New York -- U.S. and North Korean delegations ended 10 hours of meetings March 7 giving no details about the substance of the lengthy talks but promising to work for progress in the areas of nuclear nonproliferation, recovering the remains of American soldiers who died in the Korean War and opening liaison offices in each other's capitals.
The delegations were headed by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Charles Kartman and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan. The senior officials and their delegations were the same ones that met earlier in the week with representatives of the Republic of Korea (ROK) and China to discuss the possibility of holding talks to formal declare peace on the Korean Peninsula.
After the meeting Kim told journalists that "we had serious discussions on broader issues concerning the bilateral relations for more than ten hours. The United States and DPRK have agreed to have further meetings in order to pursue further progress in the relations between the two countries."
At a press briefing afterwards, a State Department official who attended the meeting stressed that while the talks were lengthy, there were no dramatic breakthroughs. The most important event was the meeting earlier in the week, the official said. But the North Korean delegation gave no indication in Friday's talks about when they might respond to the U.S.-ROK proposals for peace talks.
Projects such as searching for American remains on North Korean soil and the establishment of liaison offices are "positive and do imply that we are improving relations; they do imply the relationship between the two countries can and should change," the official said.
"Although this meeting was extremely useful to us, clearly the most significant thing that happened this week is that the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea sat down on Wednesday and had a long meeting discussing a peace proposal for the Korean Peninsula," the official said.
The U.S. official stressed that the length of the meeting was not an indication that any "major announcement" would be coming soon. "It was useful, not dramatic," the official said.
Although there are "working level" talks between the United States and North Korea on a routine basis, the last time a meeting was held at such a high level was in December 1995, the official said. "But it is significant to have a chance to have a meeting of this length and at this level to review the overall U.S.-DPRK relationships," the official said. That is important to diplomats."
The official said North Korea brought up the issue of food aid, but refused to go into detail about what had been discussed.
"I think it is fair to say the North Koreans brought up the issue. It is certainly no secret they are concerned about the food situation in their country and they explained that. The issue of our economic relationship also came up and was discussed at length.... The discussion was useful and businesslike," the official said.
The official said there was no discussion of the recent North Korean defector or U.S. troops in the Republic of Korea.
Following is an official transcript of the briefing:
BRIEFING BY STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ON U.S.-DPRK BILATERAL MEETING
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
March 7, 1997
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Good evening. I'm sorry that you had to wait so long. I intend to make a very short statement about a very long meeting, and then I'd be happy to answer some questions. I was a participant in the meeting today.
Today a delegation from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, led by Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan, and a U.S. delegation, led by Deputy Assistant Secretary Charles Kartman, conducted ten hours of discussions, very useful and business-like discussions, here today concerning bilateral issues involving our two countries. Today's meeting was separate, of course, from the joint briefing that representatives of the Republic of Korea and the United States provided to this North Korean delegation here in New York on Wednesday. That briefing, the one on Wednesday, concerned the proposal of Presidents Kim and Clinton for four-party talks to achieve a lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.
The meetings today were wholly bilateral in nature and involved U.S.-North Korean matters only. Nevertheless, the scope of the bilateral meetings today was exceptionally broad. It included a review of all the significant issues between our two countries. These issues included non-proliferation matters, our joint efforts to recover the remains of U.S. personnel who died north of the DMZ during the Korean war, and the exchange of liaison offices between our two countries. Both sides in the discussions today agreed to pursue progress in the weeks ahead, especially in the three areas I just mentioned. The two sides also agreed to continue on a periodic basis discussions about our overall bilateral relationship.
Minister Kim and his party will make an unofficial visit to Washington next week to attend meetings by private organizations. We have no plans for further official meetings with Minister Kim in Washington. However, there might be working-level meetings with some members of his party once they are in Washington.
That concludes the brief remarks I had planned to make, and I would be happy to try to answer any questions.
Q: Hitoshi Omae of Nikkei, Japanese newspaper. In today's meeting, did North Korean side ask the U.S. to change their status, and what did you respond? Any other proposal from North Korea? Any other request from North Korea?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I'm not sure what you mean by change their status.
Q: Now status is enemy state, enemy country. Did they ask any change of their status?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: These talks and other talks we have had previously with the North Koreans are all aimed at improving relations between our two countries, and in that sense we both, both sides, have that objective in mind.
