Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official Previewing President Biden’s Third Day in the Republic of Korea

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Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official Previewing President Biden’s Third Day in the Republic of Korea

Via Teleconference 8:39 A.M. KST MODERATOR:  Good morning, everybody.  I hope you all had a very restful second night in Seoul.  Thanks

Via Teleconference

8:39 A.M. KST

MODERATOR:  Good morning, everybody.  I hope you all had a very restful second night in Seoul.  Thanks again for joining us on this background press briefing this morning. 

As I mentioned on the invite, this call is on background, attributable to “senior administration officials,” and embargoed until the call’s conclusion.

Just as yesterday, joining us this morning we have [senior administration official].  We’ll, of course, have some time for questions at the end, but I will turn it over to [senior administration official] right now.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Great.  Thank you very much, [Moderator].  And I want to thank all of you for joining.  I hope that you’re all having a good trip.

We’ll very quickly go over today’s schedule and then take some questions.

So I think — you know, to start off with, I think you’ve seen throughout the trip how our foreign policy and the work that has been done through — to strengthen and revitalize our alliances delivers for the American people.

I think, building on that, today President Biden and the Executive Chairman of Hyundai Motor Group will discuss Hyundai’s decision to invest in a new electric vehicle and battery manufacturing facility in Savannah, Georgia.

They will announce more than $11 billion in new investment in American manufacturing.  And it will be a new commitment of $5.7 billion for advanced automotive technology and the $5.5 billion investment to open a new factory near Savannah that will create more than 8,000 new jobs.

I expect that you’ll see the President highlight how clean energy investments like this will help us reach our climate goals as well as create good-paying jobs and benefit American workers and businesses.

He will also thank Senators Warnock and Ossoff for their outstanding work on this effort and their other efforts to bring these jobs to Georgia.

After this, the President will head to the area near here where he will greet the Chargé d’Affaires of U.S. Embassy Seoul, Chris Del Corso, and the Embassy staff.

He will then go to Osan Air Base, where he will visit the Air Operations Center’s Combat Operations Floor.  This is in Pyeongtaek, Republic of Korea, and where the President landed on Friday evening.

The President will be joined there by President Yoon, where they will both engage with U.S. and Korean military personnel while working side-by-side to secure the Korean Peninsula’s airspace.  It will reflect the close integration of the U.S. and ROK militaries and demonstrate the strength of our almost 70-year-old alliance.

I think this is something that really does reflect the truly integrated nature of the U.S.-ROK relationship.  And I think that people will be impressed at how closely they work together — our personnel and the Korean personnel work together.

After that, the President will greet U.S. service members and military families at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, Republic of Korea.

And then the President and the delegation will take off to go to Japan.

We’re looking forward to a very good day.  I think something that both highlights the linkages between the U.S. and the ROK economies, that focuses on the commitment to the future and to bringing the benefits of both cleaner climate — or for better climate and cleaner energy to American workers and families, and, at the same time, creates benefits here in Korea.

So, with that, let me take your questions.

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much, [senior administration official].

If anybody has a question, please use the “raise hand” function on the Zoom interface, and we’ll try to get through as many questions as we can.

Again, this call is on background, attributable to “senior administration officials,” and embargoed until it concludes.

Why don’t we start with Aamer Madhani from the Associated Press.

Q    Hey, thank you.  I just wanted to ask — you know, the President on Friday, in his remarks at Samsung, made a point about encouraging Samsung and others that are going to be investing in the United States to hire union workers. 

This new EV plant in Georgia is in a “Right to Work” state.  It seems unlikely that the union presence will be as great as it may be in other places.  And I was just wanting to know: What is the President’s thinking, what is the administration’s thinking on the balance of pulling in this foreign investment in the U.S., but also his strong belief that union shops are best for business and best for American workers?

And then secondly, I was just wondering: Coming out of this trip, is it time — has a conclusion been made that Korea should be joining the Quad and the Quad should be expanding?

Thank you. 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Those are both very good questions, Aamer.  And let me start off with the first ones. 

So I think that the President is very, very focused on bringing investment to the United States — investment that creates jobs, that creates well-paying jobs, and, at the same time, that brings technology and brings capacity to the United States. 

Obviously, you heard his remarks about his views on the importance and value of union workforce.  At the same time, I think the President rec- — you know, I think it’s clear the President believes that very strong.  At the same time, the President believes that it is really important to do whatever he can and whatever the administration can to bring investment and bring jobs to the United States.  So, I don’t think there’s any contradiction there.

Obviously, his views on unions are clear, and the value of union labor.  But at the same time, it’s very, very important to do whatever is possible — and I think you heard his words: He’s encouraging any investor in the United States to look to have — to look to partner and work closely with unions.

On your question about the Quad, I think that it’s important not to get ahead of ourselves.  I mean, you know, as much as it’s significant that we’re now looking at the fourth leader-level meeting of the Quad — you know, two have been virtual; one has been in person — and it’s pretty significant that only 16 months in the administration that you’re looking at the second in-person summit.

