Joint Press Conference with Secretary Carter and Defense Minister Han at Seoul, South Korea
Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, South Korean Minister of Defense Han Min-Koo
STAFF: We will now begin the joint press -- press briefing. And first, Mr. Han will make his remarks.
MINISTER OF DEFENSE HAN MIN-KOO (Through Translator): Good afternoon. I would like to begin by extending a warm welcome to Secretary Carter, who took time out of his busy schedule to visit Korea for the first time since taking office. I also extend a heartfelt welcome to Secretary Carter's delegation.
Through our meeting today, I realized that Secretary Carter and I share a lot in common and I felt that we would be able to develop a strong friendship.
Secretary Carter and I discussed today various ways we can work together to effectively respond to North Korean provocations and threats while maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
We also recognize that North Korea's recent cyber hacking attacks, bellicose rhetoric towards the ROK, and other threats constitute acts of serious provocation. We have agreed to cooperate closely in order to develop response measures against North Korean threats, as well as manage the security condition on the Korean Peninsula.
Secretary Carter reaffirmed the United States' resolve and support for the ROK-U.S. alliance and the defense of the Republic of Korea, while further emphasizing America's unwavering commitment to its rebalancing strategy towards the Asia-Pacific.
In light of this, I assessed that the United States' strategy to rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific will contribute to promoting the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia.
Regarding the deployment of THAAD, there has not been any decision made by the U.S. government, and neither has there been any consultation regarding the deployment of THAAD between the two governments.
Secretary Carter and I reaffirmed that we will continue to work together on reinforcing the alliance's comprehensive capabilities in response to North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile threats.
We also recognized that the conditions-based wartime OPCON transition agreed upon at last year's 46th security consultative meeting will reinforce an ROK-led combined defense by ensuring a stable OPCON transition. In that regard, we agree to implement relevant measures in a seamless manner.
With regard to cyber cooperation, Secretary Carter and I noted the achievements of close ROK-U.S. coordination on the cyber attacks on Sony Pictures last December. Furthermore, we decided to reinforce our cooperation in response to North Korean and international cyber threats.
Secretary Carter and I share an understanding on the importance of trilateral information sharing in order to deter North Korea nuclear missile provocations. He concurred that Korea, the United States, and Japan should cooperate closely in order to contribute to peace and stability in Northeast Asia and the world.
Once again, I'd like to welcome Secretary Carter and I hope that his visit will contribute to further development of the comprehensive alliance between the Republic of Korea and the United States.
STAFF: And now a statement by U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASHTON CARTER: Well, good afternoon. And thank you very much, Mr. Minister, for your hospitality here. And I look forward to working with you in the future.
It's great to be back here in Seoul on my first trip to the Asia-Pacific as U.S. secretary of defense. And I wanted to come here because this alliance is so important to the United States and to me personally.
And first, I want to take the opportunity to thank the Korean government and all of the people of the Republic of Korea for the attention and care they gave to our wonderful ambassador, Mark Lippert -- where is Ambassador Lippert here -- in the aftermath of the recent attack.
I've known Mark for years. He's been a colleague of mine for years. And I want (inaudible) to know how much he, and his family, and all of us in the United States appreciate the outpouring of support that came from around this country, much appreciated.
After very productive meetings with President Park and Director Kim, I just had an in-depth conversation with Minister Han.
We reaffirmed our country's commitments to this strong alliance and our personal interests in deepening our collaboration in the years ahead, especially in new domains like space and cyberspace.
I look forward to continuing our conversations when President Park is in Washington to meet with President Obama and when I return this fall here for the 47th Security Consultative Meeting.
Our discussions included a candid assessment of the growing North Korean nuclear weapon of mass destruction and ballistic missile threats which continue to put at risk the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula, the U.S. -- I mean, the region, and the U.S. homeland.
As it demonstrated, once again, with the recent missile launches, North Korea is intent on continued provocation.
The United States is committed to stability in the region and the combined defense of the Republic of Korea.
On the peninsula, deterrence and readiness are at a premium. So, we're investing in advanced capabilities to make sure that our top, new investments are tailored to this dynamic security environment and can play a role in -- assuring security here.
We're beginning to rotationally deploy Army brigade combat teams to Korea, providing a more ready set of forces for the peninsula. And we're working hard to ensure interoperability with our Korean allies, including through training and exercises, like Key Resolve and Foal Eagle.
The minister and I also discussed our decision to adopt a conditions-based approach to the transition of wartime operational control. This was a significant alliance decision and we both remain committed to implementing the objectives our two nations established at the last security consultative meeting in October of last year.
