Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing

Blue Bar




Wednesday, August 27 , 1997

Briefer: James P. Rubin

1-2Suspension of US-DPRK Missile Talks/Implication for Nonproliferation Efforts
3Prospect of Rescheduling Missile Talks
3,7Impact of Suspension on Four-Party Talks
3Clarification of Status of North Korean Defectors
4Next Steps in Process
4-6Reaction of North Korea to Defection of Officials and to US Response
7Impact of Suspension of Talks on Food Aid Shipments
8-9Secretary's Role in Decision to Admit North Korean Defectors to U.S.

DPB #123
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 27, 1997 12:45 P.M.


QUESTION: Jamie, did the North Koreans cite the asylum situation as the reason for calling off today's talks? And if they did or didn't, is there a logical connection, so far as the U.S. is concerned?

MR. RUBIN: They did not cite exactly the reason why they decided to postpone the talks in their communication to us late last night. Obviously, it's connected. We regard the decision as disappointing. We believe that these talks are in the national interests of both sides. Stopping proliferation is a goal that should serve both our interests and their interests. It's a natural follow-on to the successful negotiation of the nuclear framework agreement that stopped their nuclear program. We would like these talks to be rescheduled.

At the same time, the people who work on this issue, as I've said to you before, are long-distance runners. They've been through a lot of ups and downs in the area of negotiating with the North Koreans. We've seen cases where incidents of this kind - like the submarine incident last year and the other defection of Mr. Hwang earlier this year - did temporarily interfere with the diplomatic processes of negotiating agreements in the interest of the United States.

So our diplomats are determined. They're in it for the long haul. We'll be hoping that they change their mind and return to the talks.

QUESTION: What's in it for North Korea? I mean, Egypt. Presumably Egypt doesn't use U.S. aid money to pay for that technology, if you want to deal with that. What's in it for them to behave like a respectable member of the community?

MR. RUBIN: There are so many parts to that question, I don't know which to go into. But --

QUESTION: Well, you said it's in the interest of both sides.

MR. RUBIN: All right.

QUESTION: What's in it for North Korea? What could they get out of this?

MR. RUBIN: Just the way we saw, in the nuclear framework agreement, the North Koreans make a decision that involved, as you know, their freezing their nuclear program, stopping their production of materials that might be used in a nuclear program and proceeding toward some movement in the area of diplomatic activity with the rest of the world. The rest of the world regards the sale of missiles, like the Scud missile to Iran as a profoundly dangerous thing, and so long as a country like North Korea is prepared to engage in that activity, it will find itself outside of the mainstream. So it would be in the interest of the North Koreans to not find themselves outside the mainstream, and it would be in the interest of the United States to make sure that that kind of missile proliferation was stopped.

Yes, Steve.

QUESTION: What efforts has the government made to reschedule these talks?

MR. RUBIN: Our government?


MR. RUBIN: I'm not aware we have made any. The normal practice when I was in New York was, there were phone conversations and faxes back and forth between the missions in New York, as one of the ways in which communications were held.

I was woken up late last night to be informed of this, as I assume others were, so it's a pretty recent development. There would normally be some period of time, days, before one would try to test the waters and see whether there wasn't another date that might prove itself convenient to the North Korean delegation.

QUESTION: Can I take that to mean you do expect to reschedule, then, as soon as possible?

MR. RUBIN: Not that we expect to, that, obviously, we'd hope to and will be using whatever diplomatic channels we think is appropriate to try to test the waters at the appropriate time. But, for now, we know the meeting didn't happen, and we're sorry about that.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Ambassador Li, at the UN, said that the four-party talks might also be affected by this. Had you set a date for the next preparatory meeting? And if so, do you have any indication that is also going to be put off?

MR. RUBIN: We have set a date, the week of September 15, in New York, for the discussions between the four countries to prepare and pave the way for this important negotiation, designed to promote stability on the Korean Peninsula and to replace the armistice that's been in place there for a long time. We have, again, no reason to believe, at this time - and I add today the word at this time, which I neglected to add yesterday - to believe that they will not show up at those negotiations to pave the way for four-party peace talks. That is some weeks away, and we're hopeful that this will proceed on track.

Again, in particular in this case, we believe that this kind of a negotiation is one that is in the interest of all the people who live on the Korean Peninsula. It's designed to make it a safer place, a more stable place, and ultimately a more prosperous place. So I think it should be clear that that is in the interest of all the people who live there.


QUESTION: What can you tell us today about the state of the asylum application? I gather that there was a change in the position from what you said yesterday.

