Joint Press Conference with Secretary Panetta and Defense Minister Kim in the Pentagon Briefing Room

Press Conference

By:  Leon Panetta
Date: Oct. 24, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON E. PANETTA: Good morning. It's my privilege to again welcome Defense Minister Kim to the Pentagon.

This is the fourth time the minister and I have met, and the second time that he and I have led the annual Security Consultative Meeting held between the civilian and military leadership of our two defense establishments.

In the course of these meetings and numerous other consultations that we've had, the two of us have established, I believe, a very strong working relationship. And that relationship reflects the strength of the United States-Republic of Korea alliance.

Today, Minister Kim and I affirm that this alliance will remain a cornerstone of stability in Northeast Asia into the future.

I assured the minister that the United States stands fully committed to the security of the Republic of Korea. Make no mistake, we will provide the forces and the military capabilities needed to help maintain security on the Korean Peninsula. And we are also committed to deepening and adapting our defense cooperation to meet evolving security challenges in the region.

The focus of much of our discussions was North Korea. North Korea remains a serious threat to both of our nations and a serious threat to regional and global stability. Over the past year, North Korea has continued its pattern of defiance and provocative actions, including the unsuccessful test of a ballistic missile capability.

Minister Kim and I reaffirmed that North Korean aggression or military provocation will not be tolerated and that we will continue working shoulder to shoulder to demonstrate our combined resolve.

The United States and the Republic of Korea are committed to maintaining close consultation to develop a comprehensive set of alliance capabilities to counter North Korean threats.

We will continue to enhance close alliance cooperation to address wide-ranging global security challenges, including through stabilization and reconstruction efforts, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and counter proliferation.

And, finally, Minister Kim and I agreed on the need to strengthen cooperation with respect to protection of space and cyberspace domains. We must ensure that this alliance stays ahead of the cyber threat.

We also welcome the signing of a space cooperation terms of reference for bilateral military space cooperation, which formally establishes a United States-Republic of Korea defense working group that will address space policy, architecture, training and [personnel] exchange.

The new defense strategy of the United States makes clear that as the military emerges from a decade of war we will rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific region, because of its importance for global security, its importance to global prosperity in the 21st century. A stronger U.S.- Republic of Korea alliance is a critical part of this -- this rebalancing effort.

Let me conclude by noting that we are approaching now the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War and the birth of the alliance between the United States and the Republic of South Korea. For 60 years, our two countries have stood side by side and forged security and prosperity for our nations.

We have been tested time and time again, but we have met every challenge. And the reality is that over the last 60 years we have preserved peace in the peninsula and in that region.

As a result, today this alliance is stronger than ever. I'd like to thank Minister Kim again for his commitment, for his friendship to this alliance, and to our shared goal of a secure and prosperous future for our people and for our nations.

Thank you.

MINISTER OF NATIONAL DEFENSE KIM KWAN JIN (through translator): This year's Security Consultative Meeting was held amidst increasingly unpredictable security situations in the Korean Peninsula due to the North Korean leadership change and its long-range missile launch, following its earlier sinking of the warship Cheonan and artillery shelling against the island of Yeon pyeong.

The SCM was also held at a meaningful time since next year will mark the historic 60th anniversary since the Korean War armistice agreement and the forging of the Republic of Korea-United States alliance.

At such time, Secretary Panetta and I discussed, among others, a number of alliance cooperative measures for the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula, as well as tasks for the future development of the alliance.

Our discussions at the SCM have proved -- produced significant outcomes. First of all, Secretary Panetta and I shared our common view that the two countries should have a shared vision to ensure the progress of our alliance into perpetuity, and as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of ROK-U.S. alliance next year, we agreed to jointly develop a long-term defense vision that will allow our relationship to continue evolving into future strategic alliance.

Furthermore, we noted that the ROK-U.S. combined defense posture deters North Korean provocations and makes positive contribution to the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia and agreed to continue maintaining a robust combined defense posture in the future.

To this end, as part of these tangible measures, the U.S. reaffirmed its firm commitment to the security of the Korean Peninsula by maintaining the current level of U.S. forces in Korea, further strengthening military capabilities and readiness posture, and rapidly providing overwhelming reinforcement in the event of contingencies.

Today, Secretary Panetta and I reaffirmed our shared view that North Korea's asymmetric military capabilities, such as nuclear weapons program and missiles, pose a serious threat not only to the security of the Korean Peninsula, but also to that of Northeast Asia and the world as a whole.

In particular, in order to promote the effectiveness of the U.S. commitments to provide extended deterrence, the two countries agreed on the concepts and principles for a bilateral deterrence strategy against North Korean nuclear and WMD threats and decided to develop a tailored deterrence strategy based on these concepts and principles.

Also, in order to better address increasing WMD threats from North Korea, the two countries, through close bilateral consultations, agree to revise the missile guidelines. Secretary Panetta and I highly noted this achievement and had a shared view that the revision will greatly contribute to the development of combined response capabilities and eventually to a stronger alliance.

