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Korean and East Asian Issues Questions and Answers for Publication in the Orient Press

June 21, 1979


Q. Many Asians are still concerned over "gradual United States retreat from Asia," complaining that the United States is leaning more heavily toward West European defense. There are also criticisms in Korea that the United States is too restrictive in its security cooperation policy toward Korea to approve sales of coproduction of sophisticated weapons such as F-16, A-10 aircraft, submarines, and so on, while taking every measure to prevent even a possibility of South Korean production of nuclear weapons.

Mr. President, what are your guidelines for U.S. security commitments to the Republic of Korea? Furthermore, would you recommit American ground combat troops to South Korea after completion of your troop withdrawal plan, in case of another North Korean attack, as President Harry Truman did?

A. Anyone with a knowledge of U.S. history, geography, politics, and economics knows that the United States will not "retreat" from Asia. We are there. We are a major partner in the Pacific community. We are a Pacific nation. We firmly intend to remain one. Recent policy developments—normalization of relations with China, strengthening of ties with Japan, renegotiation of the Philippine base agreement, and our burgeoning economic ties with the region—all strengthen our relationship. Any discussion of our Korean security commitment occurs in the context of our strong interest as a Pacific power.

For many years, in support of our Korean commitment, we have made available weapons and other military materiel essential to Korea's defense. Within the constraints of our worldwide arms transfer policy, we intend to continue to make such equipment available. With respect to the possibility of reintroducing ground combat forces into Korea in the event of renewed conflict, the United States Government is prepared to take whatever action may be necessary to fulfill its security commitment.


Q. Northeast Asia appears to be in a period of change or adjustment in the balance of power, even though a delicate strategic equilibrium still exists there. The normalized relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China, Sino-Japanese friendship treaty, the Soviet naval buildup in the area, rivalry or even conflicts among the Communist nations (including Southeast Asia), and North Korea's obstinate intransigence in peace efforts are some noticeable recent events.

Mr. President, how do you assess the situation there, and what is your policy toward this critical area? Do you plan to announce any comprehensive policy statement like a "Carter Doctrine" or "Tokyo Doctrine" during your trip to Tokyo and Seoul late June?

A. Our policy toward East Asia is based on several consistent principles designed to maintain stability, further prosperity, and take account of changes occurring in the region. The basic ingredients of that policy are well known to you: American determination to remain actively involved as a Pacific power; the cornerstone alliance with Japan; our firm security commitment to the Republic of Korea; improvement of relations with the People's Republic of China; strong support for ASEAN and ANZUS; encouragement of trade and economic development throughout the region.

We have been responsive to change. We have normalized our relations with China, while Japan has concluded the peace and friendship treaty with Peking. We would like to see a reduction of tensions on the Korean peninsula, provided that this can be accomplished with officials of the South Korean Government as full and equal participants in the process. We are improving the quality of the 7th Fleet. At the same time, we have moved to strengthen key relationships with allies of the region. Our partnership with Japan has never been more productive. Our security commitment to Korea remains unshakable. We have concluded an agreement with the Philippines, enabling us to maintain stable access to our bases through the next decade. We have increased support for ASEAN.

Our Asian policy serves the interests of the United States and its Asian allies well. I have no plan to change it.


Q. Senior administration officials in their congressional testimony or public speeches stated that your trip to South Korea will mark the end of a difficult phase in the U.S.-R.O.K. relationship and "begin a new period of better mutual understanding and confidence." Mr. President, what is your perspective for the U.S.-R.O.K. relations in 1980's—political, economic, security, and so forth?

A. The outlook for the relationship between the United States and the Republic of Korea in the 1980's is excellent. The dramatic pace of Korea's economic development of the past few years shows every sign of continuing, and in the 1980's we expect Korea to be one of our most important trading partners and a major market for U.S. exports. The South will have far outdistanced North Korea in economic growth. Similarly, we can look forward with confidence to an enhanced defense capability in South Korea. As I have said before, our security commitment will remain firm. We are hopeful that the decade ahead will bring comparable development in the political area. Specifically, we hope to see greater emphasis on the protection of political rights and more rapid development of political institutions.


Q. Mr. President, your Korean troop withdrawal policy has been controversial in this country up to now—illustrated by the Senate Armed Services Committee's approval of Senator Sam Nunn's subcommittee recommendation on Army active duty ceiling following its House counterpart committee's adoption of an amendment on it in mid-May.

You said in an interview on February 9 that you are holding in abeyance further troop withdrawals from South Korea until reassessment of new intelligence study of increased North Korean military strength, impact of Sino-U.S. normalization, and perspective of the North-South dialog. Mr. President, have you made your determination on this issue? If not, when do you think you would announce your decision—before, during, or after your Far East trip?

A. I have made no decision on ground troop withdrawals yet. I want to take a firsthand look at the situation, talk to President Park, and consult with Congress before making up my mind. Whatever decision is made, one thing is clear: Our commitment to the security of the Republic of Korea is unshakable. Our policy will be based on this commitment and the maintenance of stability and peace on the Korean peninsula.


Q. When the U.S. table tennis team traveled to North Korea to participate in the international championship there in late April, it was widely speculated that the United States might try another "Ping-pong diplomacy." I understand that North Korean leaders have sent feelers to Washington through various ways for bilateral talks on trade and cultural relations with the United States, and you have stated many times that the United States wants to open relations with all the countries with which she does not have now.

Mr. President, may I ask you to specify your policy toward the North Koreans? Do you have any proposal or plan for solving the perennial Korean question, other than four-power conference among the United States, China, North and South Korea, and cross-recognition of Seoul and Pyongyang by major powers?

A. Let me state our policy toward North Korea quite simply. We are prepared to participate in discussions with North Korean officials aimed at reducing tensions on the Korean peninsula, but only if officials of the South Korean Government are full and equal participants. We have also said that to promote an atmosphere conducive to the reduction of tensions, the United States Government is prepared to improve our relations officially and unofficially with North Korea, provided that there are parallel improvements by the Soviet Union or China in relations with South Korea. We are not hostile toward North Korea. However, we are not going to take unilateral steps which are unreciprocated by North Korea's major allies, nor allow ourselves to become manipulated in a manner which ignores the rights and sovereignty of our ally, the Republic of Korea. We recognize that solution of the problems on the Korean peninsula can only be resolved through the direct involvement of the Governments of both North and South Korea.


Q. Mr. President, you have met with your Soviet counterpart, Leonid Brezhnev, June 15-18 in Vienna. Arms control is one of your foreign policy objectives. Will you discuss with the Soviet leader on the Korean question in the context of "control of transfer of conventional weapons" and of "better communications" with the Soviets for regional stability?

A. There are no discussions of Korean arms transfers with Soviet representatives in Vienna.


Q. Another major foreign policy objective of your administration is enhancement of human rights at home and abroad. Mr. President, do you plan or expect to see some Korean political dissidents during your trip to Seoul-either at a church service or at a reception?

A. The schedule for my visit to Korea is not yet fully fixed. However, in addition to the important consultations between our two Governments, I look forward to meeting with other elements of Korean society. This will include opportunities for discussion with elected political leaders, including the opposition, and with leading churchmen. However, my worship at church is a personal matter and will not be an occasion for political meetings.

Note: The written questions were submitted to the President by So-Whan Hyon of the Orient Press. The answers were given to him by the President on June 21. The texts of the questions and answers were released on June 23.

Jimmy Carter, Korean and East Asian Issues Questions and Answers for Publication in the Orient Press Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249080

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