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[FULL TEXT] Interview with US Amb. Harry Harris

The following is the transcript of an interview with U.S. Ambassador to Korea Harry Harris, Dec. 23. — ED.

Q: What preoccupies you nowadays except for North Korea and visitors from Washington?

A: Well, I think you've identified the challenges, so there's all of the positive aspects of the alliance I think about all the time. But I also think about the challenges of both countries — challenges posed by North Korea, challenges internal to the alliance like the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), challenges external to the alliance or that effect the alliance like our bilateral relationship with Japan, U.S. alliance with Japan, the bilateral relationship between the Republic of Korea and Japan.


I think about trade, economics, investments, flows, all that kind of stuff which I never thought about before, too much. I think about that. I think about the people ties, growing and the strong people ties between our two countries that I think are enhanced by the alliance but certainly operate independent of the alliance.

You consider the 2 million Americans of Korean descent, we talk about the 60,000 Korean students that study in the United States, so these things, I think about all of that.

And I think about the U.S.-ROK alliance outside of the immediate area in East Asia.

I think about operating together in the Middle East, I think about operations like that, and where we're going.

Q: What kind of Christmas gift do you expect if North Korea sends one?

A: I don't know. It could be any number of things, I suppose.


We can all speculate but I prefer not to speculate and just be ready for any eventuality.

So, you know, from the embassy perspective, that's a diplomatic response. I'm sure General Abrams, if you ask him that question, he would be with couch his answer in terms of readiness and stuff like that.

But rather than trying to read Kim Jong-un's mind, I think the best thing to do is be prepared for all eventualities — whatever that is.

Q: Does it include an ICBM test? Is use of force possible?

A: It could, I don't know. You have to ask him. We're prepared for any eventuality that North Korea might do.

You know, I'm not going to get into possible responses. We went through this in 2017 when there were ICBM tests, nuclear tests and other provocations.

Rather than telegraph what we might do, I think it's better to simply state the truth which is that we're prepared for any eventuality. I'm not going to speculate on use of force nor am I going to share with you what is on the table.

Q: Are we prepared for rising tension again?

A: I'll simply say we are prepared with our Korean ally, for any eventuality.


I would hope we don't return to the days of 2017 but I think Kim Jong-un in this case gets a vote and let's see what he does. He has promised this Christmas gift that you talked about in your opening question. President Trump has been very clear that he would be disappointed if Kim Jong-un does anything untoward. I think also it's important to remember — to recall, to think about that — where we were at in 2017 and where we have come since then is due to not only President Trump but President Moon as well. We've gone through the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, we've had U.S summits with Kim Jong-un — that includes the quick summit at the DMZ last June — and I think there have been four summits between President Moon and Kim Jong-un. So, You talked about not wanting to go back to 2017. That implies we've gone much further in a positive way and that is true. But again, Kim Jong-un has a vote in this.

Q: Can you give us your assessment about Kim Jong-un?

A: What I personally feel is not important. President Trump has stated that he trusts Kim Jong-un, that he believes Kim Jong-un will meet the commitments that both he and President Trump agreed to in Singapore. That's the important thing for me as the U.S. ambassador to Korea. If President Trump believes that, that's the position of the United States.

Q: But you're in a unique position to advise your president. So can you give us a preview in to your private conversations with the President?

A: No, my conversations with the President and with the Secretary of Defense are private. And if they were public, then I wouldn't be the ambassador.

My conversations are private. My advice and counsel are private.

Q: The new defense bill President Trump signed on Dec. 20 prohibits the use of funds to reduce the number of American troops stationed in South Korea below the current level of 28,500 unless the U.S. defense secretary certifies that it is in the U.S. national security interest. Can we be assured there will be no reduction or pullout of the U.S. forces in Korea?


A: There were some other conditions in the National Defense Authorization Act as well.

The secretary of defense has to verify some things and then there has to be consultations with the Korean government. There's a whole bunch of other conditions in it. But Secretary Esper said — he was here two months ago — he said there is no contemplation of reducing U.S. forces in Korea. It is not on the table. That's what he said. He is the U.S. secretary of defense. And I think that comports well with the NDAA, the National Transition Act that President Trump signed. We can't forget that, not only does Congress write the law but President Trump signed it into law. I think that's important. I think you just take the answer to the question kind of the long way around but the answer to the question is self-evident in the law that President Trump signed. That's all we need to say about it, to be honest with you.