I think it shows the commitment that the President has and the other Quad leaders have to building out the Quad.  I think it’s important to recognize this is still a relatively new organization — or it’s not even — a relatively new grouping that is still figuring out how to best work together.

It’s a group of likeminded democracies and, in that sense, it’s natural that — you know, to think about ways in which you can work with other likeminded democracies.  But I think it’s also important to recognize that the goal right now is to develop and build out what has already been laid out, rather than to think about new members.

And I think that down the road, there may be some of that.  But I think that we have to wait and see what happens as the grouping itself finds its legs, finds more things to do, finds more ways to bring public goods to the region, and finds more ways to harmonize the existing efforts, which are quite significant, of these four countries to make sure that they’re promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific, promoting resilience, promoting the ability to work with other countries, and helping other countries advance their own interests.

So I think that, you know, we’ll wait and see.  And, you know, very clearly, we’re going to wait and make sure that we have a successful Quad Summit on Tuesday and then move forward to build things out.

MODERATOR:  Thanks so much.  Next, let’s go to Andrew Restuccia with the Wall Street Journal.

Q    Thanks for doing this.  Just two quick ones.  Since the President is going to Japan today, I was hoping you could kind of look ahead to the IPEF signing and what that might look like.  And we’re just wondering if you have a sense of which countries might sign on to that and if the text has been finalized at this point.

And then could you just update us on the situation on Australia with the new Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, and whether that will — whether he’s for sure attending the Quad Summit and, you know, if that — if the timing of all of that will get sort of turned upside down because of the dynamics there in Australia?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So, look, I’m going to try and hold off previewing too much of the Japan stop.  Our focus today is making sure that we execute a successful Korea stop, obviously.  And we’ve got a very full program in Japan, both with bilateral engagements as well as, as you pointed out, the IPEF launch and then the Quad.

I think that our view is that it’s a little premature to be talking about which countries.  And — but I will say that I think that we’re very satisfied with the very strong interest throughout the region in participating in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

And, you know, as you know, I think these things — there’s all — it will bring very, very bad luck if we say that anything has been finalized at this stage.  But we’re very confident that we have everything in place for tomorrow.

I think that — on Australia, I think, first of all, you know, obviously, we — we look forward to working with Prime Minister-Designate Anthony Albanese and his government.

You know, the U.S.-Australia alliance is extraordinarily strong, and we work together on an extremely wide range of issues.  There’s been partnership and, you know, shared sacrifice going back to World War One.  I think, as you know, U.S. and Australian troops have fought together in every conflict since 1918.

And I think that the — we’re very confident that the alliance is in very, very strong shape, and look forward to working with the Prime Minister-Designate to further strengthen it.

At the same time, I think it’s important that, you know, as much as this is significant, it’s always great to see a democracy go through a successful election, and — it’s also important to note that we send our very best wishes to Prime Minister Morrison, who was a very, very strong and able partner.  And the — we’re grateful for the work that he and his government did to both strengthening the alliance, expand the relationship, invest in the Quad, and, you know, commend his efforts.

I think we look forward to working closely with the new Prime Minister.  I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.  As you know, there is some process issues in Australia.  But at the same time, I think it’s significant that Prime Minister Morrison, in his concession remarks, noted that one of the issues for his conceding was the importance of making sure that Australia was able to participate in the Quad.

And look, we’re confident that they’re going to participate in the Quad.

MODERATOR:  Thanks so much.  Next, let’s go to Geoff Earle.

Q    Hi there.  Thanks for doing this.  I just want to do a Ukraine question because South Korea has a pretty substantial defense industry.  Did the President do anything to encourage, you know, this government to provide lethal support?

And then, as he heads to Japan — I know it’s a different situation given their constitution, but they’ve been doing what I think we see as pretty impressive amounts of security — I’m sorry — non-security aid and economic aid plus, I think, some other stuff.  But does he have an ask for them to try to get everybody moving in the same direction with more?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Oh, that’s a great question.  And let me start off by saying that the President and President Yoon obviously talked about threats to the rules-based international order.  And first and foremost is Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.

The President commended the ROK for what they have done.  And I think you will not be surprised to know the President feels very strongly that we need to work with likeminded partners around the world to try and do more. 

I don’t want to get ahead — and, look, I don’t want to get too much into (inaudible) details.  But I think that the key thing is that the President made very clear how impressed he is by what the ROK has done and the fact that the ROK’s actions, I think, have further reinforced the degree to which key allies in Asia are supporting our efforts and the efforts of the international community in Europe, in the same way that in recent years, European countries have (inaudible) much more attention, shown much more interest in ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

So for, I think, the President, there’s — the idea that these are two different theaters I think doesn’t make sense anymore.  These are — there’s very strong linkages between both.  I think in Japan, I think that you can expect — and I don’t want to get ahead of our discussion with him — but I think you can expect that at each stop the President is going to focus on his concerns about Ukraine and the importance he places on providing assistance to Ukraine.