Q: You didn't talk in today's meeting about this specific issue?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, talks about the establishment of liaison offices or various sorts of joint projects such as the search for American remains on North Korean soil, talks of this sort are positive and do imply that we are improving relations, and they do imply that the relationship between our two countries can and should change. It's not a major point, it's just something that happens as a matter of course as you work through an agenda together.
Q: Terril Jones of Associated Press. One question on specifics, and then one in general. When do you think, or do you have a feeling that there will be, both a next round of official talks and the opening of liaison offices? And then, in a more general sense, do you consider this a major sea change in relations between the two countries?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, first of all, there are working level talks on a fairly routine basis, and those have occurred in the past. They are occurring in the present, and I would expect them to occur in the future. However, a meeting between our two sides at Mr. Kartman's level and at Minister Kim's level has not occurred since December 1995, when Mr. Kartman's predecessor, at that time Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas Hubbard, met with North Korea's Ambassador-at-large Ho Jong here in New York.
So, we have meetings with the North Koreans all the time, as almost a routine matter. But at this level we have not, as I said, had a meeting for some time.
As far as the opening of liaison offices is concerned, that is one of the issues we are engaged in and discussing. We, however, do not have anything to announce at this time.
Q: On the broader sense, then, of relations, then, is this a major turning point, in your opinion?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think it would be incorrect to lead you to believe that there is some major announcement in view here. But it is significant that we've had a chance to have a meeting of this length and at this level to review the overall U.S.-DPRK relationship. That's important to diplomats. I leave it to you whether it's important to your readers.
Q: How about food aid for the North Koreans? Is there any request from the North Koreans at today's meeting about food aid for the famine?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The North Koreans I think I will just mention that the North Koreans did take up this issue, and it was discussed. But I wouldn't want to go into any further details about what was said.
Q: Did North Korea exactly raise up the issue of food aid and lifting embargo by the United States? And what was the response from the American side?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think it's fair to say that the North Koreans brought up issues -- that's certainly no secret -- that they have concern about the food situation in their country. They explained that. The issue of our economic relationship also came up and was discussed at length. Again, I wouldn't want to go into any further details about the nature of the discussions.
Q: So, are you going to have periodic, regular-basis meeting at the level of Mr. Kartman and Mr. Kim in the future, and how often do you expect it will happen?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, we agreed that we would continue (on) a periodic basis, as needed, discussions between our two sides on our bilateral relationship. We did not today set – this would have been unusual – set a detailed schedule for the months ahead. But the anticipation, I think, on all sides is that we will continue the process begun today.
Q: Will it be higher than working level?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We have a pattern of meeting frequently at the working level, and we have, as I say, a pattern also less frequently of having meetings at the level at which we met today. And I think you would see both things occurring in the future. But I don't have a specific schedule, and we didn't set out a specific schedule.
Q: Just to follow up. So, may we say that you, the two sides, are agreed to have a periodical meeting at this level? Is that an agreement?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think I'd want to leave it just about the way I expressed it, that the two sides agreed that we would continue discussions about our overall bilateral relationship on a regular basis, and such meetings would in the course of time comprise meetings, such an agenda would comprise in the course of time meetings at various levels.
Q: Do you have any plan to go to North Korea to meet with North Korean officials for further discussions about that, or some (inaudible) U.S.A?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We really did not discuss the venue or the location of our future meetings. That did not come up. It is the same as the case with timing. No set schedule was set for future meetings, but there was certainly an anticipation that they will occur.
Q: Fujii from Kyodo News. Could you say that you have at least agreed in principle to resume the MIA joint recovery and the missile talks. And on liaison offices, would it fair to say that the technical problems still remain?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Technical problems on what?
Q: Liaison office.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Liaison office?
Q: That they still remain?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, I think that's very close to the situation. We agreed, both sides agreed, that we wanted to pursue progress in the weeks ahead in the areas of joint efforts to recover remains, in the areas of discussions about missile technology, and also in the area of liaison offices. And I think it's fair to say that technical issues do remain to be discussed in the weeks ahead with regard to liaison offices.
Q: What about the MIA joint recovery and the missile talks? Have agreed in principle to resume those two channels that have been (inaudible)?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think I'd like to stay with the formulation I had, that we agreed to pursue progress in these areas. And since both these areas involve meetings or events, progress would obviously not be attainable in a vacuum. So we are going to work for concrete progress in these areas.
