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SPEECH | Oct. 23, 2014

Pentagon Press Briefing

Press Briefing by Secretary Hagel and ROK Minister of National Defense Han Min Koo in the Pentagon Briefing Room

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel; Minister of National Defense of the Republic of Korea Han Min Koo; Rear Admiral John Kirby, Press Secretary; Colonel William Weber (Ret.), Korean War Veteran
October 23, 2014

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Good afternoon. I appreciate this opportunity to welcome Minister Han to the Pentagon. This is his first trip to Washington since he has been minister of defense. So we are particularly pleased to have an opportunity to spend the last two days with Minister Han and his delegation.

I also want to acknowledge retired Colonel William E. Weber, a distinguished Korean War veteran who is here today and will receive special recognition from the Korean government. And to you, Colonel Weber, thank you for your service to our country, and what you did and continue to do to strengthen this friendship and this partnership between the Korean people and the American people.

This is the 46th Security Consultative Meeting between our two nations, and today Minister Han and I were joined by General Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Locklear, our Pacific commander, General Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. Forces in Korea, and their distinguished Korean counterparts. I want to thank all of our participants, both the Koreans and the Americans, for a very productive and direct exchange of ideas and thinking today, and look forward to continuing our discussions later with Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Yun.

This special annual event highlights the enduring bond between our military's, our governments and our citizens. It reminds us of our nation's shared history of sacrifice, commitment and partnership. And it reinforces the strength and resilience of the Korean-American alliance, which has contributed to stability and prosperity for over six decades.

This afternoon, Minister Han and I began our meetings by focusing on the bedrock of our military alliance and our combined forces on the Korean peninsula. We signed a memorandum of understanding that outlines a conditions-based process for transferring a wartime operational control of our allied forces.

While this agreement will delay the scheduled transfer of operational control, it will ensure that when the transfer does occur, Korean forces have the necessary defensive capabilities to address an intensifying North Korean threat.

Reaffirming the United States commitment to our alliance and to the defense of the Republic of Korea, I also reiterated our policy of maintaining our current force posture on the Korean peninsula, and continuing to strengthen the U.S. military's readiness and capabilities across the Asia-Pacific region.

This now includes the rotational presence of combat-ready U.S. Army soldiers, which began earlier this year when men and women from the First Cavalry Division began a nine month rotation to Camp Hovey and Camp Stanley. This innovative program is already enhancing our combined defense posture, and a second rotation is now under way.

Our alliance commitments are as important as ever. Because North Korea's de-stabilizing policies and dangerous provocations continue to pose a grave threat to security and stability in northeast Asia, and around the globe. North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs require our alliance to maintain robust and credible deterrence. The minister and I reviewed the implementation of our tailored deterrence strategy, a strategic framework that Minister Han's predecessor and I signed in Seoul last year.

I emphasize that the United States remains committed to using all our military capabilities, both on and off the Korean peninsula, including conventional strike missile defense and our nuclear umbrella, to ensure that our extended deterrence is credible and effective.

And the minister and I endorsed our new operational concept to detect, disrupt, destroy and defend against North Korean missile threats.

Through a comprehensive strategy, our alliance will deepen our cooperation in ballistic missile defense, as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. And our combined forces will work even more closely together.

We also discussed the important of a broader regional approach to information sharing on North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, and agreed to continue trilateral discussions with Japan, building on our meeting at the Shangri-La Dialogue earlier this year.

Because Korea's interests and responsibilities are global, Minister Han and I also addressed our nation's partnership beyond the Korean peninsula. I thanked the minister for the Republic of Korea's partnership in the global effort against Ebola in West Africa, and in the broad multinational coalition fighting ISIL.

We discussed Korea's other important contributions to global security as well, from counter-piracy to peacekeeping to counter- proliferation. And we took stock of our broadening cooperation to address new and emerging threats in space, in cyberspace. Last month, our nations concluded a new agreement on space situational awareness.

In closing, let me thank Minister Han for his partnership, his leadership and his friendship. And let me also acknowledge the United States' new enjoy to the Republic of Korea, Ambassador Mark Lippert, who I have some association with. He is a trusted friend and advisor. We're proud of Ambassador Lippert.

He goes to Seoul at a very critically important time. I know, the president knows, we all know that his leadership and stewardship there as he continues to work to build a stronger alliance will do nothing but strengthen the bonds of this alliance in the years ahead.

Thank you very much. Minister Han?

ROK DEFENSE MINISTER HAN MIN KOO (through translator): This year's SCM is very special in that it makes the first year of another 60 years the RoK-U.S. Alliance will enjoy following the success of the first 60 years. North Korea is continuing to launch new types of provocations, including an additional nuclear test, development of new MRLs and tactical missiles, infiltration by military UAVs and machine gun.

