Carter Reaffirms U.S. Commitment to South Korea
SEOUL, South Korea, March 18, 2013 – During a series of high-level meetings here, Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter met with members of South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s new administration, and with U.S. military and diplomatic officials.
Carter had an excellent round of consultations with senior members of Park’s new team, he told reporters during a briefing this afternoon, and in each meeting reconfirmed a steadfast commitment to the nearly 60-year-old alliance between the United States and South Korea.
“It’s safe to report that the relationship between the Park and Obama administrations is off to a very productive start,” he said. “My visit reflects the importance [Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel] and I attach to this alliance.”
Park, South Korea’s first woman president, was sworn in Feb. 25, less than two weeks after North Korean state media announced that the nation had conducted its third underground nuclear test since 2006. This and other provocations that are part of a continuing North Korean pattern were key topics in discussions today, Carter said, adding that such actions pose a serious threat to the United States, to South Korea and to regional stability.
“If the North Koreans think this kind of thing is going to get them anywhere, they're mistaken,” the deputy secretary said. “The only effect it's having is to bring down upon North Korea the opprobrium of the entire world.”
The United States is working with friends and allies around the world to employ an integrated response to these unacceptable provocations, Carter added.
The response includes United Nations Security Council resolutions with unprecedentedly strong sanctions against North Korea, and more unilateral sanctions of great effect, and the nation’s resulting progressive isolation, he said.
“In the military sphere, the United States remains steadfast in its defense commitments to the Republic of Korea,” the deputy defense secretary observed. “Together, we are taking important steps to advance the alliance military capabilities.”
In particular, the United States remains committed to extended deterrence offered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella, and to ensuring that all capabilities remain available to the alliance, he added.
For example, Carter noted the routine presence of strategic bombers taking part in flight training on the Korean Peninsula, adding that a B-52 flight will take place tomorrow. B-52s are long-range, strategic heavy bombers that can drop or launch the widest array of weapons in the U.S. inventory.
As Hagel announced March 15, the United States will strengthen its missile defenses and is determined to keep ahead of the progress of North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile development, the deputy defense secretary said.
The annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises Key Resolve, ongoing until March 21, and Foal Eagle, a combined and joint field training exercise that runs across the Korean Peninsula from March 1 to April 30, “demonstrate the U.S. commitment to the alliance,” Carter said, “and ensure the readiness of both of our forces to defend the Republic of Korea and deepen interoperability with U.S. and South Korean forces.”
On this cool, hazy Monday morning in Seoul, Carter started his day with a visit to Army Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of U.S. Forces Korea. Afterward, he met with U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Sung Kim.
Carter then visited the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to meet with Minister Yun Byung-se.
The U.S. commitment to South Korea is very strong, Carter told Yun in remarks before the meeting.
“Our capabilities are very formidable -- yours, ours and ours combined,” Carter said, clasping his hands together in illustration. “And as you know,” he added, “we have the full range of capabilities for both countries committed to the defense of South Korea. That has been true for decades, and it has not changed.”
Later, Carter traveled to the Blue House and met with Kim Jang-Soo at the National Security Office. The Blue House comprises the executive offices and official residence of the president. It translates to "pavilion of blue tiles" and is built in the Korean architectural tradition with modern elements.
Carter’s final meeting today was with Minister of National Defense Kim Kwan-jin.
In addition to the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, Carter and the South Korean officials discussed adding military capabilities to the alliance, continuing extended nuclear deterrence, and continuing the U.S. commitment to resource the Asia-Pacific rebalance, including the U.S. presence on the Korean Peninsula.
During the afternoon news conference, Carter answered a question about potential effects of extreme Defense Department budget cuts -- a process known as sequestration -- on the U.S. commitment to South Korea. Specifically, he was asked whether the United States would ask South Korea for a larger contribution to U.S. efforts on the peninsula.
“The United States has not asked the Republic of Korea for funds associated with sequester,” the deputy defense secretary said, describing the process as a temporary budget turbulence imposed by the U.S. Congress that will last until Oct. 1.
“We will deal with that turmoil in a way that does not affect the Korean Peninsula. That's the direction I've given,” he added, “and so operations and actions on the Korean Peninsula aren't affected.”
Carter and his South Korean counterparts pledged close and continuing cooperation on these issues at senior levels of government.
After the news conference, Carter and Thurman toured Command Post TANGO -- for theater air naval ground operations -- a high-tech bunker 11 miles south of Seoul that serves as the Korean theater’s main warfighting headquarters.
There, Carter observed elements of the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises, and thanked U.S and South Korean troops for their service and for keeping the world safe from harm.
Carter’s Asian visit will end tomorrow night after a stop in Jakarta, Indonesia, where he will hold bilateral meetings, attend a dinner with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ Council of Permanent Representatives, and attend for the first time as deputy defense secretary the Jakarta International Defense Dialogue.