Press Briefing by Senior Administration Officials on the President's Upcoming Trip to the Republic of Korea
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS BEN RHODES, NSC SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR ASIA DANNY RUSSEL, AND WHITE HOUSE COORDINATOR FOR ARMS CONTROL AND WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION, PROLIFERATION, AND TERRORISM GARY SAMORE
Via Conference Call
3:39 P.M. EDT
MR. VIETOR: Thank you, guys, for getting on. We're doing a background call today to preview the President's visit to Korea for the Nuclear Security Summit. We have with us a couple of officials who can go through the schedule, the purpose of the summit, and some of the bilateral meetings the President will have while there.
So with that, I'm going to turn it over to our first official.
MR. RHODES: Great. Thanks, everybody, for joining the call. A number of people had expressed interest in getting a sense of our trip here, so we wanted to be responsive to that interest.
I'll just start by giving a sense of the schedule. First, I'd just say at the outset, though, that this trip I think intersects with two of the President's leading national security priorities. The first is the focus he has put on nuclear security along with non-proliferation since the beginning of his time in office. And the second is, of course, our increased focus on the Asia Pacific as a region of great importance to the United States.
So I think this summit, again, being a follow on to the President's Nuclear Security Summit in 2010 and also being located in Seoul, one of our strongest allies in the world and of course the cornerstone of our approach to Asia, I think brings together two very important priorities for the United States -- our commitment to nuclear security and our commitment to leading in the Asia Pacific region.
We'll be arriving in Korea on the morning of Sunday, March 18th -- no, sorry, sorry, March 25th. And the first event that the President will do is he will visit the demilitarized zone, which will be an important opportunity for him to meet with and see some of the American troops who are serving on the Korean Peninsula, while also underscoring the strength of our alliance with the Republic of Korea and our strong commitment, of course, to their security.
Following that visit, he will have a bilateral meeting later that day with Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey. This will be an opportunity for him to continue his close consultations with Prime Minister Erdogan about a range of regional security issues, to include our shared commitment to see a transition to democracy in Syria, our support for political and economic reform across the Middle East and North Africa, and the ability to discuss Iran and other regional security issues, while also consulting with each other in advance of the Nuclear Security Summit.
Following the bilat with Prime Minister Erdogan, the President will have a bilateral program with the Koreans. He will have a bilateral meeting with President Lee, followed by a joint press conference and then a dinner with the Koreans that night. He very much looks forward to this chance to continue their close relationship. President Lee, of course, was here for a state dinner, and we recently concluded a very important free trade agreement with the Koreans. So this I think builds on a lot of the work that's been done to strengthen the U.S.-Korean alliance and relationship.
The trade agreement just recently went into force, so the two leaders will have an opportunity to discuss the progress that's been made on the economic front to bolster win-win economic progress on both sides of the Pacific. And he'll also, of course, have an opportunity to consult about the goals of the Nuclear Security Summit and, again, our commitment to security and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.
The next morning, on Monday, March 26th, the President will give a speech at Hankuk University. It's a university of foreign studies in Seoul. It's a great opportunity to speak to the increasing role that the Republic of Korea is playing not just in Asia, but on the global stage. In his speech, the President will reaffirm, again, the strength of our alliance with South Korea. He'll also have an opportunity to walk through his goals for the Nuclear Security Summit and his nuclear security non-proliferation agenda more broadly.
So I think you can expect to hear the President speak about his ongoing commitment to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials from terrorists. You'll hear him discuss his commitment to non-proliferation, including our continued efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, including proliferation challenges like Iran and North Korea. And you'll hear the President I think speak to the fact that our efforts on behalf of nuclear security and safety are also a part of our commitment to peaceful nuclear energy as an important part of our energy policy going forward here in the United States, and an important part and resource of energy around the world as well.
So from security and non-proliferation to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, I think the President will continue to sketch out a comprehensive vision for how to deal with nuclear power as he has done throughout his presidency.
Following that speech, he will move on to a number of important bilateral meetings that day. He will meet with President Medvedev of Russia. And this, of course, will be his final meeting with President Medvedev as President of Russia. And they'll have an opportunity to discuss a range of issues. Certainly Iran, North Korea, and other regional security issues will be on the agenda -- our shared efforts with the Russians, which have been critical on our nuclear security agenda, as well as our efforts to increase access for U.S. businesses to Russian markets.
