Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Yang Man-Hee of Seoul Broadcasting System

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Seoul, Korea

Chief of Mission Residence

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) I understand that you will soon leave the country to have a meeting with China, and I would like to thank you very much for selecting SBS for your last interview before leaving the country.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  It’s good to be with you.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) So my first question will be whether you’re overall satisfied with this various consultation that you had with the ROK Government during your visit this time.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  The short answer is yes, we had very productive meetings.  And this is my first overseas trip as Secretary of State.  I was joined here by our Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, also his first overseas trip.  And it’s no accident that we made that first trip here to Korea as well as to Japan.  It was very important to President Biden to demonstrate the value that we place upon the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea, an alliance that has stood us in such good stead over many, many years.

We talk about the linchpin of peace, security and prosperity in the region, and we wanted to reaffirm that alliance, but not just reaffirm it – build on it.  And I think over the last 36 hours or so, that’s exactly what we’ve done.  We’ve had very productive meetings with our counterparts.  We were honored to be received by President Moon.  And I think we have a very good work program going forward on so many different issues, issues – bilateral issues between the United States and Korea, regional issues, and global issues.  We’re working on all of those different fronts.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) So I understand that you just came out of a meeting with President Moon, and I was wondering whether you talked about resuming this Korean Peninsula peace process, whether it was brought up during your meeting with President Moon.  And also, I understand that next month, President Biden will have a face-to-face meeting for the first time in a long while with the prime minister of Japan.  I was wondering whether you have a similar plan with President Moon.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It was an honor to be received by President Moon.  We had a very good conversation about the many issues that we discussed in our ministerial meetings over the last day.  And yes, we certainly discussed the Korean Peninsula issues, the DPRK.  And we’re in the midst of a review of our policy that President Biden instructed us to conduct.  And a critical part of that review is to consult very closely with Korea as well as with Japan and other allies and partners.  We’re in the midst of doing that, and the last 24 hours were incredibly helpful to us in hearing from our partners here their perspectives, their views, which will be fully integrated into the work that we’re doing.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) So maybe because you visited South Korea, North Korea started reacting to it and came out with some statements.  And Foreign Minister Chung said that’s North Korea’s own way of expressing that it’s interested in this.  So what do you think of that comment by North Korea?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I’m aware of the statements made by North Korea, but the statements I’m most interested in right now are the ones coming from our allies and partners to make sure that we have all of their views and perspectives as we undertake this review of our North Korea policy.  So that’s what I’m focused on right now.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) I understand that you have strongly criticized human rights abuse in China and North Korea, but due to Korea’s complex relationship with China and North Korea, Korea hasn’t really fully come out strongly condemning such situation in North Korea.  Do you think Korea should change its policy direction in terms of human rights issues?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  President Biden feels very strongly that for the United States, we need to put human rights and democracy back at the heart of our foreign policy, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.  But we’re not doing it on a selective basis.  When we see countries abusing in egregious ways human rights, we will speak up and speak out, and so that’s what we’re doing.  But that’s the focus that the President has asked us to bring to our foreign policy, and we’re acting on that.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) During Obama administration, you were working as a deputy secretary, and during those time, you were involved in addressing North Korean nuclear issue.  And back then, you were saying the pressure campaign against North Korea through China and other countries are effective way to deal with North Korea.  But that has – that’s been a long time ever since you did that, and then North Korea came out with the statement that we need new change and direction of dealing with all this.  And then some people are saying North Korea has almost completed its nuclear arsenal.

So do you still believe that sanctions and pressure campaign is still effective measure to deal with North Korea?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I don’t want to get ahead of our review or the results of our review, but what I can tell you is we have a very open mind as we’re conducting the review.  We’re considering all different perspectives on the issue, especially the perspectives of our closest partners here in South Korea and Japan, but I don’t want to get ahead of the results.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) You emphasized the trilateral coordination between Korea, Japan, and the United States as very important for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific area, and now we’re – already had a Quad meeting happen and there – some people are discussing or – discussing or thinking of a possibility of extending the Quad group.  So what do you think Korea’s role in participating in any way in the Quad?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first, on the trilateral cooperation, I found that to be extremely productive, and I think it is vital to our common security that we engage together on the issue of North Korea with South Korea, with Japan.  And when I was working on these issues before as deputy secretary of state during the Obama administration, the trilateral cooperation was extremely productive not just on – in terms of North Korea, but on many, many issues that our three countries have in common and have to deal with together to deal with them effectively.  So we’ve already, in the context of the review that we’re undertaking, had trilateral conversations led on our side by the former ambassador here, Sung Kim, and I look forward to doing more on that.