Now the U.S.-Korea alliance is not just a regional alliance. It has global reach. Based on mutual trust and common values, we've worked together to counter ISIL, combat Ebola, and help rebuild Afghanistan. The gains for our national regional -- national, regional, and global security have been impressive and I thank the Republic of Korea for all it's doing to ensure peace and security around the world.
We also discussed America's lasting presence in the Asia-Pacific. As secretary of defense, I'm personally committed to overseeing the next phase of our rebalance to the region, which will deepen and diversify our engagement throughout the Asia Pacific.
Let me close by saying I'm looking forward to visiting the Cheonan Memorial this afternoon. These trips are a reminder of how much we have in common, both as individuals and as allied militaries.
The 46 Korean sailors lost on the Cheonan weren't much different from the Americans serving in uniform on the peninsula. American service members here and throughout the Asia-Pacific represent not only our commitment to continued regional security and prosperity, but also some of the best people our nation has to offer.
And I know Koreans feel the same way about those who perished aboard the Cheonan.
Five years after that attack, and on behalf of the United States, I reaffirm our commitment to their memory, to the Republic of Korea, and to peace and stability throughout the Asia-Pacific.
STAFF (Through Translator): We will now begin to take questions. First, we'll take a Korean journalist's question.
Q (Through Translator): This question is for Secretary Carter. I am from YTN.
First of all, I welcome you to Korea on your first visit. Even before your visit, there has been a lot of talk on the deployment of THAAD. And a Korean proverb, there's a saying, there's no smoke when there's no fire.
So, I'm wondering, I heard that THAAD has not been an official point on the agenda and it has not been discussed today, but there have been investigations as to where to deploy it. So, I'm wondering why has there not been any talk about the deployment of THAAD on an official level?
Another question, is the deployment of THAAD planned? And if so, when will the official decision be made?
And also, the reason behind the United States and Korea taking an ambiguous position on this issue, is that because of the sensitivities of the Korea-China relationship and the U.S.'s Northeast Asia strategy?
SEC. CARTER: Well, thanks for that question. No, THAAD wasn't on the agenda today. And the reason for that is that we're not at a point yet in that program. This is a program that is in production at, in the United States. We're not at the point yet of determining where it might be suitably deployed in the future.
And to your question about when that may be, that's a programmatic decision. We'll have to see how the production goes and what other training and deployment possibilities there are for THAAD.
So, we're not at the point yet where we would begin discussions with anyone around the world about where the THAAD batteries in production are now going. So, it's that simple. That's where we are in terms of the technical progress of the program.
STAFF: The first question from the U.S. delegation is from David Lynch with Bloomberg.
Q: Yes, thank you.
Secretary Carter, I have a question for you about Iran and then a follow-up. And Minister Han, I have a question for you about North Korea.
The U.S. has said that Iran is providing the Houthi rebels in Yemen with unspecified forms of assistance. Mr. Secretary, can you provide any detail today as to what sort of weapons Iran has been providing, their value, and whether those shipments have continued since the Saudi offensive began two weeks ago?
SEC. CARTER: No, I'm -- I'm not prepared to -- to -- to do that. And the -- the only thing I can say is that the United States has made very clear its support to Saudi Arabia's security. We are working with the Saudis in their efforts in Yemen. And we're also working diplomatically to try to restore a situation of stability to Yemen.
And so, we're in close consultation with our -- our Saudi partners and others, the GCC countries and others, and then -- and also in close consultation with those who are trying to work the political side of a solution in Yemen, as well.
Q: If I could follow, first of all, why can't you provide more detail?
And then, with regard to Iraq, Prime Minister Abadi will be in Washington next week. In the wake of the Iraqi recapture of Tikrit and the ongoing operation in Anbar Province, do you think we're now at the point where it's the beginning of the end for ISIS, at least in Iraq?
SEC. CARTER: Well, the -- the first part is I'm just not prepared to share information about what -- what is happening in the area around Yemen, so I'm just not going to do that.
But with respect to -- to Anbar, I -- we have made progress in combating ISIL in Iraq. I'm not prepared to go as far as you suggest about saying it's over in -- in Iraq. We're working with the Iraqi government, and you're correct that the leader is going to be in Washington next week. We'll have further opportunities to discuss that.
But our approach in Iraq is to work through a multi-sectarian Iraqi government which has command and control over Iraqi security forces. And they are the force that will sustain the defeat of ISIL on the Iraqi side of the border. I'm not prepared to say when that will occur. We are making progress, but that's the method that we are using to secure that progress.
Q: OK. And Minister Han, I'd like to ask you for your assessment of North Korea's plans. Do you believe that North Korea has any plans for an imminent test, either of an additional nuclear device or perhaps a longer-range ballistic missile?
MIN. HAN (Through Translator): We have not confirmed any indications of an imminent nuclear test or a long-range missile launch in the future. However, based on past behavior from North Korea, we believe that should their strategic objective not be met, there is always the possibility that they will resort to provocations.
