Background Press Call by A Senior Administration Official on the Official Working Visit of the Republic of Korea
(May 19, 2021)
4:32 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi. Good afternoon. And thank you so much for joining us today, everyone.
Today’s call will be on background, attributed to a “senior administration official” and will be embargoed until five o’clock Eastern time tomorrow morning.
With that, I’m happy to turn it over to our speaker. Over to you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. Thank you, [senior administration official], very much. And thank you all for joining us today.
Let me just open with just a general statement that will give you a sense of what we expect for Friday, and then I’m happy to take questions.
So, President Biden is very much looking forward to welcoming the Republic of Korea President, Moon Jae-in, to the White House on (inaudible), May 21st. In fact, he’s just landed in Washington and is making way into the city now.
The visit will highlight the ironclad alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea. And the fact that President Biden’s second in-person bilateral meeting is with Korea speaks to our focus and importance of our relationship with the ROK.
Broadly speaking, the discussions between the two leaders will focus on how both countries can further strengthen our alliance and expand our close — our close cooperation.
We’re looking to advance and deepen, I would say, a broad-based agenda across many arenas — our values, regional security, technology, health, North Korea, and many other issues.
On the security front, for the past 70 years, our commitment to the alliance has been ironclad, built on the shared sacrifice of Americans and South Koreans. President Biden will reaffirm that ironclad commitment to South Korean security. The U.S.-ROK alliance is the lynchpin of peace, security, prosperity for Northeast Asia and a free and open Indo-Pacific and across the world.
I think you will have seen that the President and — the two Presidents will, together, award the Medal of Honor to Colonel Ralph Puckett, Jr., the United States Army, retired, for conspicuous gallantry during the Korean War. President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea will join the ceremony. This is the first time that a foreign leader has ever participated in an award of the Medal of Honor, and we’re all very much looking forward to this. And I think it’s going to be a terrific opportunity.
In addition, we will — excuse me — in addition, we are going to talk as much about our comprehensive global partnership, and we are going to underscore efforts that we will take mutually to deepen cooperation on some of the most pressing challenges of our time: global health, combating climate change, development, and people-to-people ties.
On advanced technology, both countries are, as you know, world leaders in technology more generally, and we plan to discuss new ways for our countries to work together. This is an exciting area where we have a lot of synergy between our economies. We’ve worked closely, and we think we can benefit from doing more together.
Specifically, the U.S. Commerce Secretary, Gina Raimondo, will host a roundtable with her counterpart — the Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy, Sung-wook Moon– and U.S. and South Korean CEOs.
President Moon has brought with him a number of CEOs who are bringing with him very substantial commitments — investments in technology and batteries, in high-tech semiconductors, issues associated with 5G — all determined to underscore our mutual desire to work in innovation, supply chains, new-age logic chips across the board.
We’ll have more to discuss on this on Friday. But we believe that this is a very strong commitment on the part of South Korea and President Biden’s desire to enhance our technology capabilities and build back better.
I think, just in terms of our general messaging on the DPRK — DPRK — we’ve completed our DPRK policy review, which, as you know, was thorough, rigorous, and inclusive. We consulted broadly with outside experts, with the previous administrations, and we also engaged very deeply with friends in Northeast Asia and elsewhere.
And our goals remain the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, with a clear understanding that the efforts of past four administrations have not achieved this objective. Our policy will not focus on achieving a grand bargain, nor will it rely on strategic patience.
Our policy calls for a calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy with the DPRK to make practical progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies, and our deployed forces.
We have and will continue to consult closely with the ROK. Both leaders will talk about that extensively tomorrow.
And, as you know, one of the first visits that Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin made were their — to their counterparts in Tokyo and Seoul.
So, I would just say this is part of our overarching engagement at the outset in the Indo-Pacific, and you’ve seen that through a number of manifestations: the first Quad meeting, the visits of our senior leaders to Japan and South Korea and India, and obviously, now, the first two hosting of leaders of Japan and South Korea.
We believe this indicates the importance of the region and our overarching engagement with building back better, addressing pandemic issues, and working closely with allies and partners on shared challenges — including China — is a significant component of our overall approach.
Why don’t I stop there, and then I’m happy to take specific questions. Thank you very much.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Operator, we’re ready to open the line, please.
Q Thanks for doing this call. [Senior administration official], I have a couple of questions for you. Can you define for me “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”? You guys have used the expression “denuclearization of North Korea” and “denuclearization of the Peninsula” kind of interchangeably since January 20th, so a definition would be helpful.
