One of the principal goals of the Lugar Center is to promote policies and engagement to limit the threat from weapons of mass destruction. North Korea has proven to be one of the most persistent global proliferation challenges over the past several decades, and this was underscored by the fact that the North launched short-range missiles into coastal waters for three straight days during our visit. While such provocations by the North are not unusual, they highlight the importance of the US-South Korea Alliance in maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
I was pleased that President Park recently enjoyed a successful visit to the United States. As I noted during my remarks at the conference, I believe President Park’s posture toward the North, clearly stated while she visited Washington, is an excellent starting point that deserves U.S. support. With new leaders recently coming to power in Seoul, North Korea, China, and Japan, this is a critical moment in Northeast Asia. I believe there is an opportunity for South Korea to create new criteria through which constructive engagement with the North can occur. For our part, the United States should be willing to let Seoul take the lead in maintaining an open invitation to dialogue and should fully support the South Korean trust building program and reduced rhetoric aimed at the North, while continually making clear U.S. security guarantees and the cohesiveness of the U.S.-ROK alliance.
It is important to note that the North Korean threat is global in nature and should not be defined merely by the range of its missiles. The United States also should encourage much greater attention among friendly nations to constraining the illicit activities of North Korean trading companies that have functioned as conduits for nuclear proliferation and the dissemination of weapons technology. In addition, North Korea profits by sponsoring more prosaic illicit activities in foreign countries. This effort would not require a new U.N. Resolution or international agreement. On a country-by-country basis, responsible leaders could make much progress in inhibiting North Korea’s illicit activity.
As the United States works with South Korea on security issues, we also must take steps to deepen economic ties where appropriate. I was pleased to support the KORUS free trade agreement when it came before Congress in 2011. I am confident that the agreement will provide a basis for further expansions of our economic relationship. Energy exports, particularly Liquefied Natural Gas exports to strategic allies such as South Korea, present another opportunity to boost incomes at home and security abroad.
During my visit I was impressed by the professionalism and dedication of American diplomats and military personnel in South Korea. I am particularly grateful to our Ambassador, Sung Kim, and to the commander of United States Forces in Korea, General James Thurman, for their leadership. I look forward to continuing my own advocacy and initiatives in pursuit of solutions to make a difference in our world.