Q: Peter Gold, Fuji-TV. Did the issue of the defector in Beijing come up and how the U.S. might help to resolve that issue?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. Not at all.
Q: From Hankook Ilbo, from Korea. Was there not any further discussion about, related with, Wednesday's meeting.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There was no new discussion of it, or no new points made. We, of course, emphasized that what we had said on Wednesday was a matter of very great importance to the United States and to the Republic of Korea. And we commended our presentation to our interlocutors today, we commended our presentation of last Wednesday to them. It was discussed, but it wasn't discussed in a new way. We made our presentation on that subject on Wednesday.
Q: Why did these talks last much longer than any side had thought for them?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don't think they lasted any longer than I thought that they would last. We have not met at this level for quite a long time, as I pointed out to you, since December 1995. And since we had this opportunity, we reviewed almost every aspect of our bilateral relationship and almost every issue that has been discussed at the working level over the intervening period. I would say that much of the discussion was informational in nature, but extremely useful to those working directly on the relationship. And that's the reason that it took so long.
Q: Nagoshi, from Jiji Press. Could you specify a little bit more about the talks on food? How did the North Korean side clarify the food situation in North Korea? And how many tons of food they appealed for help to U.S. side?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think I would like to leave that issue just exactly where I did. They explained the situation in their country, and we listened to their presentation attentively.
Q: Yukio Kashiyama from Japanese newspaper Sankei. Regarding with the issue of terrorism, what kind of conversation did you have today? Did you suggest or recommend to the North Koreans to have direct dialogue with Japan on this issue?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, as I said, our discussions covered an extremely broad scope. And I think I said before, too, that every issue that I know of that has ever come up in U.S.-DPRK discussions at the working level was reviewed. I singled out three issues which I think were appropriate to single out in the bilateral relationship which clearly could yield some progress in the weeks ahead. I think I would not like to characterize in detail any of the other agenda items. So I think I'll leave my characterization just as I expressed it in the statement.
Q: Andy Sobata (?) with NHK. Could you at least describe what kind of proposal you made about missile talks?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Obviously, we would like to continue – As I think you know, we've had one such session last spring, and we would like to continue that process. When I say that the sides agreed to pursue progress in that area, that would imply that we would like to work on continuing our dialogue on this issue.
Q: Did you talk about a specific date for the next negotiation?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Again, I don't want to go into detail about agenda items. I'm trying to characterize the agenda in general terms and offer some specific information about areas where we have great potential to pursue progress or to achieve progress. But I don't want to explain exactly how we plan to do that or what we may have said in detail.
Q: In-sop Han, Voice of America. Did North Korea request easing of U.S. economic sanctions, and what was your response?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Again, we had a discussion of our economic relationship. It was very useful; it was very businesslike. But I am just not in a position to go into details about the precise nature of what was discussed.
Q: Which of these areas took up most of your time, or about how long on these three major issues did you spend?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The three I mentioned? Well, I'm not sure we can make any sort of judgement about the number of minutes that was spent on each one, and I would say that – just my impression was – about an equal amount of time was spent on each. They were all discussed. We had almost 11 hours, and we were able to discuss in detail – not because we were having disagreements or things we couldn't resolve – but because we were trying to explore fully our views on these issues. So we discussed each of these matters in detail.
Q: (Inaudible) from Korea. Have you had any discussion about the existence of American troops stationed to South Korea?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That is an issue of bilateral concern to the U.S. and the Republic of Korea. That's a kind of issue that we're not discussing bilaterally with the DPRK.
Q: Peter Ennis from the Oriental Economist. Can you tell us who else participated in the talks on the U.S. side? And, also, is there any plan to brief the South Koreans and the Chinese on today's talks?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We do have plans to brief others. I think it would be courteous not to start listing countries that we're going to brief. I wouldn't want to leave anyone out that felt that it should be included. We have plans to brief others. We will be briefing others.
The delegation on the U.S. side comprised people from several agencies of the U.S. Government. It was an interagency delegation led by Mr. Kartman. People from the State Department, of course, people from the Defense Department, from the NSC.
Q: Can you just tell us who?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I'm not trying to disguise them. I'm just trying to remember everyone's name, thinking I might get someone's title wrong or something. The delegation was by and large, except for some support staff, the same delegation that participated in the joint briefing on Wednesday. And on the DPRK side, it was the same.