Q: Should it be interpreted as President Trump's "policy by impulse" or the beginning of shift in the U.S. security alliance policy?

A: No. I don't think it's either one. I think what it is is a recognition that the U.S. spends a disproportionate amount of money in meeting our treaty obligations and defending our allies. And what President Trump is seeking is a more equitable balance. And we see that manifested in the ongoing Special Measures Agreement talks here in Korea, we'll see them next year with Japan and we have seen them in the NATO context. We're seeing these globally and we think that the U.S. taxpayers should not bear the disproportionate amount of money it takes to defend our allies. We think that our allies — especially our rich allies, wealthy allies like Korea — we think that they can and should do more of that and that's all we're asking for, that you do more.

Q: Do you agree with President Trump's definition that Korea is a "freeloader" in terms of bilateral security?


A: I have never used those terms and I'm not going to comment on the president's terminology. I am not going to grade his homework for you. I view Korea as an ally and a friend with a shared interest in peace on the Korean Peninsula and defense of the Korean land itself.

Q: Do you think adequate steps have been taken following the students' break-in into your house? Do you still have any complaints?

A: The first part of it is Korea is a vibrant young democracy and I hear it every day in Gwanghwamun Square and the Blue House — it's not that far away. And I think it's wonderful that Korea is a demonstrative, vibrant democracy. However, I think that there are legal ways to express your position, whatever it is, whether you're pro-government, anti-government, pro-U.S., anti-U.S., there are many ways to legally express that opinion. Breaking into my house, coming over the walls at my residence is not one of those legal ways. People could get hurt doing that — some of my house staff were hurt during that — and I think that we have to draw the line at that.


To the next part of your question, I've been very satisfied with the response after those things happened, not only with me but with the entire diplomatic corps here in Korea.

Q: Considering career military officers who worked for President Trump became critical of him, does it suggest Trump is on the wrong track in terms of alliance policy?

A: It doesn't suggest that at all. I think what it suggests is that senior officials with military careers or not will often express their opinions more freely when they out of government than when they are in government.

Q: Please clarify, if there are any misunderstandings that you repeatedly asserted $5 billion when you met Rep. Lee Hye-hoon and other politicians? What about the comment that President Moon Jae-in is surrounded by pro-North Korean leftists?

A: My conversation with National Assembly lawmaker Lee and others are private conversations. If other people choose to talk about what we had, they are violating the trust that I had in them. But my promise to them is that those discussions are private discussions.


So I'm not going to violate that trust, even to the temptation of setting the record straight, we had a private discussion not only with her, but with other National Assembly people from both parties that have come to my residence for a meeting or whatever. And those meetings are off the record. They are official meetings because I am there and they're — so they're official meetings but they're off the record.

I adhere to that, I follow that principle and if I violated that principle and told you what I think I said, then I would be as wrong as they are. So I am not going to say that.

I will withstand the criticism of what she says I said, their statements about what I said, but I won't make the counterstatement because I promised them that the meeting was off the record. I'm trying to do what I said I would do and if they don't, well that's disappointing ― that's all it is. I would say without talking about that interview or that meeting, in general, I have never said, President Moon is surrounded by leftists ever in any context, publicly or privately. As I recall you wrote an article "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" or something like that. It's an interesting article and if I asked you to explain that article could you explain the article if I didn't understand Korean politics?

Q: Do you agree with the assessment that it's negative toward tendency to be friendly with North Korea?

A: I would not say "friendly." I wouldn't use that term. I think that this government seeks to improve the inter-Korean dialogue. And it is not not necessarily a function of the other governments didn't as much as it is a function of the opportunity is here now and that probably wasn't there in previous administration. So the opportunity is there

Q: Do you think that this administration is seizing that opportunity or just letting them go?