We’re also involved in a number of informal sub-regional gatherings like the Quad, like the trilateral cooperation with Japan and Korea.  We’re working closely with Korea on its own strategy for the South.  And I’m sure we’ll find ways to cooperate and do things with the Quad as well.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) When you were deputy secretary before, you created this consultative body between the U.S. and Korea and Japan to handle this comfort women issue, but compared to that, current state of Korea and Japan relationship is very, very worse compared to that.  So what do you think the State Department can do to take part in this issue, and if you have any initiative or ideas or concept to how you’d like – involved in this?  Do you – can you share that with us?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, we know, of course, that there are very sensitive and difficult issues of history between our partners.  And what I would say is that we would, as we have in the past, encourage them to try to work through them in a spirit of reconciliation.  At the same time, we have challenges today, challenges we’ll face tomorrow, that I think make it imperative that we find ways to work together.  And so I hope that even as Korea and Japan are addressing these issues of history, we’re also finding ways to work together to deal with the issues of today.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) My last question would be:  Currently, the special ambassador or envoy to handle the North Korea nuclear issue is still empty.  When do we know who is going to be in that position?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, we’re, of course, just, what, about two months into the administration.  We’re working very, very hard to fill the most senior positions, including envoys and ambassadors.  And so I think you’ll see that in relatively short order in the weeks or certainly the months ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Thanks very much.  Nice to see you again.

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    In U.S GAO News
    Based on Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) data and GAO estimates, most U.S. large commercial jet airplanes are certificated at the minimum required stage 3 noise standards, but nearly all of them are able to meet more stringent noise standards. Sixty-three percent of large commercial airplanes in the United States are certificated as meeting the stage 3 standards; however, 87 percent of them were manufactured with technologies that are able to meet more recent and stringent stage 4 or 5 standards as currently configured, according to FAA's 2017 analysis. By analyzing updated data from airlines and aviation manufacturers, GAO estimated that this proportion is even higher: 96 percent of large commercial airplanes are able to meet stage 4 or 5 standards (see figure). According to FAA officials and aviation stakeholders, the primary reason many large commercial airplanes certificated as stage 3 produce lower than stage 3 noise levels is because engine and airframe technology has outpaced the implementation of noise standards. More recently, some airlines have accelerated retirement of certain airplanes, some of which are certificated as stage 3, due to the decrease in travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic. For the generally smaller regional commercial jets (i.e., generally with less than 90 seats), 86 percent are able to meet stage 4 or stage 5 standards, according to manufacturers' data. With regard to general aviation (which are used for personal or corporate flights), 73 percent of the jet airplanes in that fleet are able to meet the more stringent stage 4 or 5 standards, according to manufacturers' data. GAO Estimate of The Number of Large Airplanes in the U.S. Commercial Fleet That Are Able to Meet Stage 3 or Stage 4 and 5 Noise Standards, January 2020 According to stakeholders GAO interviewed, a phase-out of jet airplanes that are certificated as meeting stage 3 standards would provide limited noise reduction and limited other benefits, and could be costly and present other challenges. A phase-out could require recertificating the vast majority of stage 3 airplanes to comply with stage 4 or 5 standards. This process could be costly for operators and manufacturers but would provide little reduction in noise. Further, airplanes currently unable to meet more stringent standards would require modifications or face retirement. For older airplanes that could not be recertificated to meet stage 4 or 5 standards, some operators could incur costs for replacement airplanes sooner than originally planned. Although stakeholders indicated that a phase-out would not substantially reduce noise, they identified other limited benefits newer airplanes generate, such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption. Although advances in technology have led to quieter aircraft capable of meeting increasingly stringent noise standards, airport noise remains a concern. FAA regulates aircraft noise by ensuring compliance with relevant noise standards. In 1990, federal law required large jet airplanes to comply with stage 3 noise standards by 1999, leading to a phase-out of the noisiest airplanes (stage 1 and 2 airplanes). Later, federal law required smaller airplanes to comply with stage 3 standards by 2016. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 included a provision for GAO to review a potential phase-out of stage 3 airplanes—the loudest aircraft currently operating in the United States. This report describes (1) the proportion of stage 3 airplanes in the U.S. fleet, and what proportion of these stage 3 airplanes are able to meet more stringent noise standards and (2) selected stakeholders' views on the potential benefits, costs, and challenges of phasing out stage 3 airplanes. GAO reviewed FAA's analysis of December 2017 fleet data, analyzed January 2020 fleet data from select airlines and airframe and engine manufacturers, and interviewed FAA officials. GAO also interviewed a non-generalizable sample of 35 stakeholders, including airlines; airframe and engine manufacturers; airports; and industry associations, selected based on fleet and noise data, stakeholder recommendations, or prior GAO knowledge. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or krauseh@gao.gov.
