Hagel honors Korean War veterans ahead of armistice anniversary

WASHINGTON, July 16 (Yonhap) -- The following are excerpts from a Yonhap News Agency interview with U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

Question: This year marks the 60th anniversary of the alliance. What's your assessment of it and vision for the next six decades?

Answer: For 63 years it's been an amazingly effective and strong alliance, as good an alliance as I think the United States has had.

We, our people, our governments, have worked closely together, collaborated on helping each other. The Republic of Korea has been extremely important for the stability in Asia and the Pacific, and our continued commitment over those years has been really a very special partnership. It has allowed the tremendous economic development and progress in South Korea, which in the end always makes a difference because if people feel that they have hope, they have opportunities, their children can make a better life than theirs, and that means education, that means freedom, jobs, possibilities -- that's worked pretty well. I think over the last 63 years, the Republic of Korea has shown the world what can be done.

I have always been amazed at the photographs that I have been shown over the years, for many, many years, of what Seoul, Korea looked like in 1953 at the end of that war. Devastated. I mean, trees were gone. And what Korea looks like today, tremendous prosperity and progress that has been made. It's quite a tribute.

That alliance has been remarkably effective. It's strong. We need to keep it strong. I believe we will keep it strong. And this has also remarkably been the policy of the United States of America -- that alliance -- for 63 years, through every different administration -- Republican, Democratic, conservative, liberal, Congresses. The ebb and flow of American politics has never changed at all that doctrine and strategy and that commitment.

Q: What's your message for Korean War veterans?

A: First, let me thank our veterans, the United States veterans who served in Korea. Difficult time. Difficult war. And unfortunately, as I think everyone knows, those veterans received very little recognition when they came back. So I want to thank them, acknowledge them on behalf of our country. We do understand what they did, the contribution they made, how important that contribution was at a very critical and defining time.

Q: North Korea calls for the dismantlement of United Nations Command and the signing of a peace treaty. What's your response?

A: Well, I think North Korea first has the obligation and responsibility of living up to commitments they made in 2005, moving toward a completely irreversible denuclearization of the peninsula. That's where we start. And we need to continue to, through the six-party talks and other forums, work through that. But until the government of North Korea commits to that and the complete, irreversible denuclearization of the Korea Peninsula, then I don't see how we, the United States, can move in any other direction other than to continue to maintain the alliance. These are obligations that North Koreans have and it's clear as to the United Nations mandates on this and Security Council resolutions on this. So, until the North Koreans start to fulfill those commitments, then I think we're pretty limited on how far we can discuss it. But we are always open to discussion and dialogue.

Q: Many Koreans are concerned about the possible impact to the alliance from the Pentagon's budget cuts. What would you say about that?

A: We are going through a difficult budget problem. We are dealing with it, but I have also said that this country will continue to defend our security here in our country as well as all of our allies, including South Korea. These are not unusual adjustments in defense spending budgets as we have unwound from one long war. We are unwinding from a second, longest war we have ever been in. So these are adjustments nations continually make, but there is no question that this country will remain the strongest, most capable military country in the world, capable of defending our interests as well as the interests of our allies.

Q: Is it true that your wife teaches English to wives of Korean embassy officials?

A: It is true. For many years she's been doing that. She teaches once a week English as a Second Language to spouses of foreign nationals. Most are here associated with the embassies around Washington, and the biggest group that comes to her classes, and have been for years -- she has been doing this, I think, for 12 years -- when I was in the U.S. Senate she did it, too -- are spouses of military and diplomatic representatives of the Republic of Korea. And most of her classes, half of her classes are South Korean students. So she has really developed a strong relationship with so many of the spouses, mostly all wives, and when they go back to Seoul or go back to South Korea they correspond and communicate with her. She's been corresponding and communicating for years with some of her students who are now back in Seoul, back in South Korea.

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