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U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing

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1-7Defection of Senior North Korean Official/Request for Political Asylum in the U.S.

DPB # 122
TUESDAY, AUGUST 26, 1997 12:33 P.M.

MR. RUBIN: Greetings. I know that we had not intended to have a briefing today, as part of our August schedule. But in light of the fact that there was a more than a little interest in the subject of Korea, I am here to take your questions on that subject.


QUESTION: Could you verify, first, that the ambassador and his brother have defected? Are they here? How many members of the family? Details, if you could.

MR. RUBIN: Ambassador Chang Sung-Kil and his brother, Chang Sung-Ho, a diplomat in Paris, along with Ambassador Chang Sung-Kil's wife, have sought and been given asylum in the United States.

That's all I really have on that. As you will see, in light of your future questions, I'm going to be very circumspect on this subject. Cases of this nature are very sensitive. The concerns involving the people and their interests are always very sensitive. I'm not authorized to provide all that much information, but I'll do the best I can.

QUESTION: When you say asylum in the United States, are they literally in the United States?


QUESTION: They are here?


QUESTION: Jamie, yesterday the United States wasn't forthcoming with any details about the defection. However, Seoul was coming forth with reports by the minute today and yesterday. Is there a reason - why were you trying to suppress this yesterday? And are you upset that Seoul was so forthcoming with the information?

MR. RUBIN: Let me say this - when you're dealing with a case like this - this kind of sensitivity - it's very important to make decisions about what you say officially, on behalf of the United States Government, and that is what we do here in the State Department briefing room.

We did not think it was in the interest of those involved to discuss it yesterday. The situation has now evolved to the point where we believe the information can be provided more safely, and some details can be provided. But again, the details that I can provide are very limited.

QUESTION: Were you upset that Seoul reported on this so heavily, though? Was the United States disappointed in that?

MR. RUBIN: I did not see any official announcement from the South Korean Government.

QUESTION: Jamie, how is this going to affect the missile talks tomorrow in New York?

MR. RUBIN: We understand Bob Einhorn, our lead negotiator, is scheduled to go to New York tomorrow to negotiate with his counterpart on the subject of missile proliferation. This is the third round of talks that we have had with the North Koreans.

Mr. Einhorn's North Korean counterpart is Mr. Li. He's the director of the DPRK's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on this issue. As you know, we have very serious concerns about missile proliferation. This is part of a series of discussions we've been having that came out of the nuclear framework agreement that we negotiated with North Korea, that froze their nuclear program in its tracks and was able to protect our interests in the region quite successfully. It has been working quite successfully.

Now, we are trying to add to that by seeing what we can do to limit the risks to our forces, to the region from missile proliferation in the area and from the existing missile capabilities that the North Koreans have.


QUESTION: Jamie, is this the highest ranking North Korean to defect to the United States? What other defections to the United States have there been? And what --

MR. RUBIN: It is my understanding this is the highest ranking case of this kind.

QUESTION: Have there been others? To the United States?

MR. RUBIN: Other cases?

QUESTION: Other cases of North Korean officials defecting to the United States?

MR. RUBIN: I'll have to get you more information on that, but I think it's clearly the highest ranking case.

QUESTION: It's been reported that this particular gentleman - the ambassador to Cairo - would be in a position to know quite a bit about whatever missile proliferation might have gone on, on the part of North Korea. Does that seem right to you? And is the U.S. hoping to learn a good deal from the gentleman?

MR. RUBIN: Again, when talking about cases of this kind, one has to be quite circumspect. We have no reason to believe he has any direct connection to the ongoing missile negotiations that I've seen speculation on in the media.

But again, exactly what happens in terms of information this gentleman chooses to provide and the kind of information it is, is of a character that we normally don't discuss from this podium.

QUESTION: Have you contacted the North Koreans?

MR. RUBIN: We have not - are not aware of any official public reaction. I think there has been contact in the course of ensuring that the missile talks go forward, and we have no reason to believe that they won't.


QUESTION: Was the reason for your reluctance to talk about it yesterday because they were still en route to the United States? And can you tell us if they're on the Eastern seaboard?

MR. RUBIN: Again, this is a very sensitive case. The interests of the families are involved. We are going to make our decisions based on those interests, although we respect greatly the interests of the media in trying to report on this. The reason I'm here today is to be able to give you information that was not easily obtained from the system. I worked very hard to get you what I could get you.

Yesterday we believed it was not in the interest of those involved to discuss the details of the case, and so I pursued a much beloved line of response called, no comment.

QUESTION: Can you say when they actually arrived in the United States?

MR. RUBIN: Perhaps we can get you some more detail on that. But again, what we're trying to do here is provide you with the basic information that these people have been given asylum in the United States. I'll try to see what more I can eke out of the system, but I'm not all that optimistic.

QUESTION: Jamie, you say you have no reason to believe that the North Koreans won't show up at the missile talks tomorrow. Do you have any reason to believe they will? Chuck Kartman spent about half his career waiting for the North Koreans to come to New York. There were times when they didn't do it.

MR. RUBIN: Well, I did just speak to Mr. Einhorn, and he's got his plane ticket and he's going. We think the talks will go on schedule.

Yes, Roy.

QUESTION: Did the U.S. Government or its personnel have any prior contact with either of these men, before they sought asylum here?

MR. RUBIN: It would not be appropriate for me to discuss that kind of detail.