We also noted that the transition of wartime operational control and the relocation of the USFK bases are proceeding as scheduled through the implementation of the Strategic Alliance 2015 and reaffirmed that we will continue to work closely in this area.

In particular, the two countries agreed to jointly develop a future command structure that will ensure military efficiency after the transition of wartime operational control.

Secretary Panetta highly appreciated the ROK contribution to global peace and stability, including the ROK support to the reconstruction of Afghanistan and Haiti, counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, participation in P.S.I. activities, PKO forces in Lebanon, and the recent decision to send PKO forces to South Sudan.

Secretary Panetta and I agreed to continue working closely to address regional and global security challenges.

Furthermore, in order to meet the rising demands for security cooperation in the areas of space and cyberspace, the two countries included -- concluded -- the terms of reference on military-space cooperation based on which we will form and operate a regular consultative body for space cooperation and decided to further promote cyber cooperation among defense agencies.

Let me conclude by expressing my gratitude for the hospitality of Secretary Panetta and all the Department of Defense officials during the course of this meeting. This year's 44th SCM has served as an important opportunity to further strengthen the Republic of Korea-United States alliance.

The Republic of Korea and the United States will continue to work even more closely so that our alliance will go beyond the 60th anniversary, well into the future as it evolves into an enduring strategic alliance.

Thank you.

GEORGE LITTLE: The secretary and the minister are now delighted to take questions.

The first question will come from Ms. Kim, Yonhap News.

Q: I'm a reporter from Yonhap News Agency. I have two questions for Secretary Panetta.

Inter-Korean tensions have escalated following a series of minor clashes near maritime border and North Korea's warning of merciless attack against civic group's plan to attempt to send propaganda leaflets.

So I was wondering if the U.S. government is considering any kind of plans to deploy its troops in the Korea as well as -- as well as the globally available forces in case of North Korean provocation? And if so, I want to know what extent the government is planning and the agreement made in today's meeting.

And secondly, after the announcement of revised missile guideline, opposition lawmakers in South Korea raised speculations that Washington wants Seoul to join its missile defense system. So can you tell us the U.S. government's position to clarify about the issue?

SEC. PANETTA: On the missile defense, what did you want me to clarify again? I'm sorry.

Q: Opposition lawmakers in South Korea have raised speculations that Washington wants Seoul to join its U.S. missile defenses in the Asia-Pacific region.

So we'd like to hear the U.S. government's position to clear about that.

SEC. PANETTA: Okay.

First of all, with regards to any provocations from the North, I think it's very clear that South Korea and the United States have a strong cooperative relationship and that, when those provocations occur, that we will work together to determine what -- what kind of response should be provided if necessary.

I was relieved that the -- the balloon incident, which -- which raised concerns about potential provocation, that that did not occur. But, at the same time, I think, both Minister Kim and I in our discussions have made clear that we're going to continue to watch closely to make sure that those kinds of provocations do not take place and that in the end, if they do take place, that both South Korea and the United States would be prepared to respond.

With regards to the missile guidelines, South Korea and the United States have worked through the issue of missile guidelines. We have various conditions that -- that both of us have agreed to as to how that would operate. We're going to continue to do further work to try to refine those conditions and make sure that we're clear as to how that -- that decision would be implemented in the future.

With regards to future missile defense, that's an area that we continue to discuss in order to make sure that we have all of the defenses necessary to deal with -- with the missile threat coming from North Korea, and whatever steps are necessary to try to make sure that we're prepared for that.

We just deployed -- or we just talked about deploying a TPY-2 radar system to Japan specifically in order to protect against that kind of missile threat, and we will continue to work with our friends in the region to further develop that kind of capability.

MR. LITTLE: Next question will go to Bob Burns of Associated Press.

Q: Mr. Secretary, a question for you about the situation in northern Mali. Is it your view that outside military intervention is needed there in the short term? And what role, what military role would the U.S. be prepared to play? And also could you comment on reports that the rebels in Syria now have U.S.-made Stinger missiles?

SEC. PANETTA: With regards to the second point, I have -- I have no comment on -- on those reports, and that shouldn't be interpreted as affirmation one way or the other. I just don't know that -- I don't know what the reports are and I certainly don't know of us providing any -- any such missiles in that area.

Secondly, with regards to the issue of Mali, you know, I've made clear in the positions that I've had, both as director of the CIA and now as secretary of defense, that we have to ensure that Al Qaida has no place to hide and that we have to continue to go after them wherever -- wherever they are, wherever they try to develop a command-and-control capability from which they could conduct attacks, either in Europe or on this country.

In order to confront that threat, which has now moved throughout that region -- I mean, we're doing it in Yemen, we're doing it in Somalia, we're obviously continuing to do it in the FATA. And I believe the effort now ought to be to work with nations in that region to ensure that Al Qaida does not develop that kind of base in Mali. But it ought to be an effort that is developed in conjunction with other countries in the region that share the same concern.

Q: So is the U.S. willing to play some sort of military role in doing that?

SEC. PANETTA: I think what we're prepared to do is to discuss with our regional partners a plan that -- that would deal with that threat and how to respond to it.