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  • Nuclear Weapons: NNSA Should Further Develop Cost, Schedule, and Risk Information for the W87-1 Warhead Program
    In U.S GAO News
    The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) did not consider cost estimates in early major design decisions for the W87-1 warhead because it was not required to do so, but NNSA has since changed its guidance to require that cost be considered, according to a May 2019 NNSA review of program documentation. The design decisions that remain for features that would achieve either minimum or enhanced requirements for the W87-1 could affect cost, according to NNSA officials (see table). We found, however, that NNSA did not yet have study plans for assessing the costs and benefits of the remaining decisions consistent with best practices as detailed in NNSA's analysis of alternatives business procedure. NNSA does not require and only recommends that programs such as the W87-1 follow these best practices. By directing the W87-1 program and future weapons programs to follow best practices for design studies, or to justify and document deviations, NNSA would have better assurance that design studies apply consistent, reliable, and objective approaches. NNSA Cost Estimates for W87-1 Warhead Design Variations That Meet Minimum and Enhanced Requirements, as of December 2018 (Dollars in billions) W87-1 design variations Cost estimate rangea Design includes features that meet minimum safety and security requirements 7.7 - 13.3 Design includes enhanced safety and security features 8.6 - 14.8 Difference between the above estimate ranges 0.9 - 1.5 Source: National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) documentation | GAO-20-703 aThe cost ranges reflect low and high estimates for a single design variation. The ranges represent technical and production risk and uncertainty. It is not clear that NNSA will be able to produce sufficient numbers of pits—the fissile cores of the primary—to meet the W87-1 warhead's planned production schedule. Recent NNSA and independent studies have cast doubt on NNSA's ability to ready its two planned pit production facilities in time. If one facility is not ready to produce pits in the early 2030s, for example, NNSA would likely produce fewer weapons than planned, according to GAO's analysis of NNSA plans. We were unable to fully assess the extent to which the two pit production facilities will be ready to produce pits for the W87-1 because NNSA's plutonium program—which is managing the facility readiness efforts—has not yet completed an integrated schedule for the overall pit production effort. An integrated schedule is important, according to best practices, because it integrates the planned work, resources, and budget. An NNSA official stated that the program was building a schedule, but could not provide documentation that it would meet best practices. A schedule consistent with best practices would provide NNSA with better assurance that it will have adequate pits to meet planned W87-1 production. This is a public version of a classified report that GAO issued in February 2020. Information that NNSA or DOD deemed classified or sensitive has been omitted. The Department of Defense (DOD) and NNSA restarted a program in fiscal year 2019 to replace the capabilities of the aging W78 nuclear warhead with the W87-1. NNSA made key design decisions for this weapon from 2010 until the program was paused in 2014. NNSA estimated in December 2018 that the W87-1 would cost $8.6 billion to $14.8 billion, which could make it the most expensive warhead modernization program to date. NNSA plans to newly manufacture the entire warhead, including the two major nuclear components, called the primary and secondary, using facilities it is modernizing or repurposing. You asked us to examine plans for the W87-1 warhead. This report examines, among other things, the extent to which NNSA (1) considered cost estimates in prior design decisions for the W87-1 and the potential effects of remaining design decisions on program cost, and (2) will be able to produce sufficient numbers of key nuclear components to meet W87-1 production needs. GAO reviewed NNSA documentation on prior and remaining design decisions and preliminary cost estimates, reviewed warhead and component production schedules, and interviewed NNSA and DOD officials. GAO is making four recommendations, including that NNSA require programs such as the W87-1 to follow analysis of alternatives best practices when studying design options and that the plutonium program build an integrated schedule consistent with schedule best practices. NNSA generally agreed with the recommendations. For more information, contact Allison B. Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or bawdena@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 (the act) defines telework as a work flexibility arrangement under which an employee performs the duties and responsibilities of their position and other authorized activities from an approved worksite other than the location from which the employee would otherwise work. GAO previously identified key practices in telework-related literature and guidelines that federal agencies should implement in ensuring successful telework programs. These key practices may be grouped under seven categories. Program planning. Consistent with a key practice GAO identified, agencies are required to have a telework managing officer. Other key practices related to planning for a telework program include establishing measurable telework program goals, and providing funding to meet the needs of the telework program. Telework policies. Agencies can help ensure their workforces are telework ready by establishing telework policies and guidance. To ensure that teleworkers are approved on an equitable basis, agencies should establish eligibility criteria, such as suitability of tasks and employee performance. Agencies should also have telework agreements for use between teleworkers and their managers. Performance management. Agencies should ensure that the same performance standards are used to evaluate both teleworkers and nonteleworkers. Agencies should also establish guidelines to minimize adverse impacts that telework can have on nonteleworkers. Managerial support. For telework programs to be successful agencies need support from top management. They also need to address managerial resistance to telework. Training and publicizing. Telework training helps agencies ensure a common understanding of the program. The act requires agencies to provide telework training to employees eligible to telework and to managers of teleworkers. Keeping the workforce informed about the program also