A: I think that the Moon administration is seizing the opportunities that are here in the current time frame, 2018-2019, that are here because of the outreach of the Moon government to North Korea and President Trump to North Korea that created this window of opportunity and I think that both the United States and South Korea are seizing this opportunity to try to bring about lasting peace on the Peninsula and the other items, the other three issues that were the outcome of the Singapore summit between President Trump and Chairman Kim.

Q: Can you put ourselves more into the future, that is, if there's some kind of agreement that gives a lasting peace on the peninsula, would the American forces still be here to stay?

A: Yes. American forces are here to stay and that is an alliance decision.

It's not an American decision, not a Korean decision ― it's an alliance decision like many of the decisions we have taken in the past years and decades. These are alliance decision. There is no contemplation of U.S. forces leaving the Korean Peninsula, either as an outcome of Special Measures Agreement discussions or as an outcome of relationships with North Korea.

Q: If South Koreans want Americans out, would that be the only condition for the U.S. forces to leave the peninsula?

A: Yea, I mean if there was a stated position of the ROK government, we would have to have that discussion, for sure.

Q: Does alliance decision you mentioned include American consideration of growing Chinese power and cope with the spread of China's influence in the region?

A: That's a part of a of a bigger geostrategic strategy discussion from the United States perspective. We have never said China is the enemy. What we have said is that China is now a competitor; competition. So U.S. presence in Korea, in Japan and elsewhere is a measure of stability for the region, not only in the Pacific but in NATO of course and other cases.

Q: Regarding an emerging China, what would you say about an argument that it is politically-motivated to help the U.S. win the 5G race?

A: I think that it's wrong because just on the economic side alone, the major players in 5G are Huawei, Samsung, Ericsson, and Nokia. None of those are U.S. companies so I'm not sure what the U.S. wins in the 5G race means. What we are concerned about is China's national intelligence law which requires Chinese individuals and companies to subordinate themselves to the CCP, the Chinese Communist Party and the PLA, the Chinese People's Liberation Army. And for the countries to bring Huawei into their 5G infrastructure as far-reaching and as game-changing as 5G is, with the requirement the law that states that if necessary Huawei we will have to give up all that information back to their government. That is problematic for countries in general and especially is problematic for countries that share intelligence with the United States. Huawei is under suspicion in a whole host of the countries ― European countries, Asian countries African countries ― for various practices which run contrary to sovereignty on the one hand and security on another hand and on and on. And so I think their track record over time is demonstrative of the case that you are placing your security and in some cases sovereignty at the hands of an entity which is beholden to the Chinese Communist Party and the People's Liberation Army.

Q: What would you say that the U.S. has been closer toward Japan than Korea in dealing with GSOMIA issues and maybe by extension other issues that add to GSOMIA disputes?

A: I disagree with it completely. I believe that the United States is even handed in our approach with our allies and we take the extra step of ensuring that our positions with regard to our allies are evenhanded. So we don't favor Japan over Korea in a bilateral dispute between Japan and Korea.

Q: Do you think GSOMIA has been resolved in a way that the U.S. think it should be?

A: We are encouraged by the fact that Japan and Korea have resolved it so far. It's temporary, I think. Both countries still get a vote but it's encouraging that we are in a different place today on the 23rd of December than we were 31 days ago on 22nd of November. I wouldn't say Washington was upset but we were very concerned that Korea would make permanent its threat to walk away from the GSOMIA.
We were very encouraged that Korea made a decision not to do that.

Q: Was there U.S. involvement?

A: The U.S. was engaged in discussions, bilateral discussions with Korea, with Japan and trilateral discussions with U.S, Korea and Japan to encourage both countries to come to a point where Korea would not have to pull out of GSOMIA. And we're encouraged by the fact that Korea decided not to do that but decided to stay in the GSOMIA. But the underlying disputes remain. So we're are encouraging both countries to work through their disputes to some place where we normalize our relationships again. President Trump himself has said that when Japan and Korea get along, then all three nations prosper, but when they don't, then that it takes a lot of our time and energy and it creates openings for China and North Korea.

Q: So do you expect you GSOMIA to be settled?