He'll also have a bilateral meeting with Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan has been a critical partner in our efforts to secure nuclear materials. And this will be an important opportunity to check in on those efforts and to consult in advance of the summit.
Then the President will have a bilateral meeting with President Hu Jintao of China. Of course, we've had an ongoing consultation with the Chinese on a range of issues. They'll continue the economic discussions that they've had over the course of the last three years, but they'll also have an important opportunity to check in on a range of critical security issues, again, to include Iran, North Korea, efforts to secure nuclear materials and other issues of regional and global concern.
Then, following those bilateral meetings, the President moves into a working dinner associated with the Nuclear Security Summit.
Then, the next day -- Tuesday, March 27th -- will be the summit itself. And with that, I'm going to turn it over to my colleague to talk a little bit about the preparations for the summit and the schedule itself for the summit.
MR. SAMORE: Thank you. So when President Obama hosted the first Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in April of 2010, the idea was that by elevating this issue we would be able to use the summit as an action-forcing event; that with leaders invested in making commitments, you're much more likely to get concrete action out of governments.
So out of the Washington summit, we had a long list of actions that governments had committed to in order to strengthen security over nuclear materials, to try to minimize the use of these materials in peaceful programs, and to strengthen cooperation across the front of international instruments that are designed to make sure that terrorists and criminal groups don't get their hands on nuclear materials or nuclear weapons. We think the Seoul summit will provide an opportunity for us to harvest many of those commitments. In the two years since the Washington meeting, governments have been very effective in carrying out commitments they made in Washington two years ago.
In fact, I've got a study that was done by two outside groups that assessed the actions that have been taken out of Washington. And by their count, 80 percent of the national commitments made in Washington have already been completed, which is a pretty good batting average.
We also expect -- in addition to sort of cashing in on the commitments made in Washington, we also expect Seoul will provide an opportunity, as Washington did, for countries to make further commitments and to announce things that they've done, some of which I think will be surprises to people in terms of countries that have eliminated all of the nuclear material in their possession. And another big theme will be actions that countries are taking to strengthen cooperation against nuclear smuggling. The first line of defense, of course, is try to protect the material. But in the event that that fails, it's important that there be a strong fallback in terms of cooperation both among agencies within each government as well as across the board internationally, to deal with the risk of nuclear materials in the black market.
So we expect that the Seoul meeting will provide a good opportunity both to account for things that have been done since Washington and to set the stage for the next Nuclear Security Summit that will take place in 2014.
MR. RHODES: Great. And with that, I'll just turn it over to one more colleague here to talk about -- a little bit more about the Korea portion of the trip.
MR. RUSSEL: This is the third trip to South Korea by President Obama in the span of three years in office. During that time, he has also hosted the Korean President twice in the White House, most recently last October.
I think that the two leaders have forged an unprecedentedly close relationship and they've worked to implement the joint vision statements they agreed to in 2009 to promote global cooperation. I'd also note that this is, in effect, the handoff of the Nuclear Security Summit from Washington to Seoul, from -- as the host. And that cooperation, I think, is emblematic of the global partnerships that they have achieved.
As my colleague said, this is a very broad and deep relationship that encompasses not only security issues, but also economic. (Inaudible.)
MR. RHODES: Great. With that, I'd be happy to take your questions.
Q: Hi. First, could we do at least part of this on the record? It's pretty difficult for us to hang all of this on anonymous officials and, at least for us, we won't be able to use any direct quotes. I guess that goes to Tommy.
MR. VIETOR: Yes. We can -- I think we can do that.
Q: Okay, so on the record? Okay. The question I guess would be, this takes place here in the backdrop of some new developments with North Korea. How concerned are you and how concerned is the President that the North Korea saber-rattling or whatever it is that it's doing right now is going to overshadow the other work of this conference? And does he have a particular message to the North Koreans that he will be using this platform to make?
MR. RHODES: I'll take this. This is Ben. I think, in the first instance, we have had a very clear (inaudible) policy on both nuclear weapons and the future of the Korean Peninsula. As it relates to nuclear weapons, the President has sought to strengthen the global nonproliferation regime and to make clear that those nations that are outside of their international obligations are going to face serious consequences.