helps. Technology. Agencies need to make sure teleworkers have the right technology to successfully perform their duties. To that end, agencies should assess teleworker and organization technology needs, provide technical support to teleworkers, and address access and security issues. Program evaluation. Agencies should develop program evaluation tools and use such tools from the very inception of the program to identify problems or issues. Agencies can then use this information to make any needed adjustments to their programs. GAO has previously reported instances where selected agencies faced challenges implementing telework programs that aligned with key practices. For example, three of four selected agencies did not require review or document their review of ongoing telework agreements. These reviews are important to provide assurance that the agreements reflect and support their current business needs. GAO also previously reported that managers at three of four selected agencies were not required to complete telework training before approving staff's telework agreements. The training is important to ensure managers fully understood agency telework policy and goals before approving or denying requests to telework. Telework offers benefits to federal agencies as well as to the federal workforce. These include improving recruitment and retention of employees, reducing the need for costly office space, and an opportunity to better balance work and family demands. In addition, telework is a tool that agencies can use to help accomplish their missions during periods of disruption, including during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Congress has encouraged federal agencies to expand staff participation in telework, most recently by passing the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 (the act). The act established requirements for executive agencies' telework policies and programs, among other things. This statement provides key practices to help ensure the success of telework programs. The statement is based on GAO's body of work on federal telework issued from July 2003 through February 2017. GAO has recently initiated two reviews related to federal telework. One is examining the extent to which agencies have used telework during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the successes and challenges agencies experienced. The second is reviewing agencies' telework information technology infrastructure. For more information, contact Michelle B. Rosenberg at (202) 512-6806 or rosenbergm@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Selected states and localities have taken steps to make voting prior to Election Day accessible for people with disabilities, but election officials and advocacy officials reported that challenges persist. Election officials reported taking steps to make in-person early voting accessible such as addressing barriers to physical access and providing accessible voting equipment (see figure), but election and advocacy officials reported challenges including physical obstacles such as gravel parking lots and voting equipment not being set up properly. Voting by mail may be an accessible option and has been used more frequently by those with disabilities than others. However, election and advocacy officials also noted that some voters with disabilities have difficulty marking paper mail ballots; six of seven states GAO contacted offer them electronic delivery and marking options. Steps Taken by Selected States and Localities to Make Early In-Person Voting Accessible Selected states and localities have taken steps to make voting information available and accessible, but voters with disabilities may encounter challenges with both. States and some localities have provided information about accessible voting options on their websites, but advocacy officials reported challenges, such as one state not providing information about the accessibility features of its voting equipment. States have also taken steps to make websites accessible, such as ensuring compatibility with screen readers used by people with visual disabilities. However, election and advocacy officials reported, among other things, that some website content such as digital materials, lacks accessibility features and some content is not written in plain language. Federal agencies have assisted state and local election officials in their efforts to ensure accessible voting. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has provided guidance and educational resources on voting accessibility, such as a checklist for assessing polling places, which some selected states and localities have found useful. The Election Assistance Commission (EAC)—a national clearinghouse of information about election administration—has also provided resources on topics such as accessible voting equipment and partnering with disability advocates. However, selected states and localities GAO contacted reported mixed feedback on the usefulness of EAC resources. Although the EAC communicates regularly with election officials, it does not have a mechanism for collecting and using feedback from these officials about the usefulness of its existing accessibility resources or additional resource needs. Implementing such a mechanism would better positon the EAC to meet election officials' needs. Why GAO Did This Study An estimated 38 million Americans with disabilities were eligible to vote in the November 2020 election, according to a Rutgers University study. Federal law generally requires that all aspects of voting be accessible to people with disabilities. Recent increases in voting in person and by mail prior to Election Day have focused attention on these voting modes. GAO was asked to examine the accessibility of voting prior to Election Day and voting information. This report addresses steps taken by selected states and localities to (1) make voting prior to Election Day accessible, and the challenges in doing so; and (2) make voting information available and accessible, and the challenges in doing so. It also addresses (3) DOJ and EAC efforts to assist states and localities with voting accessibility. GAO interviewed state election and advocacy officials in seven states, and local officials in six of the states and reviewed associated documentation. These states were selected to provide variation in turnout between voters with and without disabilities, and election policies, among other factors. The results from these states and localities are not generalizable, but provide perspectives on accessibility. GAO also analyzed 2016 and 2020 data from a nationwide survey of voters, reviewed DOJ and EAC guidance and resources, and interviewed federal officials.