A: It is my hope, but I don't know if it will be settled because it's a bilateral issue between Japan and Korea. You would be better off asking the ROK government and that government of Japan on whether it will be settled or not.

Q: Some people associated you with you with governors-general of Japan because of your moustache, which the Japanese viceroys had, and your ethnic background. Have you been aware of this?

A: I am aware of some of the images that some of the protesters uses. It's not so much a moustache as it is a superimposition of cat's whiskers because of the comment I made about the cat being OK. Before I came to Korea, I wore a uniform every day, and after I came to Korea, I haven't worn uniform at all. No one seems to be thinking about that image. I answered this question on my first day here, the first minute I arrived here in a press conference. I wanted to make a break, I wanted to make a mental break and a physical break between my life as a military officer and my new life as a diplomat.
So I tried to get taller but I couldn't grow any taller, and so I tried to get younger but I couldn't get younger. But I could grow a moustache so I did that.

Q: Would you be willing to shave it if you think it's a better way to interact with the people here?

A: I'm not sure. You would have to convince me that somehow the mustache is viewed in a way that hurts our relationship. I'll note that there are many Korean Independence leaders that have moustaches but no one seems to focus on that. And so I think I'll keep my mustache. I can't my deny ethnic background. I can't hide from it. I am who I am. All I can say is that every decision I make is based on the fact that I'm American ambassador to Korea, not the Japanese American ambassador to Korea.
And I also note that throughout my military career, and now my short diplomatic career my ethnic background has only come into play twice. It came into play when I was in Hawaii by the Chinese and it's coming to play here by the Koreans. It has never come into play in America or anywhere else. What happened in Hawaii was that the Chinese were critical of my Japanese background because of some of the public positions I took regarding the South China Sea. It's a matter of record. I took very public position as the Pacific Commander and the Pacific Fleet Commander on the South China Sea.

Q: Do you plan to open the Habib House regularly?

A: I've done it twice and I see no reason why I should not do it. Next year, 2020 is the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Philip Habib (namesake of Habib House). So we're going to spend a year commemorating the centenary of Philip Habib's birth, clearly open houses will be a part of that.



The following is the transcript of an interview with U.S. Ambassador to Korea Harry Harris, Dec. 23. — ED.

Q: What preoccupies you nowadays except for North Korea and visitors from Washington?

A: Well, I think you've identified the challenges, so there's all of the positive aspects of the alliance I think about all the time. But I also think about the challenges of both countries — challenges posed by North Korea, challenges internal to the alliance like the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), challenges external to the alliance or that effect the alliance like our bilateral relationship with Japan, U.S. alliance with Japan, the bilateral relationship between the Republic of Korea and Japan.


I think about trade, economics, investments, flows, all that kind of stuff which I never thought about before, too much. I think about that. I think about the people ties, growing and the strong people ties between our two countries that I think are enhanced by the alliance but certainly operate independent of the alliance.

You consider the 2 million Americans of Korean descent, we talk about the 60,000 Korean students that study in the United States, so these things, I think about all of that.

And I think about the U.S.-ROK alliance outside of the immediate area in East Asia.

I think about operating together in the Middle East, I think about operations like that, and where we're going.

Q: What kind of Christmas gift do you expect if North Korea sends one?

A: I don't know. It could be any number of things, I suppose.


We can all speculate but I prefer not to speculate and just be ready for any eventuality.

So, you know, from the embassy perspective, that's a diplomatic response. I'm sure General Abrams, if you ask him that question, he would be with couch his answer in terms of readiness and stuff like that.

But rather than trying to read Kim Jong-un's mind, I think the best thing to do is be prepared for all eventualities — whatever that is.

Q: Does it include an ICBM test? Is use of force possible?

A: It could, I don't know. You have to ask him. We're prepared for any eventuality that North Korea might do.

You know, I'm not going to get into possible responses. We went through this in 2017 when there were ICBM tests, nuclear tests and other provocations.

Rather than telegraph what we might do, I think it's better to simply state the truth which is that we're prepared for any eventuality. I'm not going to speculate on use of force nor am I going to share with you what is on the table.

Q: Are we prepared for rising tension again?

