Sung Kim, Acting Assistant Secretary Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
MS PORTER: Good morning, everyone, and thank you so much for joining today’s press call. Special Representative for the DPRK Ambassador Sung Kim is visiting Washington this week for a series of engagements and is here to discuss U.S. policy toward the DPRK. We’re very glad to have the special representative with us on the line today to tell you a little bit more about his visit. Ambassador Kim will start with some opening remarks and then proceed with taking your questions. I’d like to also take this opportunity to remind everyone that while this call is on the record, the contents of this briefing are embargoed until the end of the call. And with that, I’ll hand it over to Special Representative Kim.
AMBASSADOR KIM: Great, thank you very much, Jalina. And thank – many thanks to all of you for joining us this morning. Let me start by saying a few words on where we are and where we are heading in our work on the DPRK, and then I’d be happy to take your questions.
Since taking office, the Biden-Harris administration has made clear its priority to reduce the threat posed by the DPRK. We are determined to protect the security of the United States, along with that of our allies and partners in the region and beyond. We are of course closely following developments in the DPRK, and we maintain the ultimate goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
We know there are challenges, and these will not be easily resolved, but we remain fully committed to working closely with our allies and partners in a global effort to make progress toward this end goal. Our efforts involve both diplomatic outreach and threat reduction. And while it is clear the DPRK leadership is determined to advance its illegal weapons programs, we know that our efforts are constraining their progress. At the same time, we have not closed the door on diplomacy. We are committed to pursuing serious and sustained dialogue. As we have said many times, we are prepared to meet the DPRK without preconditions. But Pyongyang must make the choice to halt its destabilizing actions and instead choose engagement.
The U.S. Government at all levels has engaged vigorously on the DPRK with our allies and partners around the world. The Secretary, Deputy Secretary Sherman, and I have consulted regularly with our counterparts in the ROK and Japan bilaterally as well as trilaterally. We have repeatedly offered to meet the DPRK to discuss any and all issues, and yet the DPRK has declined our invitation to dialogue. Instead, they have initiated a series of missile tests that recently culminated in at least three ICBM launches. These actions pose a serious threat to regional stability.
The U.S. strongly condemns these tests, each of which was a blatant violation of multiple Security Council resolutions. These launches demonstrate the DPRK continues to prioritize its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs at the expense of regional and international security. This prioritization is also at the expense of the North Korean people. The government has chosen to deploy its limited resources to fund illegal weapons programs even as the humanitarian situation in the country has grown increasingly dire.
The potential range of these ICBMs should also remind us that the DPRK’s actions are a global security concern. It is not merely about the United States and the DPRK.
In response to DPRK’s recent escalatory actions and as part of our effort to impede the DPRK’s ability to advance its missile program, we have taken a series of diplomatic, economic, and military measures. As of March 25, we have raised the DPRK’s ballistic missile launches at the UN Security Council six times this year. Russia and the PRC have consistently blocked our efforts to produce a UN public statement. And in spite of this, we’ve worked with a growing group of like-minded countries to draw attention to the DPRK’s irresponsible behavior.
On March 7th, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, INDOPACOM, ordered intensified intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance collection activities in the Yellow Sea. USINDOPACOM also enhanced readiness among our ballistic missile defense forces in the region to help ensure the security of our allies.
A week later, on March 15th, USINDOPACOM announced it had conducted a carrier-based air demonstration in the Yellow Sea as a demonstration of resolve and commitment to our regional allies. The U.S. Department of Treasury and the Department of State have also announced several new actions to help prevent the DPRK from accessing foreign items and technology that enable it to advance its prohibited weapons programs. We have placed sanctions on a number of individuals and entities as well.
We will also continue to work closely with our allies and partners to address the critical issue of the DPRK’s cyber program, which poses a sophisticated and agile espionage, cyber crime, and attack threat. The illicit revenues from the DPRK’s malicious cyber activities directly fund its unlawful WMD and ballistic missile programs.
Our actions are intended to make clear to the DPRK that its escalatory behavior has consequences and that the international community will not accept the DPRK’s ongoing weapons development as normal. Most importantly, we want to make clear to the DPRK that its only viable path forward is through diplomacy. We harbor no hostile intent towards the DPRK. This administration is willing to listen to the DPRK’s full range of concerns and address difficult topics, but this can only happen through dialogue.
