Joint Press Availability With Mongolian Foreign Minister Purevsuren Lundeg

FOREIGN MINISTER PUREVSUREN: (Via interpreter) Good morning. On the invitation by the Mongolian Government, John Kerry, the Secretary, has been making state visit to Mongolia. Mongolia and the U.S. has – have been expanding its cooperation in a variety of sectors. From the beginning of the democratic movement in Mongolia, the U.S. was our partner, one of the most important, third neighbor of Mongolia. Third neighbor relationship is not only at the level of political ties, but also in terms of the friendship between the people, we have been enjoying such a friendship.

Today – and in other sectors, we have exchanged our views – in particular, to develop people-to-people connections and cultural connections. We also discussed about Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact and implementation of the second compact. Both parties are – both countries are working diligently to implement this initiative.

We also talked about regional and international issues. State – Secretary of State John Kerry will meet volunteers from Peace Corps after this press conference. He will also meet with representatives of Mongolian Young Leaders and he will pay a visit to President Elbegdorj, and after that, he will have the opportunity to experience Mongolian Naadam. Thank you.

Thank you. And I would like to invite John Kerry to make a brief statement.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. (Inaudible.) Good to be here with all of you. I’ve really been looking forward to visiting Mongolia for some period of time, and the minister and I had a chance to talk when we visited last time. I promised him I would get here, and it seemed like a good opportunity as I am going to two days of discussions in China. It’s really good to be meeting with my friend, the foreign minister, also to participate in a working lunch with President Elbegdorj, and frankly, just to soak up a little bit of the culture of the country in the short time that I am here.

There’s a perception among some people that the United States and Mongolia are distant from one another, and – but we don’t define our relationship in the context of just miles or geography. It’s not true that we are distant from each other. Geographically, we also share the same neighbors across the narrow reaches of the Northern Pacific and, when it comes to our hopes, our aspirations for our people, the type of governments that we have both chosen to implement, we really couldn’t be closer.

A little more than a quarter of a century ago, Mongolia chose democracy. And through the time since then, the United States has sought to help. We have supported projects, as the minister just mentioned – the Millennium Challenge Corporation – projects to spur economic growth, reduce poverty, including this $285 million compact through the Millennium Challenge Corporation. It has been doing a great deal now to build roads, to help on health, education, and other issues. We have backed initiatives to improve education and increase access to energy, to fight pollution, to empower women, to halt trafficking in persons, and to advance human rights. And we have worked hard to expand both academic and cultural exchange programs.

So we remain very fully committed to strengthening the bilateral economic relationship. And just this week, our Commerce Department will be leading a delegation of U.S. agricultural firms to explore opportunities for new investment in Mongolia in this connection. Now, I understand the Mongolian Government soon intends to implement our bilateral Transparency Agreement. And I have to tell you that this agreement, the implementation of this agreement, is really key – a very important step to be able to attract foreign direct investment. And foreign investment is critical to the growth and development and kicking the Mongolian economy back into gear.

Another reason that we value our friendship with Mongolia is that it is playing a very important role as a responsible global citizen. Obviously, it’s a young democracy, but it nevertheless is sharing the lessons of its own evolution with other countries, particularly with Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar. And Myanmar, as we all know, has undergone an historic transformation. Mongolia is playing a very constructive role at the UN Human Rights Council, in the Community of Democracies, and as a member of the Freedom Online Coalition. So its – in addition to that, Mongolia has committed peacekeeping troops who are widely respected and have helped to make a difference in Sudan, South Sudan, and elsewhere. They’ve also been serving alongside American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. So just what I just articulated describes a very fulsome global relationship on the part of a small country, but a country that recognizes the importance of its global citizenship responsibilities. Just this past week, the United States was very pleased to co-sponsor the Khaan Quest Exercises with Mongolia – which was a massive operation that brings together more than 40 nations and 2,000 participants to improve peacekeeping practices and tactics.

And perhaps the clearest sign of closeness between our countries is our joint commitment to stronger people-to-people ties. To facilitate travel, my government is working to make it easier for Mongolian businesspeople, students, and tourists to obtain visas. And the United States is also sustaining its commitment to the highly successful Peace Corps program, which, I’m happy to tell you all has just marked 25 years of remarkable service here.

