Background Briefing By Senior Administration Officials on the Vice President’s Trip to Asia
Seoul Grand Hyatt
Seoul, Republic of Korea
9:30 A.M. KST
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I just very briefly will cover the meetings yesterday that the Vice President had, particularly the meeting and lunch with President Park, and then take your questions, and then also maybe have a couple minutes off the record on two or three issues where we can add a little context.
The Vice President and President Park spent about two hours, two and a half hours together between a bilateral meeting and a small lunch, and covered a range of alliance issues and regional issues, including obviously North Korea and the recent Chinese announcement of the air defense identification zone, including issues related to the management of the alliance as we go forward, including issues related to nonproliferation more broadly. They discussed the Iran nuclear deal and they discussed regional relations -- Korea-Japan, Korea-China, the role of the United States and the rebalance. And the Vice President had the opportunity also to share with Park some of his impressions from the meetings in both Tokyo and Seoul on the issues of common concern.
One item that is now coming into the press that I wanted to take a minute to describe in a little bit more detail is related to the air defense identification zone. The Vice President and President Park discussed the Chinese announcement. They agreed that this was a destabilizing act that increased tensions. They reaffirmed that we don’t recognize the zone and that it won’t affect either of our operations. And they also discussed implications for the Korean air defense identification zone. The Vice President expressed understanding for Korea’s approach to China’s announcement, including potential adjustments to its zone, and both of them talked at some length about the importance of freedom of overflight and the lowering of tensions.
In this context, the Vice President also strongly reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to the Republic of Korea’s security. Now, obviously we’re going to leave it to Korea to discuss the specifics of their proposals. But let me say that we’re closely coordinating with them as they consider next steps, and we’re on the same page in terms of the importance of consultations with neighbors, in terms of taking actions that are consistent with international practice, and in terms of ensuring that any measures don’t escalate tensions in the region.
So beyond that, sort of obviously we leave it to the Koreans to lay out how they plan to proceed, but we will remain, following on the Vice President’s conversation with President Park, closely coordinated with the Koreans as we move forward.
I think I will leave it at that, unless I missed any significant issues that -- oh, I did, yes. My apologies. The Vice President and President Park also had the opportunity to spend some time on both Korea’s expression of interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the implementation of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. And that set of trade and economic issues was obviously important to mention on this stop, and it occupied the bulk of the time that the Vice President spent with the prime minister and also a considerable amount of time that he spent with the president. And as he said publicly in his remarks, the United States welcomes Korea’s interest in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We think that their entry will add more momentum to not just that agreement, but to an overall effort led by the United States to produce new rules of the road for the 21st century in terms of trade and commerce.
So the -- yes, go ahead.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They also discussed bilateral issues, including security cooperation in implementing the Strategic Alliance 2015, noting this is the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-ROK alliance, and touched on the ongoing program of work between us on security cooperation leading up to the expected Security Consultative Meeting to be held in the fall of 2014.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me close with just one sort of bit of texture. The U.S.-Korea -- U.S.-ROK alliance is really at a high-water mark. And these meetings reflected the common approach that the United States and Korea have on a number of critical issues, and the commitment of the leadership on both sides as we implement the framework and vision of the alliance going forward to make sure that, as potentially cheesy as it sounds, that the next 60 years are as effective as the last 60 years have been and that we have modernized the alliance to take account of the challenges and opportunities of the first half of the 21st century.
So there was a real warmth and intensity to the conversations in terms of our shared interests and trying to move the ball forward on some pretty substantial items. So with that, we’ll take a couple of questions.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Did you mention North Korea?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I did.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, sorry.
Q Can I just ask on the question of South Korea and Japan, how the Vice President did frame the issue of that relationship and what sort of a response he got from the president?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’ll ask my colleagues to jump in, but the Vice President had one-on-one conversations with both Prime Minister Abe in Japan and with President Park in Korea -- private conversations on this subject. He indicated to both leaders the strong U.S. interest in two of the region’s leading democracies, Japan and Korea, having improved relations with one another, that that is in our interest. And further, that trilateral cooperation, especially trilateral security cooperation, among Japan, Korea and the United States is of crucial importance as well.