And North Korea, under this administration, has faced the strongest sanctions that it has ever faced in its history with regard to its proliferation activities. And we have made it very clear that we are committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and that North Korea must meet its own obligations in order to pursue a better relationship with the international community. So that continues to be our policy.
I think what's going to be very clear at the summit is that you have dozens of nations coming together behind the shared goal of securing nuclear materials around the world, so that they can never fall into the hands of terrorists, which would, frankly, be the gravest national security threat that the American people could face. Also, these nations are coming together to crack down on the type of proliferation activities and black market trade in nuclear materials and secrets that has posed a grave threat to international peace and security as well.
So you will have a very strong and united front from the international community represented in Seoul. And again, I think that speaks to the global consensus that the President has built behind securing nuclear materials and stopping this kind of proliferation activities and black market trade that we've seen in the past.
On the specific question of North Korea, I don't know if anybody else here has any -- Dan, you may want to say something.
MR. RUSSEL: Invariably, North Korea is on the agenda (inaudible).
Q: Hi, how are you doing? It's Steve Collinson with AFP. Could you possibly do a transcript of this, because a lot of us can only hear Ben and we didn't get anything of the other two officials?
On the China summit, the last time the President was in Asia, he succeeded in bringing up the question of the South China Sea, which China -- in a summit which China has traditionally opposed. What impact do you think that has had since then on your relationship with the Chinese, and how do you see that going forward? And do you think that there's a sense in which, on the nuclear issue, some of the administration's achievements on this agenda have been overshadowed by the much bigger stories of Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs and the controversies surrounding them?
MR. RHODES: Sure, I'll take that, Steve. On your second question -- I think there is a very direct connection between the President's achievements on nuclear security and non-proliferation and our efforts to deal with Iran and North Korea. When the President took office, he recommitted the United States to the non-proliferation regime and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
In his Prague speech, he made it clear that we would meet our own obligations under that non-proliferation regime, and pursue reductions in our own arsenal, which we then negotiated with the Russians through the new START Treaty. And so when the United States and Russia came together to sign the new START Treaty, not only did we strengthen cooperation between our two countries, but we also demonstrated to the world that we meant what we said when we signed on to the NPT and we said that we were going to hold nations accountable for violating their own obligations.
And frankly, we were able to reframe the whole question of Iran's nuclear program around its violation of those same international obligations. So instead of it being a bilateral issue between the United States and Iran or any other country and Iran, it became an issue about Iran and the international community. And that has been the basis of the sanctions regime that the President has been able to build to put pressure on the Iranians. So it's precisely because the United States has led by example and strengthened international norms that we have been able to build an unprecedented set of pressures that we brought to bear on the Iranian government.
Similarly, we have increased sanctions and pressure on the North Koreans as well.
So I think what the President's personal leadership and investment in a nuclear agenda has done is allow the world to come together behind common approaches, to apply pressure on countries that break the rules, and to provide incentives for countries to do the right thing. And that's what we're going to continue to do in the instances of both Iran and North Korea.
On your first question, I think what we stressed very much in our last Asia trip is that the United States did not seek to single out China or any other country; we sought to similarly strengthen international norms and rules of the road, whether it had to do with economic practices or whether it had to do with maritime security.
Similarly in this instance, what we've been able to do is galvanize an unprecedented set of international cooperation around norms associated with nuclear security. And so what the summit serves as -- what the summit does is it serves as both a galvanizing and action-forcing event in which nations come forward and keep their own commitments -- their own national commitments to secure nuclear materials. And this also serves as an event for nations, I think, to come in line with existing international rules of the road with regard to nuclear security, and to share best practices, and to build a similar type of international cooperation where our common security is strengthened because nations are working together, and again, are reinforcing clear rules of the road.
So I think, once again, this is a message to the Asia Pacific region and the world that the United States is leading the world in strengthening the types of international rules of the road that both enhance our economic prosperity and our security.
Q: Hi, thanks again for doing the call. If you could also do this on the record. Could you talk a little bit more about the decision to go to the DMZ? Was there ever a decision about what -- any concern it would be provocative or that it would seem too much of an olive branch? Or was this something that the President had always meant to do and is just getting around to? And on the summit, could you talk about whether the President will bring any -- will be brining any new commitments from the U.S. to the table? Also, whether he will ask Congress to move forward on ratifying these two treaties that are still languishing. And also address the notion of budget cuts to U.S. nuclear programs. Thanks.