A: I'll simply say we are prepared with our Korean ally, for any eventuality.


I would hope we don't return to the days of 2017 but I think Kim Jong-un in this case gets a vote and let's see what he does. He has promised this Christmas gift that you talked about in your opening question. President Trump has been very clear that he would be disappointed if Kim Jong-un does anything untoward. I think also it's important to remember — to recall, to think about that — where we were at in 2017 and where we have come since then is due to not only President Trump but President Moon as well. We've gone through the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, we've had U.S summits with Kim Jong-un — that includes the quick summit at the DMZ last June — and I think there have been four summits between President Moon and Kim Jong-un. So, You talked about not wanting to go back to 2017. That implies we've gone much further in a positive way and that is true. But again, Kim Jong-un has a vote in this.

Q: Can you give us your assessment about Kim Jong-un?

A: What I personally feel is not important. President Trump has stated that he trusts Kim Jong-un, that he believes Kim Jong-un will meet the commitments that both he and President Trump agreed to in Singapore. That's the important thing for me as the U.S. ambassador to Korea. If President Trump believes that, that's the position of the United States.

Q: But you're in a unique position to advise your president. So can you give us a preview in to your private conversations with the President?

A: No, my conversations with the President and with the Secretary of Defense are private. And if they were public, then I wouldn't be the ambassador.

My conversations are private. My advice and counsel are private.

Q: The new defense bill President Trump signed on Dec. 20 prohibits the use of funds to reduce the number of American troops stationed in South Korea below the current level of 28,500 unless the U.S. defense secretary certifies that it is in the U.S. national security interest. Can we be assured there will be no reduction or pullout of the U.S. forces in Korea?


A: There were some other conditions in the National Defense Authorization Act as well.

The secretary of defense has to verify some things and then there has to be consultations with the Korean government. There's a whole bunch of other conditions in it. But Secretary Esper said — he was here two months ago — he said there is no contemplation of reducing U.S. forces in Korea. It is not on the table. That's what he said. He is the U.S. secretary of defense. And I think that comports well with the NDAA, the National Transition Act that President Trump signed. We can't forget that, not only does Congress write the law but President Trump signed it into law. I think that's important. I think you just take the answer to the question kind of the long way around but the answer to the question is self-evident in the law that President Trump signed. That's all we need to say about it, to be honest with you.

Q: Should it be interpreted as President Trump's "policy by impulse" or the beginning of shift in the U.S. security alliance policy?

A: No. I don't think it's either one. I think what it is is a recognition that the U.S. spends a disproportionate amount of money in meeting our treaty obligations and defending our allies. And what President Trump is seeking is a more equitable balance. And we see that manifested in the ongoing Special Measures Agreement talks here in Korea, we'll see them next year with Japan and we have seen them in the NATO context. We're seeing these globally and we think that the U.S. taxpayers should not bear the disproportionate amount of money it takes to defend our allies. We think that our allies — especially our rich allies, wealthy allies like Korea — we think that they can and should do more of that and that's all we're asking for, that you do more.

Q: Do you agree with President Trump's definition that Korea is a "freeloader" in terms of bilateral security?


A: I have never used those terms and I'm not going to comment on the president's terminology. I am not going to grade his homework for you. I view Korea as an ally and a friend with a shared interest in peace on the Korean Peninsula and defense of the Korean land itself.

Q: Do you think adequate steps have been taken following the students' break-in into your house? Do you still have any complaints?

A: The first part of it is Korea is a vibrant young democracy and I hear it every day in Gwanghwamun Square and the Blue House — it's not that far away. And I think it's wonderful that Korea is a demonstrative, vibrant democracy. However, I think that there are legal ways to express your position, whatever it is, whether you're pro-government, anti-government, pro-U.S., anti-U.S., there are many ways to legally express that opinion. Breaking into my house, coming over the walls at my residence is not one of those legal ways. People could get hurt doing that — some of my house staff were hurt during that — and I think that we have to draw the line at that.


To the next part of your question, I've been very satisfied with the response after those things happened, not only with me but with the entire diplomatic corps here in Korea.

