Ambassador Hong Seok-hyun, Director of Korean Peninsula Forum,
Dr. John Hamre, President of CSIS,
Distinguished Colleagues and Friends,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is indeed a great honor and pleasure for me to deliver my first policy speech as Minister of Foreign Affairs, here at the J-CSIS Forum. I thank the organizers for giving me the opportunity to join this prestigious gathering of respected minds in Korea and the United States.
This forum offers a unique platform to share valuable insights among the movers and shakers of foreign policy in our two countries. While Track 1 consultations are undeniably important, these forums are equally valuable channels. They reflect the thinking and sentiment of opinion leaders as well as the general public and the media on important current issues.
The forum today could not have come at a more opportune time. We are just three days away from the first summit between President Moon and President Trump. Indeed, President Moon himself will be speaking at CSIS while in D.C. later this week.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the ROK-U.S. Alliance has continually evolved in depth and breadth over the past 67 years. The United States fought shoulder to shoulder with us for freedom and democracy on this land. As you may be aware, President Moon’s parents, as well as my own father, were originally from North Korea. They fled south during the Korean War. I would most likely not be here today if it were not for the courageous American men and women who fought for us.
Since then, the ROK-U.S. Alliance has safeguarded peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and beyond. And today, our alliance covers a whole range of areas including security, economic, social and cultural dimensions. Geographically, the alliance extends beyond the Korean Peninsula, and is now going global.
Speaking of culture, Dr. Hamre is an excellent example. He is a great fan of Korean cuisine. Rumor has it that Dr. Hamre has conferred the title “favorite kitchen” to the Korean Ambassador’s Residence in Washington D.C. We have credible intelligence telling us that he is a frequent visitor there indeed.
Dr. Hamre’s good taste has become more refined over the years with every new dish he has tasted and savored. Likewise, with the change of leadership and administrations in our countries over the decades, our alliance has become even stronger and deeper.
On the day my President was sworn in, he had his first phone call with President Trump. Above all, they reaffirmed their unwavering commitment to the ironclad alliance. President Moon stated that the ROK-U.S. Alliance is the foundation of our diplomacy and security. President Trump reciprocated that our two countries are, “not just good allies but great allies.” I myself also had a fruitful telephone conversation with Secretary Tillerson last Thursday, and we reaffirmed these points.
In follow-up to the presidential phone call, a flurry of high-level exchanges has marked the past month and half. We had White House Senior Advisor Mr. Pottinger and State Department Under-Secretary Mr. Shannon visiting us. On our part, Presidential Special Envoy Dr. Hong led a delegation to Washington D.C. and met President Trump. National Security Director and my Vice Foreign Minister flew across the Pacific for face-to-face engagements with their counterparts.
And now, the upcoming summit between President Moon and President Trump is in the spotlight. Let me offer a couple of points to frame the significance of the meeting.
First and foremost, the summit will be the first encounter for our two Presidents to meet in person. It will be a time for them to build mutual trust and friendship. This is particularly important as they will be sharing the next several years in office. The face-to-face engagement will underscore their common vision and mutual understanding.
Second, our two Presidents will discuss joint strategy on how we, as alliance, may practically achieve peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula. Presidents Moon and Trump see eye to eye on the North Korean nuclear and missile issues. They have a shared goal– that is the complete dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program. They both have the North Korean nuclear and missile issues at the top of their priority agenda. They are ready to employ all possible options– sanctions, pressure and dialogue – to tackle the daunting challenge. Finally, they both have the door open for engaging North Korea if conditions are right. In this sense, my government’s strategy mirrors that of maximum pressure and engagement of the United States.
Third, President Moon and President Trump will move up the ROK-U.S. Alliance from good to great. Institutionalization of 2+2 meetings including the Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group will be a key element of the discussion. Extending our mutual cooperation beyond security issues and beyond the Korean Peninsula will be another key component.
Presidents Moon and Trump will also share their views on the strong and dynamic economic cooperation as a crucial pillar of the ROK-U.S. Alliance. They will be discussing ways to move forward our bilateral cooperation in a number of areas, including energy, infrastructure, information and communication technology so as to ensure robust economic growth and job creation in both countries.
There has been some speculation in academia and media that the leaders of our two countries may diverge on some issues. Let’s start with the issue of reopening of Kaesong Industrial Complex. As my President mentioned in his recent interviews, we will pursue this only under the right circumstances. In other words, it is something that can be pursued at a later stage when we are assured of progress in dealing with the North Korean nuclear and missiles threats, and we will do so in closest consultation with the United States. It is not something we can discuss at this stage when we are ratcheting up sanctions and pressure on Pyongyang.
Meanwhile, humanitarian assistance and exchanges will move forward, in parallel with sanctions and pressure. They should be independent from political considerations and take place within the framework of the international sanctions regime on North Korea.
In addition, the Republic of Korea will stay the course with our policy on the human rights situation in North Korea. Human rights is a universal value that transcends borders. Every person counts and must be protected against abuses committed in the name of sovereignty. In this regard, my President conveyed his deepest condolences on the tragic death of Mr. Otto Warmbier. We strongly condemn North Korea’s inhuman and cruel treatment of Mr. Warmbier and our hearts go out to his bereaved family.
Finally, on THAAD deployment: As my President himself made it clear on numerous occasions, my government has no intention to basically reverse the commitments made in the spirit of the ROK-U.S. alliance. Going through the environmental-impact assessment is an issue of domestic due process. It does not mean that we will cancel or reverse the decision to deploy THAAD.
With democratic and procedural legitimacy obtained, we will strengthen public support for the deployment, which in turn will further strengthen the alliance into the future. The deployment of THAAD was an alliance decision, so will we, as alliance, continue to collaborate on the basis of mutual trust.
Ladies and gentlemen, the situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula has never been so challenging as it is today. Against this backdrop, the upcoming ROK-U.S. Summit will be a milestone, a historical first step, toward a peaceful future of the peninsula.
I have said much today but it all amounts to this: The ROK-U.S. Alliance has been the foundation of our diplomacy and security and it will remain so in the future. As alliance partners, we will be closely consulting each other as we design and implement the roadmap for peace and security on the Korean Peninsula.
Once again, I thank the organizers of the J-CSIS Forum for hosting such an important gathering at such a critical time. The insights and advice from the leaders who are with us here today will be of great value as we envision the future of our alliance. With your assistance, I am confident that the ROK-U.S. Alliance will become even stronger and greater.
On that note, I wish all the participants bon appétit and a very fruitful meeting this afternoon. Thank you. 감사합니다.