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UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Good afternoon. It’s terrific to be here, but let me start actually on a more sober note – I want to express the condolences of my country, the President of the United States, the Secretary of State, and all of my countrymen for the loss of yours, and our fervent hopes and prayers that Kenji Goto returns home safely. Unfortunately, the United States has been through this sort of experience, and we know how difficult it is. We are in solidarity with Japan in every way.
I have had excellent conversations here in Japan. As was noted, this is the last stop on a long trip. It actually began not here in northeast Asia, but in Berlin for a G7 political directors’ meeting. I was in Zurich, for two days of negotiations with Iran, and then in Beijing, Seoul, and now Japan.
I have taken this as my first trip in 2015 because the President and the Secretary, this administration and I are very focused on the Asia-Pacific rebalance. And it made sense that we begin a series of what will be high-level visits throughout this year, in recognition of that rebalance. Our alliance with Japan – the cornerstone of peace and prosperity in Asia – continues to mature and develop. We are modernizing our security alliance through investments in new capabilities. We’re also revising the 1997 U.S-Japan Defense Guidelines to further ensure Japan’s security, improve interoperability, advance our cooperation with other partners, and enhance our contributions to peace and security.
Meanwhile, we’re enhancing our economic relationship, and we are two of the most fundamental economies in the world. We are doing this both bilaterally and regionally, by negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). And I am very optimistic that TPP will in the near future come to a positive point of closure. President Obama has reiterated very recently his commitment to working with Congress to secure a trade-promotion authority, as well as the importance of concluding this ambitious TPP to support jobs and economic growth in all the TPP economies.
Through TPP, our two countries are also helping lead the nation and the region to higher standards for trade. And to achieve these ambitious goals, we’re also working to resolve the remaining bilateral issues between us. In my recent trip in the region, it’s been clear to me that everybody wants to become part of TPP over time; and that TPP is a magnet for the development of trade and a strong economy here in Asia.
Our negotiators have made a lot of progress in recent weeks. There are some tough issues remaining. We are all working to resolve these as soon as possible, so that together we can reap the economic benefits of this agreement.
Regional prosperity, of course, goes hand-in-hand with security. You can’t have prosperity without security, and it’s hard to have security without prosperity. I just came, as I mentioned, from Beijing and Seoul. There is a natural imperative to work together to address threats like North Korea’s banned nuclear and missile programs, and to lower tensions in the East and South China Seas. We are working to build an effective regional architecture, including through institutions like ASEAN, the East Asia Summit, and APEC. We do this because these institutions work for principles of fairness and rule of law and against the notion that might makes right. We know they are essential to peace and prosperity and to the security of all countries, large and small.
Beyond our bilateral and regional work, we are also strengthening our global partnership to counter violent extremism. Japan has played a critical role in the global coalition against ISIL and provided very generous humanitarian assistance across the affected area. Prime Minister Abe’s trip to the Middle East in mid-January further advanced Japan’s engagement on this issue. And needless to say, fighting the terror of ISIL is a top priority for all of us in the world.
Japan has also, helpfully, condemned the Russian annexation of Crimea and supported strong sanctions to deter continued Russian aggression in Ukraine. Japan has also demonstrated firm commitment to the people of Ukraine, providing humanitarian assistance and critical financial support to the Ukrainian government.
We are also two of the biggest contributors to the Green Climate Fund, which helps developing countries counter the impact of climate change. This is one of the most crucial issues in the year ahead, as we approach the Paris conference, with Japan having pledged $1.5 billion to the Green Climate Fund.
On Ebola, Japan over the last year has donated about $150 million and also provided medical professionals to the WHO response. Japan has worked to alleviate health challenges and poverty across Africa and, quite frankly, across the world, for many years.
Throughout the past decades, Japan has demonstrated firm support for upholding human rights and democratic principles throughout the world.
Of course, the real foundation of our relationship is formed by the ties between our people. When I was a high school student, my pen pal – we used to have pen pals then – no Twitter, no Internet, no social media – my pen pal was a young Japanese schoolgirl. That was my introduction to Japan. Thousands of students make the journey between our two countries each year, and we want more, because they make lifelong friendships through those experiences. Unfortunately, the numbers of Japanese students in the United States are down from their peak in the 1990s, and while they are up for Americans going east, the absolute numbers are still low. In recognition of the seriousness with which both countries take this issue, our governments formed a taskforce that issued a variety of recommendations to increase student exchanges. We’re working with our Japanese partners to implement those recommendations.
In closing these brief remarks, I want to note – as I know you are all aware – that this is the year of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. It offers us an opportunity to celebrate the stunning success of the U.S.-Japan partnership over these past 70 years – a partnership that has fostered, and continues to promote, peace and prosperity across the region. We welcomed Prime Minister Abe’s New Year’s remarks. I believe firmly that all parties have an interest in working together in handling commemorations this year in a way that truly promotes reconciliation and strengthens relationships.
