Sen. Coons: “This ironclad partnership [is] the linchpin of security in the region, and… we hope to continue to sustain it for a very long time to come.”
Sen. Hassan: “[O]ur alliance is based on our shared values, our commitment to democracy and freedom, a commitment and a treasured value...”
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) held a press availability in Seoul, where they met with senior officials to reinforce the U.S.-South Korea alliance and discuss ways to advance our shared interests and values, including verifiable denuclearization of the peninsula.
The Senators were briefed by Major General Stephen Williams, Chief of Staff, U.S. Forces Korea, and held meetings with U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris, Korean National Security Advisor Chung, Korean Foreign Minister Kang, Korean Defense Minister Jeong, and members of the Korean National Assembly. The Senators met with brave young people who defected from North Korea and learned English with the help of U.S. government exchange programs. They also met with representatives of the South Korean semiconductor industry to discuss innovation, competitiveness, and trade issues.
“A large part of our purpose in being here is to reassert the significance of the U.S.-South Korea alliance, to express our view that it is a linchpin to regional security, that it is essential to America's security and prosperity, and to clarify, just speaking for us for the moment, that there is a very strong commitment to this alliance… South Korea has come forward and amended our free trade agreement in ways that are very positive and deeply appreciated. The relocation of our forces to Camp Humphreys, which South Korea has helped to finance, is another indicator of just how close this partnership is,” said Senator Coons.
“One of the things that is most clear is that our alliance is based on our shared values, our commitment to democracy and freedom, a commitment and a treasured value that was reinforced when we met with the defectors from North Korea today. The importance of freedom to them, the importance of being able to be here in South Korea, and also to be supported by South Korea's American allies, is critical to them, and it is a reminder of the vibrancy of the democracy here, of the shared values that is what, in fact, is the foundation of our very, very strong alliance,” said Senator Hassan.
Excerpts from the press availability are below:
Senator Coons: We are midway through what was an important, challenging, positive opportunity. We spent two days in Tokyo, Japan, we've spent two days now here in Seoul, Korea, we go next tomorrow to China. We had a whole series of very constructive meetings while here. Ambassador Harry Harris hosted a reception for us at his home last night, where we met with a wide range of former ambassadors, think tank leaders, business leaders. We had a briefing from Major General Williams, who's Chief of Staff for U.S. forces in Korea. We began this morning with a breakfast with representatives of the South Korean semiconductor industry to talk about innovation, competitiveness, trade issues. We met with four members of the Korean National Assembly too, from the majority party, from the minority party, had a very constructive conversation. We had lunch with a number of North Korean defectors, who have benefited from U.S. Embassy, U.S. government programs, in terms of English literacy, contact with the United States. And then we had a series of meetings with National Security Advisor Chung, Foreign Minister Kang, and Defense Minister Jeong, and found those to be very constructive opportunities for us to express the strength of our commitment to the enduring United States/Republic of Korea alliance, the ways in which we see this ironclad partnership as the linchpin of security in the region, and the ways in which we hope to continue to sustain it for a very long time to come.
Senator Hassan: And I would add to what Senator Coons said, one of the things that is most clear is that our alliance is based on our shared values, our commitment to democracy and freedom, a commitment and a treasured value that was reinforced when we met with the defectors from North Korea today. The importance of freedom to them, the importance of being able to be here in South Korea, and also to be supported by South Korea's American allies, is critical to them, and it is a reminder of the vibrancy of the democracy here, of the shared values that is what, in fact, is the foundation of our very very strong alliance. The meetings were productive and fruitful, and we are very very grateful for the time and energy that our hosts and all of our meeting partners gave us.
Senator Coons: For both of us, this is our first trip. It was wonderful to be at Blue House. It was also frankly wonderful to see protestors in several places, vigorously expressing their views, and to be with you as members of a free press -- that South Korea is such a vibrant and open society, such an innovative and developed society, is reassuring to us about how the shared values that Senator Hassan spoke about really do underlay our common commitment to peace and security. So, thank you.