And the second one is — okay, not a “grand bargain,” not “strategic patience”: Does your middle course mean limited sanctions relief in return for nuclear concessions?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, so I would say on the specifics associated with the tactics and our approach, one of the things that we want to do on Friday is to engage with the South Korea (inaudible) on the way forward.
We’re not going to lay out exactly our diplomatic strategy here and now. I would simply say that we’ve tried to design it to be flexible and, as I’ve indicated, calibrated more generally. We understand where previous efforts in the past have had difficulties, and we’re determined to try to learn from those past efforts to give ourselves the best chance of diplomatic success.
And I think denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is pretty clear, and it states clearly what we’re attempting on the overall geography of the Korean Peninsula: a nuclear-free environment.
Q Yes, hi. Thank you for having this. I’m going to ask that — you told us after the summit meeting with President Moon Jae-in, you are going to announce the specific measure with — you said, a calibrated, practical matter to the North Korea. Is it going to be announced after the summit meeting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, I — I think it is unlikely that we will detail our — our diplomatic strategy in public. I think what we will attempt to do, appropriately — first privately and carefully with our allies, and subsequently with key interest groups and folks up on Capitol Hill — is underscore our overall approach, our general parameters for how we want to engage, and a general sense of what we’d like to accomplish.
I think the goal here is to understand that this process is likely to be challenging, and to give ourselves maximum flexib- — flexibility in the process with ultimate goals that we’re — we will continue to strive for.
Q Oh, yes. Thank you very much. I wanted to follow up on the comments to (inaudible) and the reference that was made to Singapore. I want to know: By saying that the administration will build on the Singapore Statement, does that mean it’s willing to take active steps towards building a peace regime with North Korea that the Singapore Statement refers to? And if so, on what terms?
And, also, has the administration referred to this and the possibility of a end-of-war declaration in its communications with North Korea?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, I’m afraid — and thank you very much — I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to go there much further beyond the general statement that we intend to build on the Singapore agreement, but also other agreements made by previous administrations.
I think, at this juncture, it’s really not in our interest to preview or comment on specific issues like an end-of-war declaration in hopes of spurring dialogue. But you can expect that a significant amount of the upcoming visit will be spent discussing the challenges of the DPRK and how our two countries can move forward together in dialogue and deterrence.
Q Hi, thanks. Thanks for doing this. Could you be a little more specific about what the climate change agenda would look like? And specifically, you know, Kerry’s office has been — Kerry has been pushing —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah.
Q — South Korea to take a pretty aggressive emissions target — 50 percent below 2017 by 2030 — about double what they now have on the table.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah.
Q You know, do we expect President Biden to personally make that request to President Moon to increase their target?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, again, I — and thank — thank — oh, sorry. I apologize. I interrupted you. Please go ahead.
Q I just — just wanted to tack on one more question to my multiple questions. You know, is — a little bit about the target. I mean, is this an effort to see other G20 countries take targets that are comparable to the U.S. or to help pre- — put pressure on China? A little bit of both?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, so, let me just say that in the overall strategy on climate, which we regard as an absolute — absolutely existential challenge for all nations — our strategy, to date, that has been embodied by the diplomacy of Secretary Kerry and the President, is to work most closely with allies and to set benchmarks that others can reach to. And we are — we’re working with the ROK on areas, frankly, of mutual interest, like climate ambition, secular — sectoral decarbonization, and cle- — clean energy development.
I think our overall effort will be to the achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050 with enhanced commitments and ambitions for 2030. And we’re working specifically on efforts to decarbonize our respective power and transportation sectors, and I think we’ll have more to report on this on Friday.
Q Thanks very much. Can you hear me?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I can. Thank you.
Q Hey, [senior administration official]. Thank you.
Quick question: Are you expecting to have any reference to concern about Chinese activity towards Taiwan in the joint statement that will come out during the summit?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I believe there will be a reference to regional security, generally, and to issues in the maintenance of peace and spe- — peace and stability, specifically, yes.
Q So something a little bit less strong than what came out of the U.S.-Japan Statement last month?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t — I don’t think I’d characterize it this way. I would simply say that — that we’ve worked very closely; we see eye to eye on many of the challenges that we’re facing in the Indo-Pacific.
Q Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right. That concludes our call for today. Thanks, everyone, for joining.
And reminder for those who joined late: We are on background, attributed to a “senior administration official,” and the contents of this call are embargoed until five o’clock Eastern time tomorrow.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you.
4:46 P.M. EDT