought us to the point we are today.
So the track that we are now on is to use a number of steps with an ever greater number of actions ahead of us that involve sanctions, which the United Nations Security Council has already approved, including China, which voted for those sanctions. And then we are calling on all countries to now fully implement those sanctions. We are also calling upon China to fully implement those sanctions, as well, in compliance with the UN Security Council resolution that it voted for.
We will be widening the circle of allies in response to North Korea’s threats and their provocative actions, and asking others to join in. It is important that the leadership of North Korea realize that their current pathway of nuclear weapons and escalating threats will not lead to their objective of security and economic development. That pathway can only be achieved by denuclearizing, giving up their weapons of mass destruction. And only then will we be prepared to engage with them in talks.
FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: (Via interpreter) Yes, regarding this new approach, Secretary Tillerson has given you a comprehensive response. As such, I don’t believe that there is much to add, myself. But, basically, our two ministers, as we stated in our opening remarks, the current North Korea nuclear and missile threats are of a different dimension from the past. It is an imminent and grave threat facing us. As such, this new approach that we are pursuing, this joint approach, will be against this imminent threat, and probably more than at any point in the past.
We would be willing to utilize all of the means that are available to us. Diplomatic pressures will be one stream of such endeavors, but there could be other types of efforts. At the same time, as was mentioned by Secretary Tillerson, all of the stakeholders themselves, more than any point in time in the past, they should cooperate together to make sure that North Korea feels the pain for its wrongdoings, and pay the cost, pay the price.
And for the aspects that were not up to our expectations, we should be collaborating further to ensure that there are tangible outcomes. In this process, one of the most important principles will be this: ROK and the U.S. will remain closely coordinating with each other for a shared response. And, through that effort, we can demonstrate our strong alliance.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary — down here — you mentioned a range of options, but I’m hoping you can drill down into a few specifics that we know are on the table.
So one, for example, is the possibility of stepped-up interdiction by China against shipping into North Korea. Another is the cyber campaign against the North Korean nuclear or ballistic missile program. And the third is the possibility of negotiating a freeze, though I’m wondering whether the program is too far along for a negotiated freeze.
So, could you address the pluses and the minuses of those specific programs, and the possibility for action on those?
And then, for the Foreign Minister, just a very simple question. Can you guarantee that THAAD will go ahead, regardless of who wins the presidential election? Thank you.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, I think with regard to escalating sanctions, I don’t believe we have ever fully achieved the maximum level of action that can be taken under the UN Security Council resolution, with full participation of all countries.
There also are other sources of revenue to North Korea that fall outside of the specific sanctions, and we know that other nations could take actions to alter their relationship with North Korea in support of our efforts to have them give up their nuclear weapons program.
I think, in terms of talking about any kind of a freeze, I think it’s premature for that. But at this stage I’m not sure we would be willing to freeze, with the circumstances where they exist today, given that that would leave North Korea with significant capabilities that would represent a true threat, not just to the region, but to American forces, as well.
FOREIGN MINISTER YUN: (Via interpreter) Yes, regarding the question that was posed by the journalist from Bloomberg, basically, on the Korean Peninsula, this threat that we face from North Korea, these grave circumstances, will not change, even with a change of the governments in Korea. That is the reality that we face.
As such, national security and the people’s lives should be safeguarded. And for that purpose, no matter which government comes into power in Korea in the future, such a gravity and urgency of the problem should be considered well for making a wise decision. In particular, the diplomatic policies and security policies should remain consistent. Responsible leaders of Korea would probably have the same view, similar view.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Again, we would like to take a question from a Korean journalist from Arirang TV.
QUESTION: Welcome to South Korea, Mr. Secretary. I would like to ask you about the THAAD issue that you mentioned in your remarks. It seems like the THAAD deployment to South Korea is going to be completed before the new South Korean administration kicks in. And China has been imposing apparent retaliatory actions against South Korea for the deployment decision.
When you meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in China, are you going to discuss the current difficulties that Seoul is facing? And is this issue going to be brought up during the U.S.-China Summit next month?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, I do believe that we will proceed with the installation of THAAD. And it’s my expectation that the new government in South Korea will continue to be supportive of the THAAD system, because it is directed solely at the defense of the ROK.
As to conversations with the Government of China, we will be discussing with them the serious threat that North Korea poses to peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula, but even beyond. North Korea is now pursuing programs that would allow them to present a clear threat to the continental United States and to other parts of the world. So we will be discussing with China what we believe they should be doing to help mitigate this threat, as well.
As to their punitive actions against South Korea because of the agreement to install the THAAD system, as I indicated in my remarks, we believe these actions are unnecessary, and we believe they are troubling. We also believe it is not the way for a regional power to help resolve what is a serious threat to everyone. And so we would hope that China would alter its position on punishing South Korea for the THAAD system. As I said, we have emphasized many times it’s purely defensive in nature, and we would hope that they would help us engage with North Korea to eliminate the reason a THAAD system is even required.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Yes, we are ready to take one more question from the members of the U.S. press.
Yes, from CNN, please go ahead.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is there a truly new or different approach that doesn’t include a military option? At what point does a military option become truly necessary, considering the obvious threat of retaliation to more than 20 million people in the Seoul Metropolitan Area?
Also, it seems that the State Department has rejected the Chinese suggestion of a negotiation with North Korea that would involve dropping the joint military drills. Is that a viable option? Is it something that could be discussed between you on this trip?
And, in turn, when you arrive in Beijing, will you push officials there to cut off the oil to North Korea?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: As to — I will take the latter part of your question, first. As to the suggestion from the Chinese Government that we should stand down our joint military operations in exchange for engaging in talks, we do not believe the conditions are right to engage in any talks at this time. (Inaudible) and standing down our joint military operations. Those operations are an annual event. We’ve been carrying out these joint military operations for over 40 years. When those operations are to be undertaken, it is with clear transparency. We announce to the world that we are going to carry out these operations, so there is no surprise to anyone. And the purpose of those is made quite clear to the North Korean Government, as well. North Korea does not provide any of us the same type of transparency and forewarning when they choose to launch ballistic missiles.
So, again, conditions must change before there is any scope for talks to resume, whether they be five-party or six-party.
The first part of your question?
QUESTION: Yes, a military —
SECRETARY TILLERSON: (Inaudible) military option. All of the options are on the table. Certainly, we do not want to — for things to get to a military conflict. We are quite clear in that, in our communications. But obviously, if North Korea takes actions that threatens the South Korean forces or our own forces, then that would be met with an appropriate response. If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, that option is on the table.
But we are hopeful that, by taking these steps — and we have many, many steps we can take before we get to that point — we hope that that will persuade North Korea to take a different course of action. That is our desire.
QUESTION: And the oil?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, I think, to the extent that China is supplying that oil — I think others are supplying oil, some of that oil comes from Russia, it comes from other sources — we will be calling on everyone to join in these actions. Certainly all of the regional players, but others who have commercial relationships with North Korea, we will be asking them to take steps, as well.
MODERATOR: Yes, thank you. This concludes our joint press conference for the ROK-U.S. foreign ministers meeting. Thank you very much, and the ministers will leave the hall.