(Call is dropped.)
MR. VIETOR: Sorry about that, guys. Here's Danny Russel from our NSC Asia shop, answering the first part of Margaret's question.
MR. RUSSEL: Hi, sorry about that. On the question of the DMZ, what I'd say is, first, the President is the Commander-in-Chief, and the U.S. has 28,500 troops in South Korea. So it is logical and important to him to have the opportunity to visit with some of them on the front line and to say thank you for their service.
Secondly, it's -- March 25th is virtually two years to the day since the sinking of the ROK naval vessel, the Cheonan. And that incident and the cooperation between the U.S. and the ROK that followed is a special example of the solidarity and the cooperation between two treaty allies. The DMZ is the front line of democracy in the Korean Peninsula, and it's the symbol of the U.S. and the ROK resolve, as well as solidarity. So a visit by the President there to see and to thank the U.S. and the South Korean servicemembers makes perfect sense.
Let me turn the phone over to my colleague, Laura Holgate.
MS. HOLGATE: Hi. In answer to the question about U.S. commitments, we'll be identifying progress along the full range of commitments that we made at the last Nuclear Security Summit, in terms of our own improvements and our own material security, in terms of our commitments to cooperate with bilateral and multilateral partners, and in terms of our continued support, financial and technical support for activities around the world to improve nuclear security.
There was a question about the U.S. budget amount for the nuclear security activities. In a declining budget environment overall, I think these activities have shown very well, in terms of maintaining and demonstrating the administration's ongoing commitment and focus on this issue. There were some reductions to programs whose efforts were completed. There were some significant milestones that were celebrated in the last year in terms of the second line of defense program in Russia completing all of its work there.
So I would certainly not suggest that any changes in the resourcing in any way reflect any changes in our commitments or our capabilities. We are continuing to move forward with additional activities as we look to the next couple of years between now and the next summit.
Q: Thanks very much. Danny, the first couple of things you said, none of us could hear a word. So I'm sure they were great, but we really missed them, so I hope we do get a transcript. My question is, has there been any indication that the North Koreans might try to attend next week given their apparent attempt to at least pretend the February 29th agreement is in place. They've started conversations with the IAEA. They haven't invited them, but they've started conversations, for example. And there are others who seem to feel that there's a potential trap here that if the NorKs are continuing to pretend they're going ahead, at least, or are going ahead with everything except the missile launch problem, what do we do about it? Is that a trap for us? Or do we say, no, it's all or nothing? How do we respond to the problem that if they try to carry out those parts of 2/29 that they like, that we risk losing all of it? Thanks.
MR. RHODES: Sure. This is Ben. I'll take the first part. And we will, I guess, for the -- we're taking onboard that there was some technical difficulties here, so at the end --
Q: Yes, there was nothing. I'm sorry. (Laughter.)
MR. RHODES: Okay. So at the end I guess my colleagues can kind of reiterate their points they made by way of entry.
I'll just say, on the first question about North Korea, clearly the attendees of the summit, as was the case with the Washington summit in 2009, again, our nations, with both specific responsibilities and commitments that they've made with regard to nuclear security, we've essentially built an international coalition of countries that are committed to the President's goal of securing all nuclear materials around the world. So the North Koreans are not a part of that list of countries; obviously won't be attending in any formal way, or any way, the summit itself.
But I'll turn it over to Danny to speak to the impact of the potential North Korean launch with the -- on the agreement that was reached.
MR. RUSSEL: Hi, this is Danny. Look, this is an issue that has been addressed by Jay Carney from the podium as well as others. You've heard the President's view that the announcement of the -- by the North Koreans of an attempt to conduct a missile launch is provocative, and that it would be a direct violation of its international obligations. This is still a question that faces North Korea, and the President has put this choice starkly to them.
They may choose to deepen their isolation and to further strengthen the international sanctions that are constraining them. That would be unfortunate, and we think that that would be a mistake that will only exacerbate the problems that North Korea faces and the suffering of the North Korean people. That's the reason why we have consistently called on North Korea to adhere to its international obligations.
Clearly, in Korea, in his bilateral meetings with world leaders the President will discuss this. It will be on the agenda. But the situation that they face isn't fundamentally different than what the President and the other leaders have been dealing with in terms of North Korean behavior all along. It is precisely because of the North Korean penchant for backtracking that we and our partners have insisted on them taking irreversible steps and do not reward promises. The North Korean tactics haven't paid off for them in three years, and we hope that they choose to make the right decision.
