Background Press Call on the Upcoming Trilateral Meeting with Japan and the Republic of Korea
4:20 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining us. A reminder that today’s call will be on background, attributed to a senior administration official. The contents of this call will be embargoed until 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time tonight.
Our speaker today is [senior administration official]. We’ll have some opening remarks at the top, and then we’re happy to turn it over for a few questions.
Over to you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. And thanks, guys, for your patience. And I’ll try to just give you guys a little bit of an overview of what we’re expecting in terms of next steps in some diplomacy.
Tomorrow, Jake Sullivan, our National Security Advisor, will welcome the National Security Secretary, Secretary Kitamura, of Japan and National Security Advisor Hoon of the Republic of Korea for a trilateral dialogue. And we’re going to host that at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. And we’ve been preparing for this session for some time.
This meeting — it, you know, obviously follows on from the trips of Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary of Defense Austin to Japan and the Republic of Korea for reciprocal two-plus-two meetings — so-called “two-plus-two” meetings — in both countries.
This is our first trilateral meeting among the three countries, and we believe that this partnership is increasingly important in a complex environment in the Indo-Pacific going forward.
We have a number of topics that we’re going to want to discuss over the course of a full day. And I want to say that not only will we have trilateral sessions and participants will have a chance to meet some of the cadets — and we’ve got cadets, I believe, from Japan and, I believe, from South Korea. And there’ll be an opportunity to engage with some of the naval personnel.
We’ll also have an opportunity for bilateral meetings between each of the countries to ensure that we’re on the same page on the issues that we’re dealing with. I expect us to talk primarily on issues associated with the maintenance of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. We’re going to talk about respective views and efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic. And we’ll obviously talk about next steps associated with climate change.
As I indicated, this is the first meeting of its kind — trilateral meeting — of the Biden administration, and it follows on a number of diplomatic steps that we’ve sought to take since assuming power in January.
We’ve already talked about many of these, but, more recently, we had an intensive discussion this week between the United States and NATO about shared perspectives and areas that we can potentially work together on out-of-area challenges in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.
I think the most important reason for this trilateral is it will give Jake and our team the opportunity to review and discuss our policy review on North Korea. And I think, as you all know, it’s in its final stages. We’ve — we’ve done extensive consultations both across the U.S. government, in Congress. We’ve consulted previous individuals and teams that have been involved in diplomacy with North Korea. And we’re prepared to now have some final consultations with Japan and South Korea as we go forward.
I think it’d be fair to say that each of these countries are intensively interested in our planned way forward, and we intend to discuss that in some detail.
In addition to North Korea, I think we will also discuss other strategic and regional and economic goals. We’re going to talk extensively on technology, including on semiconductors, supply chains, and biotechnology.
I think it’d be fair to say that our three countries hold many of the keys to the future of semiconductor manufacturing technology. And we will seek to affirm the importance of keeping these sensitive supply chains secure while also working together to uphold upcoming norms and standards discussions.
We’ll also have discussions about next steps, as I indicated, on COVID-19 and the summit next month here in Washington — I guess, later this month — that Secretary — President Biden and Secretary Kerry will hold on climate. And both Japan and South Korea have been invited to that. And we’ll discuss those issues in some detail.
Obviously, we’ll talk about other regional issues: the very serious concerns, collectively, we all have on the tragic developments in Myanmar; concerns about broader regional security issues in the South China Sea and elsewhere. And we’re looking — we’ll look forward to taking steps to advance our trilateral cooperation as we go forward.
Why don’t I stop there, and I’m happy to take some questions. Thank you.
Q Thank you for doing this call. Two quick questions. You talked about how this is, you know, obviously going to be very focused on North Korea, and you guys are, you know, in the final stages of conducting that policy review. Is it fair to say that this will be the final meeting with U.S. allies before the administration rolls out that policy?
And then my second question is just with regard to the Singapore Declaration. Does any of that still stand?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thank you, Kylie. Good questions. First of all, I would say that I — we don’t view this, in any way, as a kind of final meeting in the United States then departs on to engage without partnership.
We believe that this is an iterative process that we will be working constantly as we go forward with both Japan and South Korea on shared goals of denuclearization and reducing tensions and the like across the Korean Peninsula and Asia more directly. So I’d view this as part of a process and not as an end result.
And we, you know, take note of your question generally. The report does go into detail about how we intend to go forward. I think I’d leave some of those details — or I understand the significance of the Singapore Agreement, and we’ll have more to say about the next couple of days.