MR. RUBIN: Let me do my -- I hope, my first and hopefully something resembling my last mea culpa. I did, technically, misspeak with regard to the word asylum yesterday. The correct situation is as follows. We have decided to allow these people to come to the United States. At present, they are here under a protected status or parole status. Their case will be dealt with under US law. With regard to the request by the North Koreans to return them to North Korea to face criminal charges, we have no extradition treaty with the DPRK, and we

expect these people to continue to stay here under this protected status.

With regard to what will come next in the process, it's a very tricky area - especially when you get in this kind of a case where an ambassador from the North Korean regime was involved. There are certain confidentialities and protections in the system. So it's very hard to get into much detail. I would refer you to the INS to get into a general discussion of how one goes about getting this kind of asylum. The granting or denial of asylum is a matter under the jurisdiction of the INS, which is part of the Department of Justice. We advise and consult on this role.

What I can tell you is, there's no timetable for the completion of this process. It depends upon the circumstances of individual cases. So they're here under protective status and the exact details of how they go through the normal subsequent steps in this area is something that INS is going to have to go through with you.

QUESTION: How many are there who are actually under protective status?

MR. RUBIN: As I said yesterday, the ambassador and his wife were brought here, or are here, and his brother in Paris and his family. I can't be more specific.

QUESTION: No, could you be more - could you clarify, you said charges. Who of this group - who --

MR. RUBIN: Sorry, I'm --

QUESTION: Your reference to North Korea wanting to charge these people.

MR. RUBIN: Yeah, I believe they put out a statement seeking their return to face criminal charges.

QUESTION: I mean, what is the U.S.' understanding, even though it's probably academic. Who is it they'd like to try? The ambassador and the trade man and the wife?

MR. RUBIN: I'm not responding to a public statement from the North Koreans.


MR. RUBIN: We have no --

QUESTION: They haven't told you anything.

MR. RUBIN: That's correct, yes.



QUESTION: A North Korean official said - was quoted as saying that he felt North Koreans feel as though it was an insult for the United States to take in these defectors, and that's why they're boycotting the talks. What is your response to that?

MR. RUBIN: We did not take them in as an insult.

QUESTION: The North Koreans said that it was an insult to them that the United States took the defectors in.

MR. RUBIN: Right, and the United States did not provide them protective custody as an insult.

Yes, David.

QUESTION: On that same point, this question of criminal charges and insults and so on - when did the U.S. first hear from the North Koreans that they regarded these individuals as criminals and wanted them back, and regarded it as an insult that the U.S. was taking them in? Was that only in public statements in the last 24 hours or so? Or is that a position they've taken for a while? I mean, we're trying to figure out whether this is revisionism or whether these people - they are saying that they had charged - that they had ordered them back some days ago or some time ago to face charges; that they had been fired and ordered to come home. Any evidence to support that?

MR. RUBIN: In order for me to answer that question accurately, I would have to engage in a discussion that I've been prohibited from having; and that is the circumstances that preceded their decision to come to the United States and the circumstances under which they came here.

All I was referring to with regard to the extradition treaty was the public call by the North Koreans. I was pointing out that we don't have an extradition treaty or a mutual legal assistance treaty with the North Koreans.

QUESTION: Let me narrow it down further, then. Did the United States, prior to these public statements, hear from the North Koreans that they regarded these people as criminals?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I don't know exactly what we knew and when we knew it on this case. But to answer that question intelligently, I'd have to reflect things that went on prior to their decision to come here, which, as you know, yesterday I was extremely reluctant to get into, and I'm under the same restrictions today. I apologize for that.


QUESTION: Did the State Department provide any of these individuals travel documents to enable them to--

MR. RUBIN: That would again fall into the category of the details under which they got here.


QUESTION: Yes, Li Gun made a very angry statement --


QUESTION: Li Gun, the ambassador, the North Korean ambassador at the UN, made a very angry statement this morning, basically reiterating what has just been discussed. So I would ask, have you seen that statement from Mr. Gun? And basically, does this government believe that it is wise to grant asylum to these people in view of the disruption of relations with North Korea?

MR. RUBIN: That's easy. Yes.

QUESTION: One technical question. Apart from the telephone call yesterday calling off the talks today, has the U.S. Government had any communications with the North Korean Government?

MR. RUBIN: Since?

QUESTION: Since they arrived in this country.

MR. RUBIN: My understanding is there were communications in the last couple of days with regard to the preparation for the talks and other aspects of this case, but there weren't discussions focused on this case, if I can give you an elusive answer. Again, it's our practice to try to avoid detailing specific diplomatic exchanges; but last night's conversation was not the first time this issue came up.

QUESTION: Just to follow up, in other words, they have not addressed any communication directly to the U.S. Government with these charges of misappropriation or whatever?