STAFF: Next question will be from Yalan.
Q: My question is for Secretary Carter. In the recent interview with Japan, you mentioned that Korea, the United States, and Japan, the three countries must look toward the future. And to interpret that, we can say that it means we need to let go of the past. But as you know, Korea and Japan have a very unique relationship. We are close neighbors, but also far neighbors. And the past has an impact on the relationship going forward.
Even recently, Japan has been boasting its territorial rights over the Dokdo Islands and it has been worsening the relationship. So in this situation, what kind of role can the United States play to enhance cooperation between the three countries?
And also yesterday, at Osan Air Force Base, you mentioned that there will be new weapons deployed to the Asia-Pacific region. If you could be more specific with regard to what kind of weapons will be deployed for the Korean Peninsula?
SEC. CARTER: Yes. And speaking of the future, I was referring to the agreements to share information in the future among the three militaries, which I think has great promise for the security of all of us. I -- I was not referring to the past. You know, we have a lot of respect for historical legacy issues in this region.
And you know, we think it's important and we certainly hope for healing and reconciliation with respect to these issues. It is not for the United States to -- interpose itself between the parties here. But just to be clear, I was talking about future military cooperation in the field of information, which is extremely important. But you're asking a different question on a different subject, which is also one that I respect very much.
With respect to the new weapons, I'll just name a few. I can't name all of them. But the United States is developing, for example, a new stealth bomber. We've acknowledged that. And that is one of the systems that is particularly relevant to the Asia-Pacific area.
We're continuing to develop several new classes of naval vessels and deploy them rotationally to this region. You all know that we have a new stealth fighter aircraft, called the F-35. We have electronic warfare and cyber capabilities that are the newest. And in fact, a general point is our newest systems are being deployed out here.
Now all course of this is being done in consultation with our allies because everything we do in the Asia-Pacific region is done with our strong network of allies -- Japan, the Republic of Korea and others, as well. That's our style of doing things is through and with our security partners and allies. And that's the biggest part of the rebalance is our continued work with our colleagues and our security alliances and partnerships. But there is an equipment part to it. And in general, our newest things and our best things are being deployed to this part of the world.
STAFF: Our final question comes from Carla Babb from Voice of America.
Q: Thank you both.
My first question is for Secretary Carter concerning the THAAD missile defense system. Do you have an estimated date on the production completion of that? And also, how specifically does the United States plan to defend its Japanese and South Korean allies and the tens of thousands of U.S. troops that are in Japan and South Korea from a potential missile attack?
And I have a follow-up for both of you on China. Thank you.
SEC. CARTER: OK. Well, thank you.
The production schedule for the next THAAD battery, I don't know exactly. We can provide you with that information. It's -- it's well -- well known. And that will begin a process in which we ascertain what possible deployments there are of that system, how many we're ultimately going to produce, and lots of other factors that go into it.
And that's why I said it wasn't on the agenda today.
Just in general, to get to the second part of your question, we try very hard to stay ahead of the ballistic missile threat. That's why, for example, we increase the number of ground-based interceptors in the -- the missile defense system in Alaska, a decision made a short time ago.
So, our general philosophy is to try to stay ahead of the ballistic missiles threat, and that's very much reflected in our missile defense activities here on the peninsula of long-standing, with Japan, in the United States, and elsewhere. It's important we're all on the side of staying ahead of those threats.
Q: And on China, with the Chinese foreign ministry saying that the South China Sea will be used for military defense yesterday, what is the U.S. prepared to do to prevent militarization of this dispute, especially when we've -- when the United States has said that militarization of this issue is not acceptable?
And what does South Korea think about that? Should China be able to put a militarization into this dispute?
SEC. CARTER: I'm not familiar with the specific statement to which you refer. The United States has long had the position that militarizing these territorial disputes in -- of long-standing in the South China Sea is not the way things should be approached.
And we are discussing that with our friends and allies in the region. And you know, one of the consequences of, I think, not taking territorial disputes and dealing with them in a multi-lateral and diplomatic fashion is it's hard to have friends and allies that way. And the United States has lots of friends, and allies, and partners in this part of the world -- the Republic of Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, lots of new partners and growing partners.
And the reason for that is the way we conduct ourselves. We don't conduct ourselves coercively. We don't militarize situations like that. And I think that speaks for the -- the strength of the American position in the Asia-Pacific.
MIN. HAN (Through Translator): I think, with regard to your question, Secretary Carter provided an excellent answer. I think any military -- any consideration of military actions in the South China Sea should be respectful of the overall framework, the framework that is respecting the sovereignty of all the relevant nations involved.
Now with that, we'd like to conclude the briefing.