Q Thank you for taking my call. I just have a quick question. Is there going to be any kind of joint statement or press availability following the meeting tomorrow?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think — I think this will be a private meeting. I do not believe there will be a press availability after. We’re — we’ll be in — we’ll be in — the area, which is closed down — it’s, you know, COVID-controlled around the academy. And I think it was agreed that we will basically conduct these discussions privately.
Q Hello, thank you for taking my call. I have three questions to ask. As you mentioned that you — the talks will focus on North Korea policy, I wondered whether there will be a slogan or a short outcome explanation on tomorrow’s meeting.
And, as for the topic, would the discussion, kind of, take part by a distinguishing topic, such as North Korea, human rights, and denuclearization?
And my third question is: Currently, Korea is discussing whether Biden administration’s North Korea policy will be focused on engagement or sanctions or other pressure options, and we really would like to balance this. So, will we be able to picture the — how the proportion of engagement and pressure will be after this discussion?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, thank you for the very detailed question. Let me take the second one first. And I think our intention is to discuss every aspect of North Korea policy — protect — prospective arenas of diplomacy, nonproliferation issues. We will probably review some of the recent missile provocations that we have seen. We’ll talk about the domestic circumstances in North Korea — what we’ve seen in terms of COVID response — and some of the diplomacy of late that we’ve seen, particularly between China and North Korea.
So I think our intent is to have a deep review that will inform our process forward with respect to the review more generally.
I don’t think there will be any — somehow, you know, sort of, a nameplate or a title coming out of the meeting tomorrow. I think the primary goal is to ensure that we have a deep, shared understanding of circumstances that are taking place on the peninsula in North Korea — that our goals and assessments of what we want to achieve are in alignment — and that’s of critical importance — and also for us to brief both teams on what we believe are the essential elements of our strategy going forward.
So I don’t think it can be easily condensed into a headline, but our hope will be that they will see the work that has gone into the overall effort.
And then, your third question — can you repeat that again? I’m sorry. I got the first two.
Q Would you be able to picture the proportion of engagement and pressure after this discussion?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think — I think all sides will have a sense of what we’re contemplating in terms of the way forward. And again, I think I’ll just leave it at that at this juncture.
We also want to make clear that, although these are some preliminary findings, this is the most senior consultation we’ve had with Japanese and South Korean friends. And so we are very much open and prepared and engaged to take that feedback.
And so this is not going to be a one-way conversation. I anticipate this being more of a dialogue in which we’ll get feedback and suggestions and iterations on the process. And again, this is not the end. This is more of a beginning as we go forward.
Anything that we do with respect to North Korea, we believe we need to do in partnership and in harmony with Japan and South Korea.
Q Hi, thank you for doing this. So, I have two questions. First is: You mentioned in the trilateral tomorrow that COVID-19 will, of course, be one of the topics. So will the discussion of South Korea join the Quad’s effort to push for vaccine production distribution in the meeting as well?
And second question is: I’m assuming China offers North Korea their vaccine, but maybe North Korea would consider, United States always say, a safer and more effective option. Will that be a leverage for the Biden administration’s engagement with North Korea? I mean the vaccine.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, look, on the — on the second question, I think the President and other senior representatives in the U.S. government have made clear that our primary mission right now is to ensure that the U.S. population is vaccinated and that we are also beginning to work closely with partners and others. And that’s a critical matter going forward.
I don’t think I have anything further to add with respect to possible engagement on health-related issues in North Korea. I think at this juncture, I would view that as premature.
And — but I think we’re also interested to hear what are the assessments about the nature of COVID-19 in North Korea. Some reports indicate the country is in a state of virtual lockdown. And I think we will want to assess what is the impact that is having on the economy, on the leadership, on its thinking about the outside world. And that will be important going forward.
Can I ask you to, again — sorry, I’m getting so bad at the multiple questions. What was your fir- — I think that was the second question. Can you repeat the first one very quickly? And I apologize — I should be writing these down.
Q Of course. So the first question is, we know Japan —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, on the Quad, yes. Yeah.
So, look — so the Quad is an informal grouping, and it’s an open architecture. And it is an attempt to gather together like-minded states that have an interest in maintaining and supporting a free and open Indo-Pacific.
We’ve had very close consultations with Korean friends. We’ve made clear that there might be opportunities for unofficial engagement in a number of initiatives we’ve launched: as you know, working groups on technology; we’re working closely on a COVID plan to deliver up to a billion doses to Southeast Asia. And we would welcome at any point a closer consultation and engagement with South Korean friends in the process.
Q Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right, I think that’s it. Thank you, everyone, for joining us today. A friendly reminder that this call was on background, attributed to SAOs, and that the contents are embargoed until 9:00 p.m. tonight. Thanks, everyone. And have a good evening.
4:37 P.M. EDT