With that, let me re-emphasize our belief that whatever challenges arise, you will find Japan and the United States side by side, meeting them together. I look forward to continuing my work with my Japanese counterparts, and I look forward to your questions. Thank you.
QUESTION: My name is Mochizuki. I’m with the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. Thank you very much for doing this, and welcome to Japan. Let me start with a question about ISIL, the Islamic State. As you know, the Japanese government has been struggling to release Kenji Goto, who has been taken hostage by ISIL for a long time. And now the Jordanian government, who has been cooperating with Japan, is now saying that they can swap the prisoner in Jordan who is a terrorist in prison for 10 years, with the Jordanian pilot who has been taken hostage by the ISIL. So my question is, do you agree with such a kind of swap between prisoners and hostages? And also, we really want to express our gratitude to you because you expressed your solidarity with the Japanese people, but what kind of support can we expect from the U.S. government with this situation? Thank you.
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: I think you will all appreciate and understand that it is best for me not to answer your question – that what is most important right now is our support for the Japanese people and for Japan’s government and to do everything to bring Kenji Goto home. We will leave that to the discussions that are going on and the decisions that are being made by the government of Japan.
QUESTION: Isabel Reynolds from Bloomberg. On the same topic, you mentioned the Prime Minister’s speech in the Middle East and how you welcomed Japan’s contributions to the War on Terror. Are you at all concerned that the fact that this hostage crisis came immediately after that speech would make Japan waiver in its commitment to the War on Terror?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: There is nothing I have seen and nothing I have heard in my meetings here or in all of my contacts and discussions with my colleagues that leads me to any other conclusion but that Japan, like every other country in the world, believes strongly that the threat of terror must end and that all countries must do whatever we can to stop this inhumane set of acts.
QUESTION: Hello, my name is Kazuhiro Kuge from Kyodo News. Thank you for this opportunity. My question is about the meeting with Mr. Sugiyama tonight. What will be the main agenda of the meeting with Mr. Sugiyama, and could you give us some examples and details, if possible?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: In all of my discussions today – which have been excellent, including with your national security advisor and deputy foreign minister, and with some of your scholars as well, and again at dinner with Sugiyama-san – we have covered a range of issues: bilateral – how to strengthen our alliance to make it even stronger than it already is – and it’s an extraordinary alliance – all of the bilateral concerns and issues that we work on together. We’ve discussed regional issues including some that I mentioned in my opening remarks, and also global issues. We’ve discussed everything from the DPRK, which is both a regional and a global issue, to the Iran negotiations. We have discussed the situation in Ukraine. We’ve discussed the world economy. We have discussed the G7. So everything from the work we’re doing on the U.S-Japan Defense Guidelines to what the world is going to look like in this century. It’s been very wide-ranging – as one would expect in a relationship that is this deep and this strong, where we work side by side on virtually every issue of concern in the world.
QUESTION: Anna Fifield from the Washington Post. On North Korea, I’m sure you heard in Seoul this week that South Korea is very much now in engagement mode talking about dropping sanctions, talking about a summit with Kim Jong-un, and they could hardly be more different from your position, the American position, looking at increasing sanctions, the President talking about the inevitable collapse of North Korea. So how concerned are you about the fact that you allies now seem to be going in different directions and seem to be out of sync on North Korea, and how much does that complicate your efforts to get them back to the nuclear table?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Actually, I think there is absolutely no daylight between us and South Korea, and no daylight among any of the partners that are working as part of the Six-Party process – of course except North Korea, with which there is quite a bit of daylight. But with the other partners: none. And I had extensive discussions in both China and in Seoul, and of course here in Japan, and everyone is on the same page. We are completely supportive of President Park’s initiative to have discussions bilaterally with North Korea. She has said that denuclearization is the topic for those conversations, and we agree that that is the priority, as do all of our partners. Special Envoy Sung Kim was just here in Tokyo meeting trilaterally, and he has also had consultations with other partners including China and Russia. And everyone is on the same page: Denuclearization remains the priority. No one – no one – is taking any pressure off of North Korea. We expect there to be no further provocations, and we expect that North Korea will begin to take concrete steps to show that it is serious about denuclearization and making sure that this threat is removed from northeast Asia and from the world.
QUESTION: My name is Shota Sato. I work for TBS television in Tokyo, but I will ask my question in Japanese.