Senator Coons: We discussed that specifically with the National Security Advisor, as well as with the Foreign Minister. The National Security Advisor has just returned from the meeting with President Trump and President Moon, and insisted that there is no daylight between the United States position and the ROK position on what should be the next steps, and how should denuclearization, and how should normalization occur. So, I found that reassuring, and it was repeatedly and firmly stated.
Senator Coons: Given that Russia is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, and has joined in the Security Council resolutions that, for many years, have provided the framework for sanctions against the DPRK for their illicit, illegal, inappropriate weapons of mass destruction programs, chemical, biological and nuclear, it would be a great disappointment for Mr. Putin to again insert himself in a way that's unhelpful in terms of the global pursuit of counter-proliferation and peace. But it would not be the first time. He has made statements in the past about how he would make himself available to help Chairman Kim evade sanctions, but I think actions are more important than statements, and in general, the actions of the PRC and the actions of Russia, in terms of pushing back on nuclear proliferation, have been constructive. And so, it is my real hope that they'll have a positive meeting, but it will not result in sanctions avoidance or weakening of the global regime in opposition to North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
Senator Hassan: I think it's fair to say that the proliferation and the violations that we've seen from the DPRK concern everyone, especially, obviously here, but throughout the region. And so, I am hopeful, especially given some of our discussions today, that again, we will stay focused on denuclearization, and verifiable denuclearization, enforceable denuclearization.
Senator Coons: I would hope so. Looking back a few years, Russia played, in my view, a constructive role in pursuing a multilateral framework for dealing with Iran's illicit nuclear weapons program, and I think it's entirely possible that they could play a constructive role in urging Chairman Kim to recognize that simply making an offer to decommission the Yongbyon site is not enough. That the menu of things that the Islamic Republic of Iran undertook, in terms of a full accounting of sites, full access for inspectors, full commitment to removal of enriched material from their territory, that's the sort of menu that is likely required to begin a real process towards verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. And Russia played a very constructive role in that conversation with the Iranian regime. So, these are different regimes, different circumstances, but it's entirely possible that Russia and China could play the same sort of constructive role here. My assumption is that Chairman Kim, being disappointed at the outcome at Hanoi, is now taking steps -- the launch of a test missile, medium-range, and this meeting with Mr. Putin -- to try and show that he has other options. I'm hopeful that Mr. Putin will recognize it's not in Russia's interests or in the world interests to have this sort of break-out by the DPRK.
Senator Hassan: It is fair to say that, although Senator Coons and I are from a different political party than the President, I won't speak for Chris, but we both thought the President did the right thing walking away from a deal at Hanoi without getting serious, concrete offers and specifics that would help guide us to the next stage of a denuclearization agreement. And so it was very important that the President recognized no deal was better than a bad deal, and I think it also made clear to the Chairman what the necessary parameters are for the United States, and for all of the allies who want to work towards real, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization in North Korea. And so I think the American people understand how important denuclearization is, but I also think that we understand that we have to make clear what our position is, and what the foundation of a true and real agreement needs to be.
Senator Coons: I strongly agree. Many of us in the Senate, both Democrats and Republicans, complimented President Trump for walking away from the Hanoi summit when Chairman Kim came with a very disappointing offer, an offer that's been made before, and that would make no progress towards really resolving this difficult situation. After the Hanoi summit, Chairman Kim, or leaders in the DPRK, made statements trying to suggest that somehow it was the fault of the National Security Advisor, John Bolton, or the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and that it was their bad advice that had misled President Trump. President Trump rejected that, appropriately said "Secretary of State Pompeo still has a central role in working on this issue." I don't think the American people are losing interest in the challenge we have with the nuclear program with DPRK, I think there's still very high interest in it, and I think there's real concern about it. So I think there's a real likelihood there will be another summit between Kim and Trump, but only if there's some credible reason to believe that Chairman Kim will come to the table with a more detailed and more credible proposal for verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.
Senator Coons: There will be some confidence-building measures, but not relief of sanctions -- but, some opening.
Senator Hassan: I think we all understand that when you enter complex negotiations between parties that have long been not only at a distance, but have created mistrust for each other, that you need to do things to build confidence. But, to suggest that relieving sanctions before there is denuclearization -- I think it's not something that people in the United States would support.