MR. LITTLE: Next question from Mr. Jun of Chosun Ilbo.

Q (through translator): I'd like to ask a question to Minister Kim. Through the 44th SCM following the OPCON [Operational Control] transition in 2015, I heard that the two countries agreed to form a combined group to discuss a future command structure. But there are speculations that this is a way to build a second CFC [Combined Forces Command]. And what kind of a structure do you think this new command structure have in the future?

MIN. KIM (through translator): Prior to the OPCON transition of 2015, yes, we agree to form a group that will deal with future command structure. Once the OPCON transition does take place, the ROK military will be the supported and the U.S. the supporting. But this will cause some inefficiency because this will be a bipolarized system.

For that reason, we know that the CFC, the Combined Forces Command decision-making structure has a great strength. Therefore, we are trying to seek a future command structure that would leverage the know-how from all the experiences that we'll build through this Combined Forces Command.

But we are trying to build a system following the dissolution of the Combined Forces Command. We are not trying to build another Combined Forces Command.

MR. LITTLE: And finally Rosalind Jordan of Al Jazeera.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, Mr. Minister.

You both have raised the matter of North Korea and its efforts to develop a nuclear weapons arsenal. The world has been surprised by Pyongyang's previous nuclear and weapons test in general. And there's very little that the U.S. and its allies understand about the new leader Kim Jong Un.

Is there any credible information to suggest that Kim may be about to launch another weapons test, particularly another nuclear weapons test? How much more belligerent is his regime compared to that of his father Kim Jong Il?

Can the U.S. military's pivot to the Asia-Pacific region provide the U.S. and its allies more understanding, more intelligence of how Kim plans to exert his own influence around the region?

And finally, gentlemen, can the pivot be leveraged as a way to get North Korea to return to the six-party talks on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula?

Thank you.

SEC. PANETTA: Mr. Minister, I'm going to let you go first.

He's -- we -- we discussed the new leader of Korea, and I had the minister discuss that in the sessions we had, what his thoughts were. And I think he's got a pretty good summary of kind of our initial analysis of -- of the new leader.

MIN. KIM (through translator): Your question can be summarized into three.

The first concern are North Korean nuclear -- potential nuclear test. What kind of regime this new Kim Jong regime is. Number three, what about the future of the six-party talks?

Let me first turn to the Kim Jong Un regime. Let me tell you that this is very much based on a very peculiar North Korean system he has succeeded from his father, Kim Jong Il, the system. And I have to say that Kim Jong Un's regime, for now, seems to be quite stable as far as a nuclear test, and North Korea's conducting nuclear test on two occasions. And there are chances of a third nuclear test. And that's how we see the situation.

In fact, North Korea has been preparing for this for quite a long time. And when the time comes for a political decision, it may in fact resort to this third nuclear test.

Kim Jong Un recently is trying to introduce new economic reform measures. He seems to be making attempts to bring a better life to his people, but the likelihood of success, it's still -- it's yet to be seen.

What I do want to say is that Kim Jong Un will continue to hang on to the military first policy that -- which was his father's policy. He is still young, meaning that he may be a lot more aggressive compared to old people, because he's still young.

The six-party talks, I have to say that it's the only international system to deal with the North Korean nuclear issue. And I believe that this system should be implemented, and we need to continue to shape the environment for North Korea to return to the six-party talks table.

SEC. PANETTA: I think -- I think the minister has done a very good job at kind of analyzing, you know, what we know about this new leader at this point. I think bottom line is we still don't know whether or not he will simply follow in the steps of his father or whether he represents a different kind of leadership for the future.

The -- the concern we have is that they continue to prepare for missile tests. They continue to prepare for nuclear tests. They continue to engage in enrichment of uranium against all international rules. And so they -- they continue to behave in a provocative way that threatens the security of our country and obviously of South Korea and the region.

And so it's for that reason that I think it's extremely important that our two countries, working with other countries in the region, do whatever we can to ensure that it's made clear that that kind of behavior, the kind of behavior that we've seen in the past, is not the kind of behavior that we will tolerate in the present or in the future.

And to do that, that's one of the purposes of rebalancing to the Pacific region, is to make clear that -- that as a Pacific power, we intend to maintain a strong presence in the Pacific, working with other countries -- working with South Korea, working with other countries in the ASEAN nations, working with China to try to ensure that we promote security and prosperity in that region.

The hope is that by doing that, by acting with strength, that we can send a clear message to North Korea that it would be much -- much more preferable for them to, instead of behaving in a provocative way, instead of threatening their neighbors, if they would sit down and try to negotiate a resolution to these issues.

We'll continue to pursue that. But the most important thing, in order to assure that -- that we -- we are able to engage in that kind of negotiation, is to make sure that we have a strong military relationship between the United States and South Korea, that we work closely with other countries in the region, to make very clear that our interest is in peace, not in any kind of provocative behavior.

MR. LITTLE: That's the final question. Thank you all very much. Mr. Minister, Mr. Secretary, thank you. Have a good day.