(Via interpreter) It is the 70th anniversary that we are marking this year after the end of World War II, and Prime Minister Abe intends to issue “Abe’s Statement.” There used to be a Murayama Statement and a Koizumi Statement and so forth, and the outline might be the same but the details will be different from the prime minister’s statement. Do you have any assessment or reaction to this?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: As I said, where the 70th anniversary is concerned, we see this as a time to really mark how much progress has been made in those 70 years and what we all have ahead of us. We understand that history remains, and we know that countries in the region are discussing the past as well as looking ahead to the future. And from the United States’ perspective, whatever the countries together resolve, whatever reconciliation works, whatever will strengthen relationships in the region is a good outcome. And we anticipate that we will have that good outcome, because my sense in all of my talks here in northeast Asia is that everyone wants to look ahead to an even better, brighter, stronger future here in northeast Asia, and in the world.
QUESTION: My name is Sakae Toiyama. I’m from Ryukyu Shimpo, Okinawa press. Let me ask my question in Japanese.
(Via interpreter) We have the Futenma issue in Okinawa with U.S. Forces in Japan. Last November, a governor opposed to the relocation of Futenma to Henoko was elected in Okinawa, and many Okinawans are opposed to the relocation. So I would appreciate your views on this, and what kind of discussion did you have during your stay in Japan about the Futenma relocation? Thank you.
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Well of course Futenma came up in my discussions, because it’s an issue of great concern for all of us. The U.S. and Japan have worked very hard to find a resolution that will work for everyone. We expect that the relocation will proceed along the lines that have been agreed, and the U.S. will do everything it can to deal with any impacts that concern the people of Japan.
QUESTION: Anthony Rowley, Singapore Business Times. This is perhaps only peripherally related to today’s subject, but as you are aware, 21 countries recently signed a memorandum of understanding in Beijing tentatively to join what is known as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Do you expect the United States to support that initiative, and if so, what will be the essential conditions that the United States will require?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Thank you. Actually, the Asian Investment Bank came up in my conversations on this trip. The United States’ position on this is that we will consider any infrastructure structure that helps to increase the prosperity and security of the region. But we want to make sure that any such bank or any such structure lives by international rules and norms, creates a fair playing field, and is in line with the other institutions that currently exist. Don’t replicate, but add to the strength and the value that they hope to bring to the table. So that is the basis on which we believe everyone should take a look at this idea.
QUESTION: Good afternoon, Madame Secretary. Mainichi Newspaper – my name is Omae. One more time, I have a question about ISIL. In the future, which kind of alliance or partnership do you expect with Japan? For instance, the EU is currently discussing the strategy against terrorism, so do you have any particular thing in your mind?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Well, the expectations – the expectations that I think Japan and every other country of the over 60 countries that are part of the anti-ISIL coalition – want, is to over time – because it will take time – to degrade and then take out ISIL. But this is not just a military campaign. That’s only one part of the anti-ISIL effort. There is also a need for humanitarian assistance, because there are so many refugees and internally displaced people, particularly out of Syria, as a result of ISIL’s actions. There is a need to deal with the issue of foreign fighters, people who go particularly to Syria and even Iraq to fight with ISIL and then may return to their home countries and create terror there – as we have seen unfortunately in the last weeks. There is an effort to counter violent extremism.
What can we do so that young people don’t think their future rests with q terror organization, but rests with a better education and building a strong economy so they have a job? It is also a strategy that involves strengthening and supporting the government of Iraq as it tries to gain control, and maintain control, of its country in the face of the threat of ISIL. So there are many prongs to this effort – stopping the financing mechanisms for ISIL. Countries around the world are doing different things to try to deal with this issue and to ensure that this threat is eliminated. This will take a considerable period of time to achieve, but there is intent from more than just the 60 countries, because many countries are doing this bilaterally or on their own even if they aren’t part of the anti-ISIL coalition.
QUESTION: Nishimura with Hokkaido Shimbun newspaper. Japan is expecting a visit from Russian President Putin this year. What kind of outcome do you expect if it happens with the timing when Russia and Ukraine have a serious issue?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: The decision about visits is a decision for any country to make, not for the U.S. to make for another country, so I will leave it for Japan to make its own decision. What I will say, which the European Union in its Foreign Affairs Council meeting reinforced yesterday, is that Russian aggression in Ukraine in support of the separatists is continuing and getting worse. The aggression in Mariupol last week that left 30 dead, including women, children, the elderly as well as over 100 injured, is something that must stop. And the European Union yesterday – and we are certainly in concert with this – said the sanctions would continue and that they would consider additional sanctions if this aggression continues.
There are many places where we work with Russia on challenges around the world. Certainly Russia is an important partner in the Six-Party Talks and an important partner in the P5+1 negotiations with Iran, but in Ukraine and on the issue of Ukraine, Russian support for the separatists and for the aggression which has taken place, for the attempt to annex Crimea, is something that should not be happening. The world community is responding to that in every way, as it must.