Senator Coons: I was very reassured today to hear from the Foreign Minister and the National Security Advisor that there will be no daylight between the United States and South Korea. That as work is done to prepare for next steps, or a possible next summit, there will be very close coordination and consultation. I think that's encouraging, and I think it's appropriate given how close, how long, how deep, our alliance is.
Senator Coons: We may just have different assumptions, unless I misunderstand your question. I don't think it's appropriate for us to have some big breakthrough that is based on our offering sanctions relief to North Korea without North Korea taking significant, concrete steps. I mean, the whole purpose of sanctions is to compel DPRK to come and negotiate. You don't reward DPRK for simply having a meeting at which they made no new or concrete or significant proposals. I support President Trump's position that we are going to marshal the world community to impose sanctions. We have -- this has been in place for some time. And we should not simply relieve them without a more serious effort on the part of DPRK.
Senator Hassan: And I would just say that that was something that we emphasized today, and again we were reassured that the United States and South Korea will be united in their approach. You can't reward DPRK for, again, just showing up and stating intentions. There are models that exist for what an agreement would look like, with specificity, with goals, with measurable goals by certain dates, with inspections, with the identification of sites, so that our inspectors, international inspectors, could go to the sites. There are steps with specificity that the DPRK could take, and I could see some constructive steps from the alliance as those obligations are met over time by the DPRK. But, this really has to start with concrete proposals, and real action steps from the DPRK.
Senator Coons: North Korea shares a border with Russia, they may be having a conversation about shared concerns. To be more clear-eyed about it, President Putin has previously said publicly that he would provide some sanctions relief to North Korea if it became too burdensome. I really hope that that is not his goal, because it would ultimately be harmful to the interests of Russia, as well as to China, as well to the United States, as well as to South Korea. It would be harmful to the world's interests. And President Putin played a constructive role in the multilateral effort to get the Islamic Republic of Iran to come forward with exactly the steps Senator Hassan was describing to give, for the first time, a full accounting of their sites, to allow international inspectors to send their enriched material out of Iran, to Russia. So my hope here is that President Putin will recognize that his reputation in the world, the role that he has played, his relations with Europe and the United States, have been very strained by his illegal annexation of Crimea, his continued interference in the Donbass, his inability -- refusal, really -- to meet the Minsk Accord commitments, poisoning in the United Kingdom of a formal intelligence officer. A whole series of steps. It would not help President Putin's relations, I think regionally or globally, to provide sanctions relief to a regime that is not yet taking any concrete steps towards denuclearization. So it's my hope they will have a constructive conversation, and that Russia will continue to participate in the U.N. sanctions regime against North Korea.
Senator Hassan: And again, I think our constituents, the American people, and the international community all want very much there to be, again, real efforts by the DPRK to denuclearize. Russia should be sharing that interest as well.
Senator Coons: A large part of our purpose in being here is to reassert the significance of the U.S./South Korea alliance, to express our view that it is a linchpin to regional security, that it is essential to America's security and prosperity, and to clarify, just speaking for us for the moment, that there is a very strong commitment to this alliance. I personally would be very opposed to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the peninsula. I don't expect that to be discussed seriously, to be on the menu. We've had very detailed conversations about ways in which our partnership is strengthening the U.S./South Korea economic relationship -- has gotten even stronger. South Korea has come forward and amended our free trade agreement in ways that are very positive and deeply appreciated. The relocation of our forces to Camp Humphreys, which South Korea has helped to finance, is another indicator of just how close this partnership is. And, we were reassured that the training is continuing at the unit level, in ways that we do not have any reduction or loss in preparedness. I did ask questions about training, training frequency, training tempo, training sophistication, and was assured that there was no loss in preparedness. We are not doing exercises of the same scale of visibility, but we are continuing necessary and relevant training in order to maintain readiness.
Senator Hassan: And, again, we are here to just emphasize to ROK, to the South Korean people, how deeply we value this relationship. I think our conversations with both our military as well as your military leaders here, re-emphasized that the relationship is strong, that we are as all good partners would do, always looking for ways to improve, modernize, understand the neighborhood we're in. But the logistical and strategic value of the presence of troops here is extraordinarily important to the United States of America. And one of our major purposes of this trip is to reaffirm that to the people of South Korea.