Q: Hi, guys. I have a couple for you. The first one is, regarding the DMZ visit, you talked about a message to American forces there and a message reemphasizing the strength of the alliance. Is there going to be a message to North Korea as well? When President Bush took us to Dorasan Station and the DMZ a few years back, he made a point of speaking out and basically telling North Korea that they should rejoin the community of nations. I'm wondering if there's going to be anything like that. And then on the Hu Jintao meeting -- excuse me -- George Clooney told us a while back that the President would be pressing Hu Jintao on Sudan. And I'm wondering if you can confirm that and sort of sketch out the Sudan piece of that puzzle.
MR. RHODES: Sure. I'll just speak to the DMZ. This is Ben. I'll build on what Danny said. I think the fundamental message of the trip to the DMZ is underscoring the President's support for the American troops who are serving on the Korean Peninsula, and our support for the Republic of Korea, our very close and strong treaty ally. And I think the visit itself is a demonstration of the President's gratitude for the service of the Americans on the peninsula, and his personal investment in this alliance, and his personal commitment to the security of the Republic of Korea.
I think with regard to North Korea, we have had a very clear message throughout the administration, which is that there is a path that allows North Korea to have a better relationship with the international community. And that's a path where they're meeting their obligations and moving down the road to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. So that, of course, will continue to be our message to North Korea.
On your second point, Danny may want to speak to this. I will say that we've had an ongoing conversation with the Chinese government about Sudan that began, frankly, even before the referendum on independence where we very actively worked with and consulted the Sudanese -- the Chinese government about their contacts with Sudan and the need for them to underscore the importance of allowing the comprehensive peace agreement to come to fruition. And I know this was a subject, as you said, of the President's recent conversations with George Clooney, but it's also been, frankly, a subject of discussion with Chinese leaders. And Danny can speak to that as well.
MR. RUSSEL: Just to put a finer point on what Ben Rhodes has just said, not only has the President raised the issue of Sudan directly with Chinese leaders, including with Vice President Xi Jinping, who was recently in the Oval Office, our special representatives, the U.S. and the Chinese special representatives have been in close touch. I know that the Secretary of State and the Chinese foreign minister have also discussed the issue.
There is a convergence of interests here, and both the United States and the Chinese agree that we can work together to promote a reconciliation that will benefit both countries, the region, and the world.
Q: Hey, gentlemen. Since AP already got his shot here, I'll cede back my time in fairness. Other than to -- just to clarify, Tommy, the entire call is on the record now, correct?
MR. VIETOR: Yes, Ben, we'll do the whole call on the record and we apologize for the technical difficulties at the top. So we're going to ask Gary to do a run through of the broader goals of the summit at the end, because it sounded like you guys had a hard time hearing that.
Q: Okay, thank you.
Q: Hi, thanks. I just wanted to go back a little bit to the nuclear security issue and the goal outlined in Prague of securing these weapons by -- in a four-year timeframe. I'm wondering if someone can speak to whether or not you feel like that goal has been met.
MR. SAMORE: Hi, this is Gary. So President Obama first announced his program to secure vulnerable nuclear materials in his speech in Prague in 2009, and then the next year, in the Washington summit, all of the leaders who attended, the 47 leaders made a commitment to work and to support the President's objective of working to secure those materials within four years. The Seoul meeting will be the halfway point -- two years into that four-year plan. We think that we'll be able to demonstrate very significant progress in terms of strengthening security of those nuclear materials that could potentially be used for nuclear explosives.
In some cases it will be stronger physical security. In other cases it will be steps to consolidate the material. In other cases it will be actual steps to eliminate those materials so that some countries no longer have any fissile material on their territory. In other cases it will be measures to strengthen the security culture. There will be about a dozen or so countries that are establishing training centers and support centers for their own nuclear industry and also to make available to other regional countries.
As I mentioned, there will be another Nuclear Security Summit in 2014, and that will be an opportunity to look back and to measure the extent to which that four-year pledge has been fulfilled.