Q: Considering career military officers who worked for President Trump became critical of him, does it suggest Trump is on the wrong track in terms of alliance policy?

A: It doesn't suggest that at all. I think what it suggests is that senior officials with military careers or not will often express their opinions more freely when they out of government than when they are in government.

Q: Please clarify, if there are any misunderstandings that you repeatedly asserted $5 billion when you met Rep. Lee Hye-hoon and other politicians? What about the comment that President Moon Jae-in is surrounded by pro-North Korean leftists?

A: My conversation with National Assembly lawmaker Lee and others are private conversations. If other people choose to talk about what we had, they are violating the trust that I had in them. But my promise to them is that those discussions are private discussions.


So I'm not going to violate that trust, even to the temptation of setting the record straight, we had a private discussion not only with her, but with other National Assembly people from both parties that have come to my residence for a meeting or whatever. And those meetings are off the record. They are official meetings because I am there and they're — so they're official meetings but they're off the record.

I adhere to that, I follow that principle and if I violated that principle and told you what I think I said, then I would be as wrong as they are. So I am not going to say that.

I will withstand the criticism of what she says I said, their statements about what I said, but I won't make the counterstatement because I promised them that the meeting was off the record. I'm trying to do what I said I would do and if they don't, well that's disappointing ― that's all it is. I would say without talking about that interview or that meeting, in general, I have never said, President Moon is surrounded by leftists ever in any context, publicly or privately. As I recall you wrote an article "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" or something like that. It's an interesting article and if I asked you to explain that article could you explain the article if I didn't understand Korean politics?

Q: Do you agree with the assessment that it's negative toward tendency to be friendly with North Korea?

A: I would not say "friendly." I wouldn't use that term. I think that this government seeks to improve the inter-Korean dialogue. And it is not not necessarily a function of the other governments didn't as much as it is a function of the opportunity is here now and that probably wasn't there in previous administration. So the opportunity is there

Q: Do you think that this administration is seizing that opportunity or just letting them go?

A: I think that the Moon administration is seizing the opportunities that are here in the current time frame, 2018-2019, that are here because of the outreach of the Moon government to North Korea and President Trump to North Korea that created this window of opportunity and I think that both the United States and South Korea are seizing this opportunity to try to bring about lasting peace on the Peninsula and the other items, the other three issues that were the outcome of the Singapore summit between President Trump and Chairman Kim.

Q: Can you put ourselves more into the future, that is, if there's some kind of agreement that gives a lasting peace on the peninsula, would the American forces still be here to stay?

A: Yes. American forces are here to stay and that is an alliance decision.

It's not an American decision, not a Korean decision ― it's an alliance decision like many of the decisions we have taken in the past years and decades. These are alliance decision. There is no contemplation of U.S. forces leaving the Korean Peninsula, either as an outcome of Special Measures Agreement discussions or as an outcome of relationships with North Korea.

Q: If South Koreans want Americans out, would that be the only condition for the U.S. forces to leave the peninsula?

A: Yea, I mean if there was a stated position of the ROK government, we would have to have that discussion, for sure.

Q: Does alliance decision you mentioned include American consideration of growing Chinese power and cope with the spread of China's influence in the region?

A: That's a part of a of a bigger geostrategic strategy discussion from the United States perspective. We have never said China is the enemy. What we have said is that China is now a competitor; competition. So U.S. presence in Korea, in Japan and elsewhere is a measure of stability for the region, not only in the Pacific but in NATO of course and other cases.

Q: Regarding an emerging China, what would you say about an argument that it is politically-motivated to help the U.S. win the 5G race?

A: I think that it's wrong because just on the economic side alone, the major players in 5G are Huawei, Samsung, Ericsson, and Nokia. None of those are U.S. companies so I'm not sure what the U.S. wins in the 5G race means. What we are concerned about is China's national intelligence law which requires Chinese individuals and companies to subordinate themselves to the CCP, the Chinese Communist Party and the PLA, the Chinese People's Liberation Army. And for the countries to bring Huawei into their 5G infrastructure as far-reaching and as game-changing as 5G is, with the requirement the law that states that if necessary Huawei we will have to give up all that information back to their government. That is problematic for countries in general and especially is problematic for countries that share intelligence with the United States. Huawei is under suspicion in a whole host of the countries ― European countries, Asian countries African countries ― for various practices which run contrary to sovereignty on the one hand and security on another hand and on and on. And so I think their track record over time is demonstrative of the case that you are placing your security and in some cases sovereignty at the hands of an entity which is beholden to the Chinese Communist Party and the People's Liberation Army.