They were able to have discussions -- by “they” I mean the Vice President and Prime Minister Abe and the Vice President and President Park -- about the future, and given the sensitivity of these issues, I’m not going to go into any more detail about what exactly that entailed. But I will say that we will continue to follow up as a result of the Vice President’s conversations with each leader.
Q By “private conversations,” do you mean separately from the sort of --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: One on one.
Q Okay. And on the South Korean ADIZ, understanding you don’t want to read out their side of the conversation, but can you say, was the Vice President’s message to them, “We really don’t think that you should be expanding this, it’s just going to throw another log on the fire”?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think, as I’d laid out in my comments before, they had an extensive discussion on this. The Vice President expressed understanding for Korea’s approach, including with respect to potential adjustments to its zone. And as a result, not just in the conversation we had with President Park, but consultations that we’ve had with the Koreans over the course of the past two weeks, 10 days, he walked away from that conversation feeling like we were on the same page with respect to the key issues at play here, which include some pretty important elements -- consultations with neighbors; taking actions consistent with international practice; ensuring that any measures don’t escalate tensions.
So it is obviously up to the Koreans to both lay out and execute any steps it plans to take in response to China’s announcement, but we had a very good set of conversations about this yesterday and we’re on -- we’re in extremely close communication and coordination on it.
I don’t know if you guys want to add to this?
Q To ask sort of a nuanced question, because Mark asked the -- I was going to ask about Japan. But the Vice President in his comments yesterday spoke about the United States not leaving the region, and made reference to the fact that we’ve been here for so many years. And that kind of statement used to be very controversial in Korea because it created this notion of permanent basing, and there were enormous protests at places like Yonsei about U.S. bases, the behavior of servicemen. And I’m interested to know whether in the dynamic between the president and the Vice President, there was any expression of sensitivity about how one maintains a forward base presence of the United States but yet doesn’t seem to undermine the sovereignty of the Korean people, and whether that was sort of managed at that level and what our general policies are on that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Fascinating question, and in effect you’ve answered it yourself by referencing the fact that whereas 20 years ago, you would have been seeing Molotov cocktails garlanding the perimeter of Yonsei University during the visit of a Vice President, instead what you saw were throngs of cheering crowds. And that’s indicative of the extremely strong support both for the U.S.-ROK alliance, but also for relations with the United States that’s manifest in polling and more broadly in public attitudes.
So the issue of U.S. bases, whether it’s a question of the legitimacy or the burden, was not discussed between the president and the Vice President precisely because it’s not a point of friction. There are, of course, always discussions about the ongoing process of U.S.-ROK cooperation on a range of security alliance-related programs, of which basing is one element. But I think you’re pointing to a very good news story, that the presence of the 28,500 U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula is no longer seen as an infringement of sovereignty. Instead, it’s seen as a core element of the U.S.-ROK partnership.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I want to make sure we have time to do a few minutes off the record, so we can do it now.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I understand.
Q That’s great. One thing if I would ask real quickly while we’re still on background: Given the many differences between the situations in North Korean and Iran that you’re all familiar with, what was the nature of discussing those two things in relation to each other?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think here, we discussed this a bit with respect to the conversation with -- between the Vice President and President Xi. Here, I didn’t mean to suggest in my opening that these were directly linked. They discussed both issues on their own terms. There are obviously some overlaps and some connections that came up, but the North Korea conversation really sort of stood on its own and was an opportunity for the Vice President and President Park to compare notes on our approaches, and those approaches are entirely 100 percent aligned. We both have the same view that the only way that we get back to dialogue is if the North Koreans take steps to show that they are serious about -- concrete steps to show they are serious about it and that it won’t just be talks for the sake of talking.
And in a sense, in both the meeting and the lunch, the Vice President and President Park were finishing each other’s sentences on North Korea. That’s how sort of aligned the two of them saw it. And when the Vice President spoke with the prime minister, the Vice President made his presentation on our policy towards North Korea, and the prime minister said, “You just read the points I was going to make, so I have nothing more to say.”
So on North Korea there was a real alignment. The Iran piece was an opportunity for the Vice President to talk to them about our impressions of where that is headed, and also to underscore the point that it was pressure that brought the Iranians to the table in the first instance, and continued pressure is going to be crucial to setting the stage for a final agreement, and Korea is an important part of that.
So yes, we can go off the record.
9:44 A.M. KST