Q: Hi. Thanks, you guys, for doing the call. A question about your bilateral meeting with President Hu of China -- I'm curious what you will be asking the Chinese in terms of their posture towards North Korea's rocket launch that's upcoming, whether you'll be seeking them to make a greater statement urging North Korea to withhold and not go forward with the launch and/or commitments of specific sanctions if they do go ahead with that launch. Could you be specific of what you'll be asking the Chinese on that?
MR. RUSSEL: Hi, this is Danny Russel. With the caveat that I'm not going to read out a meeting that hasn't taken place yet, our approach to the Chinese under the Obama administration has been consistent, which is to say that China has, like the U.S., an interest as well as a responsibility in helping to persuade the North Koreans to honor their own commitments, commitments entered into in the six-party process which China historically has played a central role in, and to honor their international obligations, including and particularly under the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions 1718 and 1874, which the Chinese helped negotiate and the Chinese voted in favor of.
Now, for historical, geographic and other reasons, China has a long, unique and special relationship with North Korea. We certainly hope and recommend that China bring all the instruments of power to bear to influence the decision-making in North Korea along the lines that President Obama has advocated, namely to take a path that will bring to North Korea the dignity and the security that they say that they desire.
These are decisions, however, ultimately, that the North Korean leadership itself will have to make. The President will be consulting not only with President Hu Jintao, but also President Lee and President Medvedev, as well as other partners and leaders about what we can do to help ensure that North Korea doesn't make the wrong choice in the first instance with regard to a long-range missile launch, but more broadly, that it comes into compliance with its international obligations.
As permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, if nothing else, we share the responsibility for implementing those resolutions.
MR. VIETOR: Great, we'll take a couple more questions, then I'll ask Gary to go through the summit again briefly.
Q: Hello, thank you. I am with the Russian news agency, TASS. I have a question on the bilateral meeting between President Obama and President Medvedev. You mentioned that it will be their final meeting because President Medvedev leaves office soon. So my question is, do you expect it to be some kind of a farewell courtesy meeting? Or do you expect the serious discussion of the issues you mentioned, like Iran, North Korea, non-proliferation and so on?
MR. RHODES: Well, thanks for the question there. I think the President has had a very productive relationship with President Medvedev. That includes a fairly extensive list of accomplishments for both countries, including the New START Treaty, our shared efforts to secure nuclear materials, the distribution network that we maintain into Afghanistan, the Russian accession into the WTO. So in many respects I think it will be an opportunity to again mark the progress that they've made.
At the same time, President Medvedev, of course, is still the President of Russia, and there is a very substantive agenda that we are pursuing with Russia that includes both issues of agreement and issues where we differ.
So, for instance, I think on the -- in terms of building on our past agreements, we'll want to talk about our continued commitment to nuclear security and the role that the United States and Russia have and the unique responsibility that the United States and Russia have as the two largest nuclear powers in the world to lead on behalf of nuclear security and non-proliferation.
I think that with Russia, as well as with China, we will be discussing the P5-plus-1 efforts to pursue progress on the Iranian nuclear issue. We, of course, have put in place very strong pressure on the Iranian government. We're also committed to pursuing a diplomatic path that allows the Iranians to make the right decision.
And so this summit will provide an important opportunity for President Obama to consult with President Medvedev, as well as President Hu, about the P5-plus-1's ongoing efforts as it relates to Iran.
One area of difference that I'm sure will come up with President Medvedev, as well as with President Hu, is Syria. The United States, of course, is committed to a democratic transition in Syria; was disappointed by the veto of the recent U.N. Security Council resolution by Russia and by China. And so I'm sure we will be talking about the way forward in Syria, how to stop the outrageous violence that is taking place, how to support the Syrian peoples' aspirations.
So I think the meeting with President Medvedev will be an opportunity to mark the extensive progress that they have been able to make on behalf of both of our nations to address some very critical, substantive political, security and economic issues; and then also to discuss areas of disagreement as well.
And I think what President Medvedev and President Obama have had is a very candid and substantive relationship where they're able to exchange views. The President recently had a very good call with President-elect Putin where they pledged to continue to have that type of robust dialogue, to cooperate on areas where we can agree, and to be candid about areas of difference and to try to work through those areas of difference.
So we're confident that this will be a productive meeting with President Medvedev, and it will also lead into an important meeting with President Putin around the G8 summit in the United States in May.
With that, we'll take one more question.