With us today, in fact, are a group of current and former Peace Corps volunteers who represent more than 1,150 men and women who have served in each of Mongolia’s 21 provinces. And I want to thank all of you for what you have done to assist in language training, in health and community development and, most of all, in just building the bonds of friendship between our countries, which is vital. You’ve been terrific representatives of America and we are very grateful to the relationship between Mongolia and the Peace Corps.

The bottom line is very simple: Mongolia has made remarkable progress for a young democracy even as it strives to strengthen its institutions and to keep up with the hopes of its people. A little later I’m going to have a chance to meet, as the minister said, with a group of young leaders and I very much look forward to hearing from them about how to accelerate their desire to grow their democracy, grow their economy , growth their own participation in the affairs of their nation.

So I thank my friend, Foreign Minister Purevsuren, for his welcome here, for his dogged representation of his country. I’m grateful for the warm welcome and would be very happy to answer a couple questions.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) – a question from Mongolian press, and after that, from the U.S. press. Now we’ll take the question.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Good afternoon. From the Mongolian National Broadcast, my name is Tuson Jargo (ph). When we talk about America, Mongolians wish for one thing: that is to travel to U.S. without visa. American citizens have been traveling to Mongolia without a visa since 2000 – in 1991, and when will Mongolia gain a visa-free status?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re working at it and we hope it’ll be sooner rather than later. We are not trying to resist. We want Mongolian students to come to America. We want travelers, we want tourists, we want businesspeople. We really want to have a robust exchange of our citizens. And we’re proud of the fact that so many people respect the relationship that we already have developed, but we have a very fixed legislatively mandated set of requirements that have to be met in terms of our visa-free program. And we’ve agreed – we talked about it just this morning. We’ve agreed to redouble our efforts and to work harder to make sure that the requirements that are set out by the United States Congress, which I have to meet, are in fact being met. The sooner we can do that, the better as far as we’re concerned. But we have some work to do.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you. Now we’ll take one question from representative from the U.S. press.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary and foreign minister. Secretary Kerry, you just mentioned that you are heading to China for the last round of Strategic & Economic Dialogue with China. The talk is meant to defuse tensions in about the regional hot issues, but tensions on the South China Sea has been increasing and we have heard Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has some very serious concern. What more can the United States do to disencourage China from further militarization of the disputed islands in the South China Sea? Also, does talks about China planning to announce an ADIZ, which is Air Defense Identification Zone. What is your take on that? Is that consider as a red line?

SECRETARY KERRY: So let me take the second part of your question first, but I’ll answer both parts of the question, obviously. We would consider an ADIZ, an ADIZ zone, over portions of the South China Sea as a provocative and destabilizing act, which would automatically raise tensions and call into serious question China’s commitment to diplomatically manage the territorial disputes of the South China Sea. So we urge China not to move unilaterally in ways that are provocative.

We have consistently said to China – this is the second part of your question – the first part of your question. We have consistently said to China we don’t take sides – in anybody who is a claim – claimant, we don’t take sides on the claims. What we do say is that neither – nobody, no party – should try to resolve those claims by unilaterally moving to alter the facts in the South China Sea and then try to present them as fait accompli, they cannot be negotiated.

We have heard President Xi come to Washington and say that they – China – will not engage in militarization of the – of the sea, of the reefs, islands. And we believe that it is critical that no country move unilaterally to militarize the region. What we are urging is a diplomatic, political resolution. We are urging countries to meet bilaterally. We’re urging them to engage in a discussion, and our hope is that that’s the means by which this is going to be resolved. The United States will always back up diplomatic initiative. We support a quiet process of diplomacy, which is far preferable to unilateral actions that raise the tensions of the Sea.

We are not making any acts within the Sea thus far who have secured land or to have staked a claim of one kind or another on behalf of one country or another. We are simply urging the diplomatic process, dialogue, negotiation, and try to resolve this peacefully and respectfully through rule of law and through the institutions that have been set up in order to implement rule of law resolution.

MODERATOR: Thank you for coming. Now the press conference is closed.