Remarks By Secretary Mattis at an Armed Forces Full Honor Arrival Welcoming Republic of Korea Minister of National Defense Jeong to the Pentagon

Secretary Of Defense James N. Mattis; Republic of Korea Minister of National Defense Jeong Kyeongdoo



  (APPLAUSE)

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS:  Well Minister Jeong, it is an honor to welcome you and your delegation on your first visit to the Pentagon since taking the helm as Minister of Defense.  We first met during your time as Chairman of the Republic of Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Two weeks ago in Singapore, I mentioned that the news of your appointment was very well received here in Washington.  I'm confident that we will be a good team in carrying out our nations policies.  In this regard, today we successfully completed the 50th iteration of our nations annual Security Consultative Meeting.

Thanks to months of work by our hardworking, collaborative staffs, this milestone in our U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance bolsters an already strong partnership, one that is built on our foundation of common democratic values and the special type of trust shared only between those who have fought and died alongside one another on the battlefield.

Our predecessors would find us worthy in this demonstration of co-equal responsibility in the defense of liberty.  Minister Jeong, as fellow men in uniform in our younger days, you know well the fraternal bonds formed in what former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called the incommunicable experience of war.

From the Chosin Reservoir to the rice paddies of Vietnam, a conflict of which your nation contributed more personnel than any other foreign nation, to the deserts and cities of Iraq in this century, our troops have stood together against challenges to the safety and sovereignty of our respective nations, as well as the stability of the rules-based international order.


And here I must note the Republic of Korea's contribution of funds to Afghanistan's reconstruction, as well as your nation's involvement in peacekeeping operations and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts in the Indo-Pacific region make even clearer your nation's commitment to upholding our international order.

Our nations bonds were forged in the tragedy of war, and they endure as we strive to continue fortifying and deepening our ironclad alliance in support of the Korean peoples freedom and of peace.  

During today's Security Consultative Meeting, our delegation did just that -- we signed our mutually declared alliance guiding principles, a document which paves the way for clarifying the conditions-based transition of wartime operational control of our combined forces.

In signing this document, we ensure continuity for the ROK-led future Combined Forces Command, as it assumes the mission of our current U.S.-led Combined Forces Command.  The Future Command will continue to use the combined might of U.S.-ROK alliance to defend the ROK's sovereignty from any external aggression.

As the ROK prepares to lead our combined defense of the Korean peninsula, I must note the U.S.' strong support for your nation's ongoing efforts to fulfill the conditions for this op-con transition.  Minister Jeong, in further developing the Republic of Korea's military capabilities and expanding responsibility for deterring external aggression, you demonstrate your nation's commitment to your own defense.

In signing this document, we also reaffirm the continued presence of U.S. troops stationed on the Korean peninsula, in fulfillment of U.S. commitment established 65 years ago in our mutual defense treaty.  And with the proper establishment of the future Combined Forces Command, our alliance will continue to be stronger, better coordinated and better protected than ever before.

At today's meeting, we also studied the details of the joint study for the future defense vision of the U.S.-ROK alliance, which will be conducted over the course of this next year.  This study will examine the role our alliance would play following the final, fully verified denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, to strengthen the Indo-Pacific's peace, prosperity and stability.

And to that end, today Minister Jeong and I both recommitted our militaries full support for the diplomat-led negotiations with the DPRK, and we look forward to seeing continued, concrete progress as our diplomats work to resolve this more than half century long conflict.

Minister Jeong, to you and all the members of your delegation, thank you for traveling to Washington for our 50th Security Consultative Meeting.  As you return home, we recognize that with an alliance now stronger, that means a better opportunity for peace.

To date, discussions make clear that our alliance's motto endures -- Katchi Kapshida, we will always go together.

ROK DEFENSE MINISTER JEONG KYEONGDOO (THROUGH TRANSLATOR):  Today, we held an historic 50th Security Consultative Meeting between myself and Secretary Mattis.  I'd like to thank Secretary Mattis for the warm hospitality we received, including an impressive honor guard ceremony.

This year's SCM has greater importance and significance than any other meeting, not just due to the fact that it is the 50th of its kind, but also because it comes at a time in which we embark on an audacious journey toward the denuclearization of and establishment of permanent peace on the Korean peninsula.

In this year's meeting, Secretary Mattis and I discussed ways to work together to reach our common goal  of the complete denuclearization of and the establishment of permanent peace on the Korean peninsula, and we have agreed to strengthen further the cooperation between our defense authorities to provide military support to the diplomatic efforts of our countries.

In particular, we agreed to communicate and cooperate closely with each other so that the agreement or the implementation of the Panmunjom Declaration and the military domain can contribute practically to the alleviation of tension and the establishment of peace on the Korean peninsula, all the while maintaining a strong, combined defense posture.