Q: What would you say that the U.S. has been closer toward Japan than Korea in dealing with GSOMIA issues and maybe by extension other issues that add to GSOMIA disputes?

A: I disagree with it completely. I believe that the United States is even handed in our approach with our allies and we take the extra step of ensuring that our positions with regard to our allies are evenhanded. So we don't favor Japan over Korea in a bilateral dispute between Japan and Korea.

Q: Do you think GSOMIA has been resolved in a way that the U.S. think it should be?

A: We are encouraged by the fact that Japan and Korea have resolved it so far. It's temporary, I think. Both countries still get a vote but it's encouraging that we are in a different place today on the 23rd of December than we were 31 days ago on 22nd of November. I wouldn't say Washington was upset but we were very concerned that Korea would make permanent its threat to walk away from the GSOMIA.
We were very encouraged that Korea made a decision not to do that.

Q: Was there U.S. involvement?

A: The U.S. was engaged in discussions, bilateral discussions with Korea, with Japan and trilateral discussions with U.S, Korea and Japan to encourage both countries to come to a point where Korea would not have to pull out of GSOMIA. And we're encouraged by the fact that Korea decided not to do that but decided to stay in the GSOMIA. But the underlying disputes remain. So we're are encouraging both countries to work through their disputes to some place where we normalize our relationships again. President Trump himself has said that when Japan and Korea get along, then all three nations prosper, but when they don't, then that it takes a lot of our time and energy and it creates openings for China and North Korea.

Q: So do you expect you GSOMIA to be settled?

A: It is my hope, but I don't know if it will be settled because it's a bilateral issue between Japan and Korea. You would be better off asking the ROK government and that government of Japan on whether it will be settled or not.

Q: Some people associated you with you with governors-general of Japan because of your moustache, which the Japanese viceroys had, and your ethnic background. Have you been aware of this?

A: I am aware of some of the images that some of the protesters uses. It's not so much a moustache as it is a superimposition of cat's whiskers because of the comment I made about the cat being OK. Before I came to Korea, I wore a uniform every day, and after I came to Korea, I haven't worn uniform at all. No one seems to be thinking about that image. I answered this question on my first day here, the first minute I arrived here in a press conference. I wanted to make a break, I wanted to make a mental break and a physical break between my life as a military officer and my new life as a diplomat.
So I tried to get taller but I couldn't grow any taller, and so I tried to get younger but I couldn't get younger. But I could grow a moustache so I did that.

Q: Would you be willing to shave it if you think it's a better way to interact with the people here?

A: I'm not sure. You would have to convince me that somehow the mustache is viewed in a way that hurts our relationship. I'll note that there are many Korean Independence leaders that have moustaches but no one seems to focus on that. And so I think I'll keep my mustache. I can't my deny ethnic background. I can't hide from it. I am who I am. All I can say is that every decision I make is based on the fact that I'm American ambassador to Korea, not the Japanese American ambassador to Korea.
And I also note that throughout my military career, and now my short diplomatic career my ethnic background has only come into play twice. It came into play when I was in Hawaii by the Chinese and it's coming to play here by the Koreans. It has never come into play in America or anywhere else. What happened in Hawaii was that the Chinese were critical of my Japanese background because of some of the public positions I took regarding the South China Sea. It's a matter of record. I took very public position as the Pacific Commander and the Pacific Fleet Commander on the South China Sea.

Q: Do you plan to open the Habib House regularly?

A: I've done it twice and I see no reason why I should not do it. Next year, 2020 is the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Philip Habib (namesake of Habib House). So we're going to spend a year commemorating the centenary of Philip Habib's birth, clearly open houses will be a part of that.



Yi Whan-woo yistory@koreatimes.co.kr

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