The DPRK finds itself isolated in unprecedented ways and has shut itself off during the COVID pandemic. Only the resumption of diplomacy can break this isolation, and only then can we pick up the important work that has been done before, building on the Singapore Joint Statement.
But even as we take steps to further deter the DPRK and reduce its threat, the threat that it poses to the region and beyond, we will continue to reach out with a sincere commitment to diplomacy. I sincerely hope this message will make its way to Pyongyang and that they will respond positively.
Be happy to take your questions now. Thank you.
MS PORTER: Let’s take our first question from Courtney McBride.
QUESTION: Just what is the U.S. interpretation of or reaction to the recent statements from Kim Yo-jong which appeared designed to threaten South Korea?
AMBASSADOR KIM: Thank you. Her statement in response to some comments that the ROK defense minister made – I obviously was concerned by Kim Yo-jong’s statements. They were provocative. We obviously hope that instead of making such provocative statements, that they would focus instead on some serious engagement that will address our common goal of denuclearization – and may promote stability on the Korean Peninsula.
MS PORTER: Let’s take our next question from Janne Pak, please. Janne Pak, USA Journal Korea.
OPERATOR: One moment.
MS PORTER: Hi.
QUESTION: Hello, can you – hi, can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Yes, we can hear you.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you. Hi, Jalina. Nice to hear from you. And hi, Ambassador Kim. I have two questions on North Korea. Recently, North Korea has declared long-term confrontation rather than dialogue. If North Korea does not come to the table of negotiation, how will the United States diplomatic solution proceed?
And the second question: You said that you will not close the U.S. diplomacy. In the meantime, North Korea has continued to develop nuclear missile in the background while having dialogue with the United States. Do you believe that North Korea will give its nuclear weapons through dialogue? If so, what is the reason? Thank you very much.
AMBASSADOR KIM: Thank you very much, Ms. Pak. So we remain committed to the path of dialogue, and we believe, along with our allies and partners, that the only viable path forward is through diplomacy, and we hope that the North Koreans will accept our invitation to engage in a serious and sustained dialogue to advance our shared goals on the peninsula, starting with, of course, the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But as I indicated in my opening remarks, we are willing and prepared to address any serious concerns that they may have about their situation on the peninsula.
With your question of – the second question about if they don’t give up through diplomacy, well, I mean, we – we and our allies and partners are determined to continue to seek the path of diplomacy. We believe that that is the only viable path forward to achieve denuclearization on the peninsula and to maintain peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.
MS PORTER: Let’s please go to the line of Ryohei Takagi.
QUESTION: Can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Yes.
QUESTION: Oh, thank you for briefing, Ambassador Kim. We support you are trying to persuade China to join the new UN Security Council resolution against North Korea. So what was your Chinese counterpart’s reaction to possible sanction resolution?
And secondly, I’m just wondering whether you had any good suggestions from Chinese counterparts to encourage the DPRK to engage in meaningful negotiations? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR KIM: Thank you very much, Takagi-san. So I had a very long and detailed discussion with Special Representative Liu Xiaoming yesterday. We covered a number of issues, including our work in the UN Security Council to achieve a new UN Security Council resolution. We believe that the unprecedented number of DPRK ballistic missile launches this year and the instability they belong to the Korean Peninsula are obviously in nobody’s interest, and we call on the PRC as well as Russia to work with us to send a very clear message to the Security Council that North Korea’s actions are unacceptable.
The U.S. and China have a very important shared interest in maintaining stability on the Korean Peninsula, and through my many years of involvement in this issue, I’m convinced that Beijing shares our goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. So I look forward to working with Special Representative Liu and his colleagues in Beijing to make progress towards that goal.
MS PORTER: Let’s now go to the line of Doug Byun.
QUESTION: Hi. Hello, Ambassador. Thank you for doing this. I was wondering if the – I mean, you kind of mentioned this, but I was wondering if North Korea has responded in any way, negative or positive, to U.S. overtures, and also if the United States is sending any private messages instead of just messaging over public messaging.