Secretary Mattis and I assessed that we've made significant progress in our preparation for the transition of wartime operational control, thanks to the systematic and proactive efforts of our countries.  We will continue our joint efforts to meet the conditions for wartime op-con transition in an expedited manner.

In particular, we expect the alliance guiding principles that we signed after a year of hard work to provide clearer guidance on the continued success of the combined defense system after op-con transition, and also reassure our citizens on the strength of the ROK-U.S. alliance and the benefits of op-con transition.

Not only that, at today's meeting we approved key strategic documents, including the revision of the conditions-based op-con transition plan and the plans for the Future Command Structure, and thereby laid the foundation to stably and expeditiously carry out op-con transition.

With this as our basis, we will conduct the initial operational capability certification next year as our first step to evaluate the ROK-led wartime operational capabilities, and by considering changes in the security environment we will regularly assess and review the implementation progress to determine the specific timing of op-con transition.

In addition to all of this, through this year's SCM, Secretary Mattis reaffirmed the United States' strong commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea through the provision of extended deterrence and the maintaining of the U.S. Forces Korea at the current level.

Moreover, Secretary Mattis and I paid attention to the fact that through a smooth relocation of the USFK headquarters, we have effectively entered the Pyeongtaek era of USFK and we expressed agreement that the USFK must continue to play an important role in the future for defense on the Korean peninsula and peace and prosperity in northeast Asia.

The ROK-U.S. SCM has played a critical role in the development of the ROK-U.S. alliance for the past half century since it was first established in 1968.  The ROK-U.S. SCM will continue to further advance the ROK-U.S. alliance in a mutually reinforcing manner and play a key role to stably manage various issues pertaining to the alliance.

Secretary Mattis and I are of the same mind in our understanding of the role and contribution of the Security Consultative Meeting and we have agreed for the Ministry of National Defense and the Department of Defense to continue to advance our joint vision for the development of defense cooperation within the ROK-U.S. alliance that is fitting for the future security environment. 

I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude and admiration to all former Ministers and Secretaries of Defense and other defense officials for having brought forth today's strong and close knit ROK-U.S. alliance through Security Consultative Meetings for the past 50 years.

I will continue to work closely with Secretary Mattis through the trust and friendship we enjoy so that the ROK-U.S. alliance can truly become a great alliance.  Thank you, we go together.

SEC. MATTIS:  So I guess we're going to take some questions now?

Q:  Mr. Secretary, I know my colleague has some questions about -- relating to the Korean peninsula, but I want to ask you about the deployment of troops on the southern border.  They're now more than double the numbers that are actually in the migrant caravans.

So is this a political stunt as critics allege?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah, the support that we provide to the Secretary for Homeland Security is practical support based on the request from the Commissioner of Customs & Border Police, and so we don't -- we don't do stunts in this department, thank you.

Q:  Is there -- is it about deterrence or is this about, you know, actually sending troops, will they arrive on the southern border?

SEC. MATTIS:  We're there in support of the Secretary of Homeland Security, who needs additional military assistance.  We do this following storms, we do this in support of the Department of Homeland Security.  This is a -- a different aspect of it, but that's what we're doing.

Q:  As you might be aware, there have been news reports that the U.S. might have some disagreement regarding the (inaudible) military agreement, especially about the standard no-fly zone (inaudible) border region, that (inaudible) U.S. operations there.

But South Korean officials have been saying that the U.S. has largely been supportive of the agreement.  So do you actually support -- or fully support that agreement, and if you do support it, do you support that in a political sense or from a military standpoint?

And I have another question, and that is do you think that the threats from North Korea have been reduced significantly enough in order to -- I mean to -- to continue to suspend or postpone the combined exercises by the (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah, clearly the -- the threat from North Korea, at least as -- as expressed by Chairman Kim have been significantly reduced.  However, the capabilities still exist and that is why the Minister and I talk on every detail about our collaboration.

Our goal here is to ensure that our diplomats speak from a position of strength and we continue to protect the people of the Republic of Korea from any threat from the North.  We work out all the details between us. 

There is a very high, high degree of trust between the Ministry of Defense and Republic of Korea, Department of Defense.  We have a very close consultation between us on all these issues.

Q:  And do you -- do you support the agreement, the (inaudible) military agreement?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.

Q:  Thank you.

STAFF:  Tom Watson?

Q:  Thank you.  A question for actually both of you gentlemen.  It's been many months since your -- oh I'm sorry, OK, OK.  It's been many months since your two countries have drilled together.  At what point will your ability to fight tonight be degraded?