As such, the security situation on the Korean Peninsula is more precarious than ever. In light of this, Secretary Hagel and I discussed diverse topics and ways that the alliance may cooperate to respond efficiently to North Korean threats and provocations, as well as maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. We achieved significant results through these discussions.

First, Secretary Hagel and I agreed on a conditions-based OPCON transition. We agree that considering the heightened nuclear - nuclear missile threat and the fluid security situation on the Peninsula and in the region, this would ensure a stable OPCON transition that enhances the alliance's response capabilities, in addition to strengthening a combined defense force led by the Republic of Korea. The Republic of Korea military will target the middle of the - middle of 2020 in order to secure the core military capabilities that will be outlined by the postponement of the OPCON transition. This will be able to ensure a stable OPCON transition, given the security situation in the Korean Peninsula, in a way that contributes to the combined defense posture.

As the - as Korea and the United States agreed on a condition- based OPCON transition, we also agreed that until the time of the actual OPCON transition, we would maintain the combined forces headquarters in its present location in Yongsan. We believe that this would be able to deter North Korean provocations, as well as contribute to peace and stability in northeast Asia.

Secretary Hagel and I believe that the rotational deployment of battle-ready U.S. forces will be able to support stability in the Korean Peninsula. And also, the combined division will be able to contribute significantly on a tactical level.

In order to more efficiently respond to the long-range artillery threats by North Korea, Secretary Hagel and I agreed to - agreed on force augmentation plans to be completed until 2020. We also agreed that fires brigade would remain in its current position in relation to this logic.

Secretary Hagel and I also reaffirmed the United States' firm resolve towards extending - extended deterrence to Korea. Furthermore, we highly appreciate the joint efforts to come up with detailed implementation plans for the tailored deterrence against North Korea.

In light of the increasing threat of North Korean ballistic missiles, in order to respond efficiently to them, Korea and the U.S. agreed - highly appreciate the principles of concepts set forth in the comprehensive counter-missile operations of the alliance.

Secretary Hagel also commended the Republic of Korea's contributions and efforts to support reconstruction in south Sudan, participate in PSI, and other efforts for world peace and stability. We agree to continue cooperating closely to respond to regional and global security challenges.

Secretary Hagel and I highly appreciate the practical cooperation in the cyber domain between the Republic of Korea and the United States and agree to further promote space and cyber cooperation between the ministry and the department in the future.

Finally, I assess this year's 46th SCM as having been a crucial opportunity to further consolidate the ROK-U.S. alliance, and would like to express my deepest gratitude to Secretary Hagel and all the Pentagon officials who offered a heartfelt welcome. We will continue to cooperate closely for another 60 years so that we can grow into an even stronger strategic alliance.

Before we move on to Q&A, we would like to commence with the ROK-U.S. alliance award ceremony.

STAFF: (inaudible) ROK-U.S. Alliance Award was established in (inaudible) the 60th anniversary of the ROK-U.S. Alliance. After a (inaudible) of the alliance. This year marks the second alliance awards, and this award is annually (inaudible) by the (inaudible) Minister of Defense of the Republic of Korea..

Sponsored by (inaudible) daily newspaper. Colonel Weber is a Korean War hero who lost his arm and a leg during the battle in (inaudible). His sacrifice and such selfless dedication helped to the foundation upon which the Republic of Korea now stands to be a free democracy.

After the war, Colonel Weber has been serving as the president of the Korean War Veterans Foundation for over 20 years, promoting America's understanding of Korean War and the ROK-U.S. alliance through various projects, including construction of Korean War Memorial and the Wall of Remembrance for 40,000 men who fell in the Korean War.

Colonel Weber, please come to the podium, please. (Inaudible) Republic of Korea and the honorable Chuck Hagel, the Secretary of Defense of the United States will present the award for your meritorious service in defense of the Republic of Korea and yourself selfless contribution to the development of the ROK-U.S. alliance, thereby becoming an example for both ROK and the U.S. military.

Now for Colonel Weber's remarks.

COLONEL WILLIAM WEBER: Obviously I'm humbled by this honor. And if I am deserving of it for that which I have done, I promise I shall continue that effort until the day I die. Sadly, in American history the Korean War is really just a minor footnote, when instead it should be a benchmark that we should take price in as a people.

For just as surely as we fought World War II to save the world for democracy and its people, so too did we as a people fight in Korea to save the world from enslavement from communism. There ought to be something in which our nation should remember and honor every moment of its existence.

