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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs > Releases > Remarks > 2006 East Asian and Pacific Affairs Remarks, Testimony, and Speeches

President Bush's Foreign Policy and the Future of U.S.-Korean Relations

Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea
Remarks for the Korean Human Development Institute's CEO Forum for Human Development
Lotte Hotel, Seoul
January 12, 2006

Thank you for that kind introduction. I am delighted to be here today and especially want to thank Ambassador Chung Tae Ik for kindly arranging this opportunity to speak to you this morning. As you may know, Ambassador Chung and I are both former Ambassadors to Russia, and with the snow and cold that we have experienced lately, I've often felt like I was still in Moscow. I also want to thank KHDI Chairman and Founder Dr. Chang Man-key, KHDI President Dr. Yang Byung-moo and KHDI Honorary Chairman Dr. Cho Soon for their assistance in arranging my appearance here today.

The people of Korea have been very welcoming to Lisa and me during the three months since our arrival. Combine the warm hospitality of the Korean people with the cold weather with which we were already familiar, and we have quickly come to feel very much at home in Seoul.

My topic today is "President Bush's Foreign Policy and the Future of U.S.-Korean Relations." This sounds like double trouble. Now I can make news in Washington too!

To my way of thinking, the most notable element of President Bush's foreign policy, with its emphasis upon the expansion of freedom and democracy, is its continuity with the themes of American foreign policy for the past 60 years.

The end of the Second World War made the United States a global power. The United States had fought in both Europe and Asia. Whether we liked it or not, our victory over Japan made the United States an Asia-Pacific power.

As a global power one of the primary objectives of American foreign policy has been to protect and, if possible, expand, freedom around the globe. Of course the ideals of freedom and liberty had been decisive influences in the American political tradition and culture for a long time, but it was not until after the WWII that these became our foreign policy goals. We have done this through our strong advocacy, both in private and in public, of democracy, improved human rights practices, and open economies throughout the world.

The first test of American resolve to defend these ideals was the Cold War, and the first true "battle" in the Cold War was the Korean War.

We can now be more dispassionate about the bloody and destructive war that took place in Korea more than fifty years ago. I think we are all ready and prepared to reexamine the past and, when necessary, correct our impressions. Still, when I look at how the two Koreas have been transformed, I believe you would all agree that the sacrifice was not in vain. I, for one, am glad that America was here and able to make a difference. Defending these principles resonates with President Bush. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, we have seen first-ever democratic elections. Of course, this is not to say that the future is secure in these two countries, because there are many challenges ahead. However, we have taken a big step toward establishing democracy and rule-of-law in these countries.

You know for a very long time in the United States, the Korean War was known as the "Forgotten War," because many veterans felt that they were not really appreciated. Now, however, nobody uses that phrase any more, because of the remarkable success in South Korea, for nowhere have the principles of freedom been more vigorously and successfully implemented than in the Republic of Korea.

Americans regard Korea as a model of what happens when people are given the freedom to control their own economic and political destinies. When the Korean War ended, South Korea had a per capita income of less than $70 and had sustained extraordinary damage from a brutal war. Today, in the space of less than one lifetime, Korea has become the world's 11th-largest economy with a per capita income of over $14,000. It is a model democracy, with free, fair, and closely-contested elections. And I can personally attest that the R.O.K. has a free and very vigorous press.

So I hope, and more importantly I believe, that the future of the U.S.-Korea relationship will look very much like the present, and I will spend the remainder of my time addressing the state of the relationship and our plans for the future.

The United States views the R.O.K. as one of our primary partners in the world today and we hope to expand our relationship even further in the future. You are our seventh-largest trading partner and we are your second-largest, with a total bilateral trade volume of more than $72 billion. We are, by far, the largest foreign investor in Korea and, as Hyundai's opening of an automobile factory in Alabama demonstrates, Korea is now making major investments in the United States, as well.