And I have one more question regarding the – Secretary Blinken’s meeting with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts last month in Hawaii. At the time, the sides said they had discussed new ideas to bring North Korea back to the dialogue table. I was wondering if you could share some of what some of those new ideas were and if there has been any progress in your discussions on those ideas. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR KIM: Thanks very much, Doug. We have not received any response from Pyongyang, which is very disappointing because we have sent several messages, both public and private, inviting them to a dialogue without any conditions. We made very clear that we’re willing to address their concerns, but also chart a path forward on how we can achieve progress on the denuclearization goal.
I still hope that they will respond positively to our many outreaches, but thus far they have not.
The Secretary, as you mentioned, had very productive meetings with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts in Hawaii a couple of months ago. In fact, I think that is another example of the close coordination and communication that we have enjoyed with our allies on this very difficult issue. I don’t want to go into the details of those discussions, but I can assure you that all three of us are committed to exploring all possible avenues to jumpstart a serious diplomatic process.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to the line of Edward Wong, please.
QUESTION: Hello. I was wondering, with the change in administration in Seoul, what is your assessment of the direction that Seoul would now like to take their policy on the DPRK? And how much of it is a departure from the policy of the Moon administration?
AMBASSADOR KIM: Yeah, thanks, Edward. It’s tempting, but I don’t think it’s my place to predict the incoming South Korean government’s policies on this issue. What I can say is that we have enjoyed very close cooperation and coordination with the ROK, and I fully expect that with the incoming administration that close coordination will continue on this very important issue. Thank you.
MS PORTER: Let’s please go to the line of Sangmin Lee.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) to several measure to North Korea to hold DPRK accountable for their provocative action, shooting ICBM. So the resumption of large-scale field-based U.S.-Korean military exercises is – can be another measure you’re thinking about?
MS PORTER: Hi, if you’re still on the line, can you please repeat your question for us? Thank you.
QUESTION: Can you hear me?
MS PORTER: We can hear you now. If you’re able to repeat your question, that would be wonderful.
QUESTION: Okay, okay. So the – Ambassador, you mentioned about several measure to hold DPRK accountable for their provocations. So do you think that the resumption of large-scale field-based U.S.-ROK joint military exercises can be another measure you’re thinking about?
AMBASSADOR KIM: Thank you very much, Sangmin. So the U.S.-ROK joint military exercises, as you know, are defensive and they’re done to make sure that we have the combined deterring capability necessary to deal with any contingency on the peninsula. So these are extremely important exercises, and I know that both militaries are committed to continuing those efforts going forward.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to the line of Michelle Nichols, please.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks so much for the call. I’m the Reuters correspondent up here at the UN, so I just wanted to follow up on the earlier question about the resolution. Is China and Russia engaging on the draft resolution? What exactly are you proposing? Are you seeing any spillover from the Ukraine conflict?
And this call – you mentioned earlier that you’re hoping this – Pyongyang will get a message that the U.S. wants to talk. Is that why you’re doing this call, to sort of publicly get a message to them because they’re not responding? Thanks.
AMBASSADOR KIM: Thanks very much. As I mentioned earlier, I think the escalatory and provocative actions by the North Koreans require us to have a decisive response in the Security Council, and this is why we have, in cooperation with our partners, proposed a new UN Security Council resolution. We have had discussions with the PRC and Russia. Unfortunately, I cannot report that we have had productive discussions with them thus far, but I would defer to my very capable colleagues in New York to continue that effort. I know that there is overwhelming consensus that the Security Council needs to respond to these blatant violations of multiple Security Council resolutions, and we hope that Russia and China will agree that it’s in their interest to work with us on this new Security Council resolution.
The purpose of doing this call, I think, is to try to address any questions and comments that the press corps may have about the status of our North Korea-related efforts. It’s not necessarily to send a public message to the North Koreans, because I think we have made ourselves very clear through both public statements and private messages to the DPRK that we are ready to engage them in a serious and meaningful dialogue.
MS PORTER: Let’s please go to the line of Sho Watanabe, please.
QUESTION: Hello, do you hear me?
MS PORTER: Yes, we can hear you.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you for doing that. I have two questions. One, that North Korea’s anniversary on April 15th is now approaching, and there are also the concerns about further provocations. So in your meeting with your Chinese counterparts, did you ask China to urge North Korea not to conduct any tests or even nuclear tests, and you persuaded China to use their own leverage to North Korea?