MODERATOR:  Thanks so much.  Next let’s go to Kevin Liptak with CNN.

Q    Hey, thanks.  I wanted to ask about the line in the joint statement about potentially expanding the joint military exercises.  Do you have a timeline for how those discussions would proceed?  And do you have an expectation of when you think those expanded joint drills might take place? 

And as you were coming up with that joint statement, was there any concern that restarting the full-scale joint military exercises might forestall the diplomacy that you say you’re looking for with North Korea?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So those are great questions.  I think — first and foremost, I think that you saw the line in the joint statement, obviously.  I think that the view from both the — from the administration and, I think, from the Yoon administration is we’re going to leave this to the militaries to work out.  I think that the important thing is that this is something where there’s clear signals being given to them that they need to figure out what it takes to best ensure military readiness and best ensure our ability to work closely together.

I think that in terms of working on the joint statement, I think that — you know, I would just call your attention to the fact that President Yoon, during his campaign, was very clear about his views, about the importance of strengthening the alliance and of ensuring that our militaries are best able to deter and respond to provocations, as well as work together to support broader peace and security in the region.

I think that the — you know, from our standpoint, the key things here is this is part and parcel of a broader effort to step up our ability to work together, both in the military sphere, but also many others.  And we’re very satisfied with — and very pleased with the progress that was made, and, you know, we believe that it was a joint statement that is particularly impressive, given that it was done in the first 11 days of a new administration. 

And I think all of you know it is a challenge for a new administration to come to office and then immediately start engaging in a visit of this kind to have an extensive and substantive joint statement that covers a significant number of issues.  This isn’t something that is easy to do.

And so we’re very grateful to our ROK partners.  I think it reflects President Yoon’s very, very clear guidance and great determination to strengthen the alliance.  And we’re very satisfied with the outcome. 

MODERATOR:  Thanks so much.  I think we’ve got time for one last question.  Why don’t we go to Sebastian Smith with AFP.

Q    Oh, thank you so much.  Thank you for taking my question.  So, on North Korea again: Is there any movement on the sense of whether a nuclear test could be in the offing?  Because coming into this trip, both from South Korea and from the U.S., of course, you know, there was a lot of — it was rather — you know, sounded like it was being built up into something that could happen pretty much any — any moment.  And now the President is leaving.  So is that moment of danger passed? 

And my other question.  More — just zooming out, the President, again, talked yesterday about, you know, he’d be ready to meet — even meet Kim, you know, under some kind of circumstances.  You’ve said many times you’re ready to talk without any preconditions.  But are the North Koreans really in a place where they can be engaged in that kind of initiative?  Because this has been going on for decades.  And is the President considering — has he ever talked about making any kind of outreach, something a little more dramatic, something to break this sort of stalemate or paralysis that seems to go on for almost forever? 

Yeah, not necessarily what Donald Trump did, but something different, in other words.  Or is it just going to be more of the same? 

Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, thanks.  Thanks for that question.  I think that, you know, let’s just look more broadly at the issue.  I mean, obviously, North Korea, the DPRK, is a very significant challenge in many ways, both in terms of being a threat to the ROK as well as its destabilizing activities. 

I think that the President, first of all, was very clear about his views on North Korea and on the DPRK and on what he believes needs to be done.  I think that the policy has been very clear.  I would say that it is worth keeping in mind the challenges of COVID.  And I think that from our standpoint, we believe that one of the challenges for the DPRK is that there have been very significant movement restrictions.  And I think that there’s no question that that has had a big impact inside the country.  And now the outbreak probably makes it even more significant.

And so that may be a factor in their lack of response to our very, very repeated approaches on a variety of levels to try and engage and to make clear our willingness to talk and to talk about a very wide range of issues. 

The President has said he is seeking serious and sustained diplomacy.  He’s been clear about — that we stand ready — that we’re deeply concerned about the COVID outbreak and that we stand ready to work with the international community to provide assistance. 

But I think we have to acknowledge: Ultimately, these decisions are up to the DPRK to make.  And I think that our view is that we strongly encourage them to choose a path of diplomacy.  We believe that our offers are very — you know, are a sign of how committed we are.

In terms of dramatic gestures, I think that what the President was clear on is that we’re not looking for gestures, we’re looking for very serious engagement.  And this is a decision that only the DPRK can make.

I think that we are — we’re very conscious of the fact that they’re facing significant domestic challenges.  We believe that engagement could possibly help address those challenges — with us, with others in the international community — but that this is their decision to make.

MODERATOR:  Thanks so much, everybody.  Thanks so much for joining.  As I said, this call is on background, attributable to “senior administration officials,” and embargoed until the call concludes, which will be momentarily.  And we’ll of course be in touch for other calls over the course of the trip.

Have a great day, everyone.

9:00 A.M. KST