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Statements and Documents from Secretary Kerry's Travel to Asia, February 2014

Published February 13, 2014

Secretary of State John Kerry made his fifth trip to Asia since 2013. He visited officials in South Korea, China, Indonesia, and United Arab Emirates, February 13-18, 2014.

Secretary Kerry's remarks before the press conference in Seoul:

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much, Minister Yun, my friend, Byung-se. I appreciate very, very much the generous welcome, and I appreciate my in-depth, comprehensive discussion that I just had with President Park. And I especially thank both President Park and Minister Yun for a very warm and generous welcome, as well as for a very productive discussion. It's a great pleasure for me to be back in Seoul.

And while it's interesting – both of us are focused on the current Olympics, and we are both rooting for our home teams, but it is noteworthy that preparations are already underway for PyeongChang in 2018. It shows you how much work has to be done and how the process really never stops.

This is my fifth trip to Asia as the Secretary of State, and I want to confirm that the United States rebalance to the Asia Pacific remains a top priority for the Obama Administration. Every day, at the President's direction, we are directing more diplomatic, more economic and more military resources to help advance the goals that we share with our partners throughout this region.

The U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance is crucial to that rebalance. And our relationship is without question the lynchpin of stability and of security in Northeast Asia. That's why President Obama hosted President Park for a productive set of meetings last year, and that's why, as Minister Yun just noted, the President will visit Seoul for the fourth time this April. And that is why Foreign Minister Yun was also the first foreign minister that I hosted in the new year, and that is why I am here today, on the first stop in my visit to Asia in 2014. This is an important moment. There are vital issues in the region, and this is a central relationship to resolving any of those issues.

More than six decades ago, our alliance was forged on the battlefield, and the United States remains unwavering in our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea. Last month, the United States and the Republic of Korea successfully concluded negotiations funding the U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula. A special measures agreement that we signed will help ensure our military alliance is ready and able to deter or defend against North Korean aggression, should that occur. We are in lockstep with the Republic of Korea when it comes to our efforts to address the threat posed by North Korea – posed by their nuclear weapons and the ballistic missile programs.

We have yet to see evidence that North Korea is prepared to meet its obligations and negotiate the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Let me be clear: The United States will not accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state. We will not accept talks for the sake of talks. And the D.P.R.K. must show that it will negotiate and live up to its commitments regarding denuclearization.

In both diplomatic and security terms, close, trilateral cooperation among Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo remains essential. And, of course, China has an important role to play. Tomorrow, I will go to Beijing to discuss ways that we may be able to intensify our collective efforts. At the same time, progress in inter-Korean relations is important – not only to the Korean people, but also to the United States and to the world.

So we very much welcome President Park's efforts to build trust, which I believe can lead to improvements in North Korea's human rights situation and ultimately lay the groundwork for peaceful reunification of the Peninsula. We congratulate President Park for her discussions of this, for her willingness to express a vision about it, and particularly for her declarations regarding the possibilities of economic bonanza and other benefits that could come from that vision.

U.S.-Republic of Korea security cooperation extends, obviously, well beyond Northeast Asia. Close cooperation on both regional and global security challenges is a key pillar of the U.S.-Republic of Korea relationship. We have worked together and with international partners in every corner of the globe. For years now, U.S. and South Korean soldiers have served side by side in Afghanistan, and today, the Republic of Korea is a major donor to Afghanistan's reconstruction and stabilization efforts. The Republic of Korea has also contributed to the international efforts to ease the humanitarian suffering in Syria, and also to deal with the problem of refugees in the region.

Let me underscore that the U.S.-Republic of Korea relationship today is much more than a military alliance. It is a global partnership that is growing stronger every year. In the nearly two years since the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement came into force, our bilateral trade has grown to more than $100 billion annually. Today, the Republic of Korea is our sixth-largest trading partner, and there is room, obviously, for even more growth, which we look forward to. This afternoon, we discussed the need to work together to ensure that the KORUS commitments are fully implemented so that job growth and other benefits for both of our peoples can be fully realized.

The strong economic bond that we share really is rooted in the strong bonds among our peoples. Today, more than 1.7 million Korean Americans live in the United States, and nearly 71,000 South Korean students are studying on our shores. For per capita, that is more than any other major economy in the world. And the number of American students here in places like Seoul and Busan continues to rise every year.

So, as we stand here tonight, we can safely say that the United States and the Republic of Korea are strong allies growing stronger; we are partners strengthening the partnership; and we are friends strengthening our friendship.

Last year, we celebrated the 60th year of this extraordinary relationship and all of the transformation that has come with it. This year marks the first year of the next 60. We hope that 2014 and the years that follow will bring about greater prosperity, greater opportunity, stability, and ultimately peace, for our nations and for all of our neighbors.

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