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    The Department of Defense (DOD) continues to face financial management issues and challenges that have prevented it from obtaining a clean audit opinion on the fair presentation of its financial statements. Specifically, financial statement auditors issued disclaimers of opinion on DOD's and the military services' fiscal year 2018 and 2019 financial statements. These disclaimers resulted from numerous material weaknesses based on thousands of notices of findings and recommendations (NFR) that the auditors issued. Of the 2,409 NFRs issued to DOD and its components in fiscal year 2018, DOD's auditors were able to close 623 (26 percent) in fiscal year 2019; the remaining 1,786 (74 percent) remained open. These results provide useful insights on DOD's remediation progress since beginning department-wide full audits in fiscal year 2018; it is important for DOD to equal or exceed this progress in the future. Financial statement audits have value beyond the audit opinion and can help management save resources and improve military readiness. DOD leadership identified a number of benefits that resulted from these financial statement audits. For example, the Navy identified a warehouse that was not in its property records that contained approximately $126 million in aircraft parts. The Navy was able to fill over $20 million in open orders for these parts. By using these parts, aircraft were repaired quicker and made available for use, which improved military readiness. To help guide and prioritize department-wide efforts, DOD identified eight audit remediation priority areas (four in 2019 and four in 2020), seven of which specifically related to material weaknesses that its auditor reported. The military services also developed methodologies to prioritize NFRs and determined that over half of their fiscal year 2018 NFRs are high priority and significant to their financial statement audits. DOD and its components have taken steps to develop corrective action plans (CAP) to address NFRs. However, most of the CAPs that GAO tested did not include at least one data element or evidence that a root-cause analysis was performed, as directed by Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and other related guidance, in part, because DOD guidance and monitoring efforts did not clearly identify the need for such documentation. As a result, DOD and its components may lack sufficient information and assurance that their remediation efforts will resolve the underlying causes associated with the NFRs and related material weaknesses. Based on these issues, DOD and its components are at increased risk that their actions may not effectively address identified deficiencies in a timely manner. DOD developed an NFR Database that contains useful information on deficiencies that financial auditors identified and actions to address them, which has improved its ability to monitor and report on audit remediation efforts using dashboard reports based on real-time data contained in the database. However, certain database information on which these reports are based may not be accurate, reliable, and complete. For example, although DOD reviews NFR Database information monthly, it does not follow up on instances of outdated information or other exceptions identified to ensure components resolve them timely. Without complete and reliable information on DOD's audit remediation efforts, internal and external stakeholders may not have quality information to effectively monitor and measure DOD's progress. DOD is responsible for about half of the federal government's discretionary spending, yet it remains the only major federal agency that has been unable to receive a clean audit opinion on its financial statements. After years of working toward financial statement audit readiness, DOD underwent full financial statement audits in fiscal years 2018 and 2019. This report, developed in connection with fulfilling GAO's mandate to audit the U.S. government's consolidated financial statements, examines the (1) actions taken by DOD and the military services to prioritize financial statement audit findings; (2) extent to which DOD and its components developed CAPs to address audit findings in accordance with OMB, DOD, and other guidance; and (3) extent to which DOD improved its ability to monitor and report on audit remediation efforts. GAO reviewed documentation and interviewed officials about DOD's and the military services' audit remediation prioritization, monitoring, and reporting. GAO selected a generalizable sample of 98 NFRs to determine whether CAPs to address them were developed according to established guidance. GAO is making five recommendations to DOD to improve the quality of CAPs to address audit findings and information in the NFR Database and related reports provided to internal and external stakeholders to monitor and assess audit remediation efforts. DOD concurred with three of GAO's recommendations, partially concurred with one recommendation, and disagreed with one recommendation. GAO continues to believe that all the recommendations are valid. For more information, contact Asif A. Khan at (202) 512-9869 or khana@gao.gov.
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