And my second question is: Do you think there are any concrete steps that can be taken further by the three countries – Japan, U.S., and the South Korea – to increase our deterrence towards North Korea? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR KIM: Thank you very much, Mr. Watanabe. So we are worried that, in connection with the upcoming April 15th anniversary, that the DPRK may be tempted to take another provocative action. We obviously hope not, but we will be prepared.
Part of their preparation is related to your second question about the importance of trilateral cooperation among the U.S., the ROK, and Japan. As I mentioned earlier, we have had closest possible communication and coordination with both governments, Tokyo and Seoul, and that will continue, especially as we anticipate that there may be further provocative actions by the DPRK. And I think those possible measures include a number of different areas and I know that our colleagues in the military are also considering what we can be doing together bilaterally as well as trilaterally – more strengthen our deterrent capability.
MS PORTER: Let’s please go to the line of Jinmyung Kim, please.
QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Yes, we can hear you.
QUESTION: This is Jinmyung Kim from South Korea’s Chosunilbo, and thank you for doing this. Ambassador Kim, I have a question about the UN Security Council resolution you are seeking with South Korea’s Special Representative Noh Kyu-duk. And so what is the nature of this resolution? Do you seek to impose new, substantial sanctions on North Korea? Or do you simply aim to have a kind of declaratory statement that condemns North Korea’s action?
And my second question is: So everybody knows that it is probably unachievable right now because of the lack of cooperation – Russia’s cooperation. So why do you still pursue this resolution while you know that it may not go through? And my second question is: In your dialogue with Chinese special representative, have you seen any positive signs that China has already engaged in direct communication with DPRK to help bring back them to the negotiating table? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR KIM: Thanks very much, Ms. Kim. So the new UN Security Council resolution is intended to address a number of things, especially their continued missile activities, ballistic missile activities, because this resolution is in response to the escalatory, provocative actions that they have taken through a series of missile launches this year. They’re up to 13 launches just this year, deeply concerning, and at least three of those have been ICBM launches. I think it’s important for the Security Council to respond to such behavior that are clearly a violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.
You may be right that the PRC and Russia will not cooperate despite our earnest efforts, but I think it’s still important for us to do what is responsible. This actually affects more than the DPRK issue. This is about the credibility of the United Nations. When a country violates multiple Security Council resolutions in addition to their own commitments under the Six-Party Talks as well as the Singapore joint declaration, I think we need to hold them accountable. And this is why we’re pushing the resolution despite the fact that so far, we have received very little cooperation from Beijing and Moscow.
MS PORTER: We have time for a final question, and let’s go to the line of Conor Finnegan.
QUESTION: Hey, Ambassador. Just first brief follow-ups to some of my colleagues’ questions. When you said that you were worried about provocative action perhaps next week on the anniversary, is that concern specifically of a nuclear test? When you talk about no response from North Korea, I’m just wondering why you think that they haven’t responded.
And then finally, you referenced the Singapore declaration in your opening remarks. Do you think that that declaration should form the basis for future negotiations despite what some people see as its flaws and its vague language? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR KIM: Thanks, Conor. So in terms of the upcoming anniversary and the provocation – provocative actions the DPRK may take, I don’t want to speculate too much, but I think it could be another missile launch, it could be a nuclear test. The important thing is that we, in cooperation and coordination with our allies and partners, are prepared to deal with whatever they may undertake. And I want to emphasize that we obviously hope that they will refrain from further provocation. They’ve already done quite a bit this year – 13 launches. So hopefully the anniversary can pass without any further escalation.
And I – it’s always hard for me to speculate on why Pyongyang does what it does or what it doesn’t do. I mean, we have indicated very sincerely our interest in a diplomatic effort with them, and hope that they will respond. I mean, I would just speculate that given that the country has been a – complete shutdown for the past two years due to the COVID pandemic, perhaps that’s a factor in the fact that they have not responded. But I will limit my speculation to that.
On the Singapore declaration, I mean, you’re right about there’s been criticism that the document was too vague, not detailed enough. But we believe that it would form a useful basis to build on, because that is one document in which the dear leader Kim Jong-un has personally made a commitment towards denuclearization. So I think it would appropriately form a basis for a further effort to develop a viable diplomatic path and roadmap towards the complete denuclearization goal. Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thank you, everyone. That concludes today’s briefing. The embargo is now lifted. Special Representative Kim, thank you so much for your time, and I hope you all have a great day ahead.
AMBASSADOR KIM: Thank you.