QUESTION: What were the circumstances in which they sought asylum? It's been reported that they showed up at the embassy over the weekend in Cairo. Can you say something more about the circumstances?

And in your discussion about the reason why you didn't want to say anything more yesterday, you said it was - you used the term that it would not be - it was considered yesterday not to be safe for you to say something --

MR. RUBIN: I don't think I used that word.

QUESTION: Yes, you used the word safely -- it could not be safely discussed yesterday.

MR. RUBIN: It wouldn't be in the interest of those involved was what I said.

QUESTION: Safely - I assume because they were still in transit, is that what you meant to say?

MR. RUBIN: All of you in this room have reported on cases of this kind for many, many years. People say the State Department press corps has people who have covered the same subject for a very long time.

I think if you go back and look at cases like this, you will see all the reasons why we do not provide official government information from a podium like this, with regard to specific details of what may or may not have happened before an action of this kind, during an action of this kind and after an action of this kind. Those decisions are made for very good reasons. Safety is certainly one of them.

QUESTION: Jamie, can you tell us - (inaudible) - whether the guy showed up at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Sunday, over the weekend?

MR. RUBIN: Again, the actions that were taken before asylum was granted, during asylum's granting and subsequently or at this time -- we do not think would be appropriate.

I will work very hard between now and tomorrow to push the system further. If I have as much luck during the course of the next 24 hours as I had in the last 24, there will be more information tomorrow.

QUESTION: Do you know why he sought asylum?

MR. RUBIN: Again, that would fall into the category of information I can't provide at this time.

Again, there's always a choice when you come down to a room like this - whether you provide what you know, knowing how little you're going to be able to say, or whether you continue to say no comment. I thought it was better for all of you to know that they have sought asylum; they're in the United States; and we don't believe this will have any effect on the missile talks, nor do we believe this will have any effect on the four-party, the preparation of which we expect to resume in September. Nor do we see this as connected to some collapsing of the leadership or anything of that nature; again, bearing in mind the limited capabilities we have to assess what is going on in the North Korean Government and in North Korea, itself.


QUESTION: Jamie, can you tell us what part of the U.S. Government is in charge of these people - whether it's the State Department or INS? And what is the right word - custody, protection?

MR. RUBIN: Well, they've sought asylum, and asylum is granted through the State Department.


QUESTION: What is the basis of the claim for political asylum?

MR. RUBIN: Again, these are perfectly legitimate questions. I'm going to try to cut this down a little bit, because you're asking all the right questions. But for now, this is all the information I can provide in the interest of protecting those involved and their families and other obvious concerns that apply in cases like this.


QUESTION: As a legal matter, don't we have to state - doesn't the government have to state the basis on which this asylum was granted?

MR. RUBIN: I will be providing a direct, legal answer to that question. But for now, I wanted to come down and merely tell you all that they have been given asylum in the United States.


QUESTION: Jamie, you mentioned that his - the ambassador, his wife and his brother were here. There were reports yesterday that the reason why you weren't leaking out the information was because the whole family was not here. Is the rest of his family here? Because I think I read about some children.

MR. RUBIN: I will try to get you further information on that. All I can say as to the reasons why -- was that one of the factors was the security of the people involved and also the process that, as you know who have covered these kinds of issues for a long time, is a complicated one.


QUESTION: The South Koreans have asked that they be given the opportunity to question the ambassador.

MR. RUBIN: That's premature at this point. At this point, all I can tell you is that they're here; they've been granted asylum; and further details on what they will do and won't do in the coming weeks, I do not have for you - including that I don't believe they will be giving any sort of press conference of any kind.

Yes, David.

QUESTION: Can I just ask for the U.S. Government's current assessment of the level of stability of the North Korean regime; and whether that assessment has been in any way affected by these defections?

MR. RUBIN: Right, I think in answer to Jeff's question, I tried to allude to that. We do not believe that this action is a manifestation of any crisis in the leadership of any kind. We obviously believe that the country is in deep trouble. There are severe problems with food. That is why we have contributed so many millions of dollars in assistance to the World Food Program to help feed those people who are in desperate and dire need - children under six.

We also, as you know, are concerned and have been concerned for a long time - and equally concerned today as yesterday - about the risks of instability in the Peninsula with regard to the North Korean troop deployment. So none of the basic factors that we see in terms of the leadership, in terms of the military, in terms of the food crisis - our view has not changed as a result of this granting of asylum.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: This is (inaudible) of Korean Broadcasting System. Are you willing to give a chance for South Korea to meet Ambassador Jang? Or to investigate Ambassador Jang, and to confirm his final destination for political asylum?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I think I answered that question earlier. That's premature at this point. But the more information I'm able to provide to you and authorized to provide to you about their activities, having now arrived here, I will try to do so.

Maybe we can limit this to one more, given the limited nature of what I can say at this point. Roy.

QUESTION: Is the decision to grant asylum made at the Secretary of State level or at the Presidential level or at what level?

MR. RUBIN: I'll have to get you the details on that.

One more question, yes.

QUESTION: Recently, with the Hwang Jang-Yop defection from North Korea, the United States took a very hands-off policy, or hands-off approach to that defection. Why does there seem to be a different approach to this defection?

MR. RUBIN: Well, there's a big difference of where the person went. I mean, this person - these people have sought asylum in the United States. That wasn't the case in the other case.

Thank you very much.

(The briefing concluded at 12:47 P.M.)

[end of document]

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