To my comrades from the Republic of Korea and to Mr. Secretary, as I said, I'm humbled and honored, and I thank you so very much.

STAFF: Colonel, thank you.

SEC. HAGEL: I have a gift for the colonel, but I'm not going to impose on him to take more hardware home now, but I will give it to him.

SEC. HAGEL: And I know you've got some questions.

So, colonel, I've got something for you, but that's okay.

Nothing as fancy as a medal like that.

But nonetheless, sincere tribute on behalf of the men and women of the Defense Department and all of America, we will give you something we think is very special, and again, thank you for your service to the country.

COL WEBER: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I appreciate that, sir.

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.

KIRBY: We have time for just a couple of questions, so we're going to start on the Korean side, and then we'll go to the American side, and I think we're only going to have time for one each today.

Q: We have a few questions for Secretary Hagel.

SEC. HAGEL: None for the minister?

Q: What about the south deployment, and the other one is the U.S. forces in Korea. Specifically, are there signs that the U.S. is considering deploying the sort of battery on Korean soil, because he made such a request to his government. So where are we right now in terms of the decision-making process on that matter, and what's your position about this deployment?

And the second question is Secretary of State John Kerry said, the U.S. is ready to reduce the American forces in South Korea, if North Korea rejoins the denuclearization talks. So can you tell me what your own position is about the statement and what's the position of the U.S. government? Thank you.

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you. But may I have some clarification? Your first question, was it about the THAAD system?

Q: Very different.

SEC. HAGEL: Yes. I've got it. I've heard of it.

Thank you. Thank you very much. First, no decisions on THAAD have been made. There have been no formal consultations with the Korean government and the American government at any level. Obviously, all options are always being explored with allies, but no formal consultations, no decisions have been made.

As to your reference to Secretary Kerry's comments, I think I made clear -- I hope I did -- in my statement that we -- the United States -- do not intend to change our policy on deployment of our forces in the Republic of Korea. In fact, I think just, it was just the opposite of what I said, we continue to strengthen and advance that policy we've had for over 60 years. We are upgrading it, adjusting on deployments, on rotational deployments. We think there's more stability, more security, more continuity in those deployments.

KIRBY: Next question will be Jennifer Griffin.

Q: Minister Han, do you still think that Kim Jong Un is fully in control in North Korea, and have you seen in recent weeks any opportunity for a warming of relations? And, Secretary Hagel, if I could turn your attention to Iraq for a moment. Yazidis are again surrounded in Sinjar, 80 percent of Anbar is in control of ISIS. This morning you spoke with Iraq's new defense minister, and he says he's willing to take the fight to ISIS.

In light of that commitment, do you -- are you confident that U.S. ground forces, forward-operating forces like JTAC operators, wouldn't make a difference in this fight? Do you think it's time to reconsider that policy, those constraints on U.S. ground forces?

MIN. HAN (through translator): On the surface it seems that Kim Jong Un is effectively controlling -- exercising control. However, its diplomatic isolation and its chronic economic crisis will in the long term increase instability. And there are many different threats that can arise from that instability, and the Korean government and military are fully prepared against such threats.

SEC. HAGEL: On your question, well, let me begin with my conversation, as you noted, with the new Iraqi defense minister, Obeidi, this morning.

And I think Admiral Kirby read some of that conversation out, and as you said, one of the points that he made when I asked him what his priorities were, getting the Iraqi security forces in a position to take the offensive, and in areas they are. So that's accurate.

Second, I think we have made it very clear, and I have, and I know President Obama and others, that this is a long, difficult effort. We believe that our strategy is working. We think that the progress that is being made in Iraq is mixed, yes.

But the reality is, is that ISIL has controlled and still does control a significant amount of ground in Iraq. And I don't think it's any different from any complicated, difficult contest, that there will be mixed and various outcomes daily. But this is not a daily measurement; this is an overall strategic, longer term measurement of how well they're doing.

So, no, we're not -- we're not changing our policy. We think it's working. I think many of you heard General Austin's analysis of where we are last Friday when the press had an opportunity in a press conference to ask him some of these questions. We were with him again on a SVTC last night, and got an update, which we do almost daily, on where we are, where he thinks we are based on our field commanders. So that's the way I would answer the question.

Q: But why wouldn't JTAC forward operators make progress faster?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think General Dempsey and our commanders have said that if they feel that that would be required or necessary, they'll make that recommendation. They have not made that recommendation. I've not had any discussions with any of the commanders based on that. They feel confident that what we're doing is working and, as I said, you heard probably directly from General Austin last Friday on this. KIRBY: Thank you very much, everybody. That's all the time we have today.

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you. Thank you

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