Q: Thank you. I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about Kim Jong-un as a leader. Obviously when he rose to power, there was very little known about him. Given that we're on the eve of this summit, do you feel as though you know anything more about him as a man or as a leader, especially given the recent saber-rattling that we've witnessed? Thanks.
MR. RUSSEL: Well, I think that the point here is that the President is going to the Nuclear Security Summit. The Nuclear Security Summit is not about North Korea. It is about the challenges of securing fissile material. It's about the commitment of the participating nations to honor their pledges and their commitments, and it's about the emerging role of the Republic of Korea as a significant contributor to the global good.
North Korea will be the odd man out. The nations that will gather in Seoul will assemble in a modern, prosperous city in an open and democratic society. One would hope that North Korea's leaders would recognize the choice that they have before them. The choices that South Korean leaders have made in history have led directly to the prosperity and the wellbeing of the South Korean people. The choices that the North Korean leaders have made have taken the people of North Korea into isolation and poverty and need. So rather than speculate on the character of Kim Jong-un, I think we can focus on the significance of the upcoming meeting in Seoul.
MR. RHODES: Great, and before we close out here, I just -- we're mindful that you had technical difficulties hearing people beyond me. So I'll have Gary Samore say a few words about the summit and basically reprise the very outstanding presentation that he made before that only two of us heard.
I'll just say, to set up Gary here, that I think it's important for all of us to remember that, frankly, the number one threat to the United States around the world is the risk of a nuclear weapon or nuclear device falling into the hands of terrorists; that after the attacks of September 11th, it was precisely that grave threat that galvanized policymakers here in Washington and led us to believe that we needed to secure these materials.
I think the President has made significant progress on both sides of the nuclear terrorism equation. In terms of those who seek these materials, he has removed scores of al Qaeda leaders from the battlefield, including Osama bin Laden, who famously articulated al Qaeda's desire to pursue a nuclear weapon. Just as we have removed those terrorists who would pursue these materials, we have locked down these materials and made it a goal to secure all these nuclear materials around the world. And frankly, without the President's personal investment in this, it's our assessment that we would not be able to see the type of progress that we have in terms of having nations make commitments, stand by those commitments, share best practices and move forward.
So with that, I'll hand it over to Gary to close out the call and preview the summit.
MR. SAMORE: Hi. Sorry if I'm repeating myself, but for those of you who couldn't hear me the first time, when President Obama took office he felt it was important to highlight the threat of nuclear terrorism and to elevate the commitments from governments to deal with that threat. And in particular, since terrorists are not able to produce nuclear materials themselves, if states and private industry, which control those materials, make sure that they don't lose track of them or lose control over them, that is a very effective way to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons or from acquiring enough nuclear material for a primitive nuclear device.
So the purpose of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in April of 2010 was to drive this issue to the top of the agenda for the governments that were participating. And what came out of the Washington meeting were a set of commitments that governments made in terms of strengthening their own control over nuclear materials and cooperating with each other to strengthen the international instruments that deal with nuclear security as well as the institutions that provide assistance, like the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Two years on from those commitments made in Washington, we've got the Seoul summit. And in part, it will be to cash in on the commitments that have been made. We think we've got a very good score card in terms of countries carrying out the pledges they've made. In fact, I've got a -- I have a study that was done by two outside organizations that rate 80 percent of the country commitments made in the Washington meeting have already been fulfilled. So we think that's a very good batting average.
In addition, we'll use the Seoul meeting to drive countries to make additional commitments in anticipation of the next Nuclear Security Summit, which will be held in 2014. And we would expect, in the course of the meeting, countries will be giving national progress reports where they'll talk about what they've done and what they've plan to do. In addition, groups of countries have formed -- in different areas, they've formed up to cooperate on particular subject matters. For example, working together to counter nuclear smuggling, or working to make sure that information relevant to nuclear security is very well protected.
So we think what will come out of the meeting is both a good record of things that have been done since the Washington summit, which has significantly strengthened nuclear security and reduced the threat of nuclear terrorism, but also measures that countries will take individually and as a group in the lead-up to the next nuclear summit in 2014.
MR. VIETOR: Great. Thanks, everyone, for joining today, and we look forward to seeing you in Korea.
END 4:30 P.M. EDT
Barack Obama, Press Briefing by Senior Administration Officials on the President's Upcoming Trip to the Republic of Korea Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/300606