MIN. JEONG (THROUGH TRANSLATOR):  You asked a question about the suspension of the ROK-U.S. combined military exercises.  I would first like to point out that these combined exercises occur year round and out of these exercises, only a part of these has been suspended at the moment.

Now Secretary Mattis and I have agreed that we will continue to do our best to support, from a military perspective, the diplomatic efforts of our countries and we'll continue our thought process on how we can move forward from this point on to bring about the complete denuclearization of and establishment of peace on the Korean peninsula, and we'll continue to seek ways in which we can continue to maintain our current level of combined defense posture, as well as our military readiness.

And for our future as to major large-scale exercises, we have discussed today at the SCM that we will conduct a review from our staff members, and have the results of the review until 15th of November, and then we'll make our final decision on any major exercises in the next year before the 1st of December.

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah, Tom, if I could just add there, going back to Mr. Song's question earlier, we consult very closely on this.  As the minister just mentioned, only part of the exercise has been suspended.  It's not like we've shut down all the collaborative exercises that we have going on.  So we are not right now concerned with the loss of combat capability.  Clearly, as we go forward, we'll have to make adaptations to ensure we don't lose that capability, but right now, again, this is not a total suspension of all collaboration and military exercises.  Certain large ones were put on hold, suspended temporarily in order to give the diplomats the best possible effort, because we were making a good faith effort on the military side.  We would give them the opportunity to get the good faith effort on the -- on the negotiations side.

Go ahead.

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR):  This is a question from the Chosun Ilbo.  It is a question for both the minister and the secretary of defense.  

Right now we've -- you've mentioned that there are plans are underway for the IOC certification to take place next year to assess the capabilities of the Republic of Korea for ROK lead combined defense system, and I believe that in order for us to make a proper certification and proper assessment, we need a theater level of combined exercises in order to conduct that certification.  However, with these theater-level exercises we see -- we have been seeing them having being suspended, being them scaled down, and because of our -- all that's going on with North Korea.  And we expect that trend to continue into the future, and there are concerns that this will not allow for us conditions that will allow for us to effectively -- effect proper -- and properly assess the capabilities of the Republic of Korea with combined -- with the up -- transition of OP-CON.

And so is this -- is this simply a certification that we are just making, without giving it proper thought in order to achieve the political goal of the expeditious transition of wartime OP-CON And how -- how will -- if these large-scale theater-level exercise continue to get suspended, how will we conduct the IOC certification in the next year?

MIN. JEONG (THROUGH TRANSLATOR):  The last large-scale military combined military exercise between Korea and the United States occurred in last April with the Key Resolve Exercise.  However, in order for us to make up for the exercises that have been suspended, right now in Korea we are conducting the ROK (inaudible) Exercise with the U.S. evaluators who are in -- onsite to be able to assess how the exercise is ongoing.

In the past, what we've had with these large exercise -- large-scale exercises that we've had, the Key Resolve Exercise and the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian Exercise taking place over -- with the space about six months, and between these exercises.  And however, if we continue to see a suspension of these large-scale exercises like the KR and the UFG, then we will create ways to make sure that we can mitigate the impact of the suspension of these exercises, including things such as Iraq-U.S. combined staff training to make sure that we don't see any dips in our readiness posture or our military capabilities.

Now, with regards to question about we will conduct the IOC certification in preparation for wartime op-con transition, this is a certification process that will require the full strength of the capabilities of the Iraq-U.S. militaries as a combined force, and we'll make sure to put -- concentrate all our assets to that process, and to make necessary preparations so that we can effectively and properly carry out the IOC certification, and thereby, reassure our citizens they're -- they do not need to worry about any falls in -- any -- any decreases, any negative impacts to our military capabilities or our readiness posture.

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah, it's a good question, and I don't want to repeat everything that my friend just said, but I would just say that we have a history in our alliance of taking very seriously our responsibility to protect the Republic of Korea people and their freedoms, and we have very professional military people on both sides.  You heard about some of the things we're going to do to mitigate this.  But I assure you, we'll give a thorough review, a thorough assessment, and it can be done with the staff, the consultations.  It can be done with the staff exercises, and we will not lose any capability to deter aggression.  

But thank you very much, and in that regard, I'd just point to General Brooks, who is leaving the command here shortly after years of commanding there in Korea.  And I've had the privilege of serving with him twice at high levels, and I think from both the ROK and the United States, we have expressed this morning our gratitude for the leadership that he has provided during this very dynamic time.  And you've seen the degree of flexibility and the degree of professionalism we expect from our most serious strategic thinkers, and our most elite.  

And General Brooks, you depart with your reputation high, and I would say with the gratitude of two nations.  Thank you very much for what -- all that you've done over all your career, but especially these last several years in your role.  Thank you.  Thank you.

Thanks, General.  Thank you.  (Applause.)