U.S. Reaffirms Strong Ties with Republic of Korea

By Tahra Vose
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - The U.S. relationship with South Korea is as vital today as it was nearly half a century ago, says Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

In an address to the Seoul-Washington Forum May 2, Hill characterized the U.S.-Korea relationship as "an absolutely vital relationship ….  I, for one, am absolutely dedicated to this relationship."

South Korea, the world's 10th-largest economy, has very close economic ties with the United States, he said, and free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations between the two countries will start in June.  The successful conclusion of such an agreement would be the largest U.S. FTA since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and would, Hill said, "make Korea a stronger player in Asia.  It will strengthen both our countries."

In addition to an FTA, Hill hopes to see progress on the road map toward Korea's introduction into the Visa Waiver Program.  Currently, Japan and Singapore are the only East Asian nations included in the program.  Hill said the U.S. Embassy in Seoul is working very hard with Korea to meet the requirements to join the program and said Korea's introduction "is very much one of my goals." 

Turning to North Korea and the Six-Party Talks, Hill said the United States and South Korea need to work on "getting the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] to do the right thing and follow up on the September [2005] agreement and to agree to get rid of all of their nuclear programs as they promised all five participants they would do."

The participants in the Six-Party Talks are North and South Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia.

Hill urged the return of North Korea to the Six-Party Talks, saying a strong political will to find a solution through the Six-Party process exists in all participating members except North Korea.

If the Democratic People's Republic of Korea comes back to the process, he said,  "they will find us prepared and willing to do all we can to find a solution .... I will be looking for every and any way we can move forward."

Hill said Pyongyang's unwillingness to return to the talks despite the great financial benefits the DPRK could receive through energy assistance leaves him with questions about the North's commitment to implementing the joint statement agreed upon at the end of the fourth round of talks in September 2005. (See related article.)

North Korea has refused to return to the Six-Party Talks since the designation of a Macau bank as a money-laundering location for North Korean illicit activities. (See related article.)

In answer to questions regarding the possibility of the United States lifting the restrictions on Banco Delta Asia, Hill said:  "Our government is charged with following the laws, and we have a duty to the American people to protect against financial irregularities. We will continue these activities."

Hill added:  "If you're a country engaged in illicit activities, engaged in counterfeiting ..., engaged in various money laundering ..., plus you're producing nuclear materials, you should not be surprised that maybe your external financial accounting is going to be looked at. Because we need to be concerned about proliferation questions.

"We need to be concerned about what countries are doing when they're engaged in illicit activities and also produce nuclear materials," he said.

"For the DPRK to complain about this action is really to want to do everything except come to the Six-Party process and deal with the root cause," Hill said.  ( See related article.)

"If the DPRK wants to create a better relationship in the world, if it wants to create a better relationship in particular with the U.S., the root for that relationship lies through the Diaoyutai guesthouse in Beijing," where the Six-Party Talks have been held, Hill said.

For additional information, see The U.S. and the Korean Peninsula, Visa Waiver Program, Money Laundering and Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.