MR. RUBIN: I haven't seen that. I haven't heard about that. The only reference to a formal charge is what I referred to as was said publicly.


QUESTION: When did you find that your statement yesterday about the political asylum is wrong? Is the change of the status related to today's cancellation of the talks in New York?

MR. RUBIN: No. I think I started to try to contact some people early in the evening, and the decision by the North Koreans was not communicated to us until the middle of the night. As I said, I was woken up at 1:15 a.m. this morning.



QUESTION: I'm sorry if I'm not getting this, but both brothers are, in fact, seeking asylum in the United States?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I'm going to be reluctant today to use that word, in light of the legal complications. I said that both of them are here under a protective status, a parole status, and the steps that follow from that are steps that you need to address directly with the INS.

QUESTION: You can't say whether they are even seeking to take it from there?

MR. RUBIN: I could repeat my same answer, but what I've been advised is, for legal and confidentiality reasons, using the word that you used is not a word that I should use.


QUESTION: I have one - sorry --

QUESTION: Let me just do this really quickly.


QUESTION: Would investigation into this possible criminal activity, would that be something that would normally be taken into account in this process of asylum?

MR. RUBIN: You have to ask the INS that question, and the Justice Department.


QUESTION: Will U.S. shipments of food aid to North Korea be affected by all of this?

MR. RUBIN: We provide food aid to the North Korean people, the children, not because we support the North Korean regime or we support many of the activities that they take, which we don't support and we strongly object to. We provide that food because we are a nation that believes in humanitarian principles. When there are starving children involved, we want to do what we can to help alleviate that suffering.

Can we try another subject?

QUESTION: One last question?

MR. RUBIN: One last question, yes.

QUESTION: In light of North Korea pulling out of the missile talks, would you now characterize the upcoming four-party talks as damaged, seriously damaged, not at all? How would you characterize it? Do you think that the North Koreans would --

MR. RUBIN: It's a legitimate question. All I can say is that we believe those talks are in the interests of both sides, for the reasons I answered earlier. We have no reason to believe, at this point - at this time - that those talks' schedule will change.


QUESTION: Let me come back to my question of yesterday. Did the Secretary of State or the President get involved in the decision to admit these North Korean defectors to the United States?

MR. RUBIN: As far as the President is concerned, I would refer you to the Martha's Vineyard White House for an answer to that question. As far as the Secretary's involvement, the Secretary has been aware of this situation for some days now. But with regard to the question you asked yesterday, that was about granting the word that I'm not going to use today; and that, as you can see, has not happened yet. So neither the Secretary nor the President would have been involved in that kind of a decision.

QUESTION: Right. But in the - just the decision to admit them under an emergency status, under this parole status, the Secretary could very well have been involved in that.

MR. RUBIN: As I said, she was aware of the fact that these people were seeking to come to the United States in the recent days. As far as the process by which those decisions were made, how they got here is a subject that I am not in a position to discuss publicly.

QUESTION: Did she urge that they receive this parole status?

MR. RUBIN: She --

QUESTION: Did she ask for it? Did she argue for it? Did she give an opinion?

MR. RUBIN: I think the Secretary of State supports the fact that they are here and supports the decision to have them be here and supports the status under which they are now here and believes that this was appropriate given the circumstances. We hope that in the coming days and weeks the missile talks can get back on track. We've overcome obstacles of kind in the past. The people who do this work know they should be able to buy plane tickets, pack their suitcases and unpack them.

So if you're saying, was there a foreign policy consideration that might have played in here, the Secretary supports their --

QUESTION: Right, but from what you're saying -- from what you're not saying it sounds like she did not - I mean, the Secretary of State has the obligation to oversee the different aspects of a foreign policy. So admitting these people has resulted in the cancellation of the talks. She might have brought that to bear on a decision if she actually had weighed in on the decision. If somebody else made the decision, and she just simply went along, then --

MR. RUBIN: I can check with her. I take your point. I can check with her precisely her involvement and try to call you on that. But having spoken to her about this over two days now, I have no reason to believe that the decision to provide this status for them was something she was unaware of or that it was something that she was concerned could have this other impact and should not, therefore, have been made. On the contrary, everything that I know tells me that she is fully supportive of the fact that we brought these people here, despite the risk that it might cause what it caused.

But again, when it comes to North Korea, we're in this for the long haul. The negotiators who work this issue understand there can be temporary interruptions, but that the negotiations will get back on track. If you go back to the Agreed Framework, you will see many instances where there were long pauses. But at the end of the day, we brought home an agreement that advanced American security, stopped the North Korean nuclear program, and has proved to be working quite successfully.