Just as we have an exceptionally close trade relationship, the United States and R.O.K. have unusually close people-to-people ties. During our last fiscal year, the American Embassy issued over 400,000 visas; we hope to do more than 500,000 this year. There are 65,000 Koreans studying in the United States, making Korea our third-largest source of foreign students. And I should point out that first and second place belong to China and India, whose populations are many times larger than Korea's, so on a per capita basis, South Korea is almost certainly the world champion source of foreign students to American colleges and universities. And we have a plan to build on our people-to-people ties. During his meeting with President Roh in November, President Bush said the United States will work with the R.O.K. to "develop a Visa Waiver Roadmap to assist Korea in meeting the requirements for membership" in the Visa Waiver Program. This is a long-term project, but it is one where I hope we can see significant progress. I should add that I am fully aware that both American and Korean businesses would like to see visa-free travel between the United States and R.O.K.

Our two countries are also very close diplomatic partners, and nowhere is that partnership more important than in our joint efforts to enhance the stability of Northeast Asia by negotiating the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The United States and R.O.K. have worked in close coordination throughout this process and we will continue to do so. In the September 19 Joint Statement at the fourth round of the Six Party Talks, North Korea committed to abandon all its nuclear weapons and nuclear programs and to return to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

The United States is eager to resume negotiations as soon as possible so that we can make rapid progress toward the elimination of North Korea's nuclear programs. Our negotiators are packed and ready to go. We have set no pre-conditions for resuming the Six Party Talks.

All of the nations of Northeast Asia will gain from the dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear programs, but none will reap as many benefits as will North Korea itself. Let me say again what I have said before on this subject: my government is committed to fulfilling its obligations under the September 19 Joint Statement -- including the negotiation of a permanent peace regime for the Korean Peninsula and the commencement of the process of the normalization of relations between Washington and Pyongyang -- if North Korea moves down the road of denuclearization.

Among the many benefits that North Korea would gain by eliminating its nuclear programs, one of the most important is expected to be dramatically increased engagement with South Korea. The United States strongly supports South Korean efforts to improve the lives of the North Korean people and we strongly support, as we always have, the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula on terms that are acceptable to South Korea. The division of the Korean Peninsula is one of the great tragedies of our time. And one of the most heart-rending aspects of that tragedy is that the North Korean people have been unable to join the South Korean people in their successful march to prosperity and democracy. I joked earlier that this winter has reminded me of Moscow, but it is not a laughing matter that just to the North of here 23 million Korean people have suffered through this winter with little or no heat, without adequate food, without adequate clothing, and without adequate health care. Just as the United States and R.O.K. are working together to eliminate the North Korean nuclear program, we can work together to improve the lives of the North Korean people. Together, I hope that we can persuade the D.P.R.K. to get out of the nuclear business, end its illicit activities, and get into the international community of nations. We will be there to welcome them. This is the only way for the D.P.R.K. to improve the lives of its people.

I will end my remarks today where our relationship began: with the United States-R.O.K. security alliance. For over 50 years, our security alliance has played an enormous role in helping South Korea grow and prosper. By moving American forces to the Pyongtaek-Osan region, we will be able simultaneously to improve the deterrent capability of our forces and to return a large amount of valuable urban land to the Korean people. I am particularly pleased that plans to close Yongsan Garrison are going well; I think it is only right for the Korean people to have a beautiful park in the center of Seoul alongside the superb new National Museum.

In addition, the United States will spend $11 billion in the coming years to upgrade our forces in the region, further improving our capability to deal with any security challenge on the Korean peninsula or beyond. We are also transferring more missions and authority to the R.O.K.'s armed forces, which are fully capable of handling this increased responsibility. When we are done, our security alliance will be more sustainable. Equally important, it will be more effective.

And just as we are increasing the capabilities of our alliance, we are increasing its scope. More and more, the alliance encompasses not merely the defense of the Korean Peninsula, but the promotion of democracy, freedom, and international cooperation around the world. Next week I will accompany Foreign Minister Ban to Washington for the inauguration of our senior-level strategic dialogue, the Strategic Consultation for Allied Partnership. Reflecting Korea's increased stature in the world, these talks will cover a wide range of issues, rather than merely those related to the Korean Peninsula.

Over the course of the past 50 years, the United States-R.O.K. relationship has been one of the most successful bilateral relationships anywhere in the world. I have no doubt that this record will continue and that the future of U.S.-Korea relations will be as successful as their past.

Again, thank you for the opportunity to appear here this morning. I will be happy now to take your questions. Thank you.

Released on January 12, 2006

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