Q: My name is Nam-sop Lee, Yonhap TV News. It's my very regret to say this to you, but by looking at what you said just before, and after long hours of discussion today, it seems like you haven't gotten anything accomplished yet. You don't have any statement, final statement, nothing. And we've got nothing right now (Laughter). So what is it that this meeting has, do you think this meeting has failed or success? What do you think of that?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think we were trying to make progress, not news. So the discussions were extremely useful. As I said, we have not had a stock-taking, a general review of our relationship from A to Z at the level of Mr. Kartman and Minister Kim in almost a year and a half, 15 months or something like that. And it is extremely useful to do that. One can imagine that there is a lot to talk about. So I think the meeting was very useful. I'm sorry it wasn't dramatic in some way, but it was a very important meeting in terms of being useful for the parties engaged in working on the relationship to just take stock of all the issues they work on.
Q: You said it's progressive. Let me just accept what you said. It's progressive. If not progress to something, maybe another dead end in the future (inaudible)?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I wouldn't characterize the situation, I don't think I would characterize it that way. I think that such meetings give one an opportunity to make progress and not to run into dead ends. I tried to indicate three specific areas in which we committed to each other to pursue concrete progress, and in the weeks to come. So in that sense – I am not pointing you toward any specific result, because that work remains to be done in each of those areas I mentioned. But there was a clarification of our commitment and willingness to do that, to work for progress in those areas I mentioned. So I was satisfied with that.
Q: Do you expect to make more headway on these subjects when you meet in Washington, when you have the working-level meeting in Washington coming up?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I wouldn't want to prejudge exactly what would happen in any meetings that might occur in Washington with members of Minister Kim's party, but obviously further talks would be held with the objective of making further progress.
Q: So you'll discuss the same subjects that you discussed today at the working-level meeting in Washington?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I just don't want to characterize the situation of what may be discussed in talks that may happen.
Q: Ted Kim from Tokyo Broadcasting System. Did you find any signs on the North Koreans' part of a greater willingness to cooperate or negotiate with the United States in these meetings?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think that the most significant thing that happened this week – although this meeting was extremely useful to us, the meeting today – clearly the most significant thing that happened this week is that the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea sat down on Wednesday and had a long meeting discussing a peace proposal for the Korean peninsula.
Q: Again Hitoshi Omae of Nikkei. So North Korean delegation is going to Washington next week. So any chance the State Department to cooperate, support them looking for their future location of the liaison office in Washington?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I wouldn't want to -- Again, I said that members of Minister Kim's delegation may have meetings, some official meetings. So maybe there will be a list of topics to discuss, but I wouldn't want to characterize specifically, as I said, the possible topics for possible meetings. It would just be premature to do that.
Q: Was there any reaction from the North Koreans about the cancellation of the Team Spirit exercises?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. I have reason to believe they were pleased, but we didn't discuss that extensively.
Q: Did the North Koreans give any indication that they would be willing to attend the four-party meeting?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The North Koreans did not give a response about their intentions with regard to the four-party peace negotiations proper after the joint briefing on Wednesday. They are considering the proposal, and they have not made their response yet.
Q: Fujii again. You told us that you would seek further progress in three areas that you have just mentioned. Could you at least say that there was some progress in today's meeting on those three areas? And, number two, when Mr. Kartman testified in the House International Committee, he told a congressman that he would propose a specific date for the resumption of missile talks. And has that been the case today?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The indicator for progress in our discussions on missiles or on the issue of recovery of remains would be a further U.S.-DPRK meeting or action, so that's obviously what we're working for. And the fact that we explored that issue and that we decided that we would pursue progress in the weeks ahead implies that we hope to have a result of the kind you mentioned. We're not ready to announce that today.
Q: This meeting is separate from Joint Briefing, but did North Korea specifically raise the issue of how to replace Armistice agreement?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We discussed bilateral matters in this meeting. The question of a peace process to replace the Armistice is a matter that is not taken up bilaterally between the U.S. and the DPRK. It was the subject, of course, of the meetings on Wednesday, when the DPRK met with a joint U.S.-South Korean team to discuss those matters.
Q: So today they didn't raise the issue of Armistice?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Today was a day for discussing bilateral matters, and we did not discuss the peace process and the replacement of the Armistice today.
Q: Did you discuss the Agreed Framework?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Agreed Framework? The Agreed Framework was discussed today.
Q: Stuart Stogel from the Washington Times. The question is, there has been increasing speculation as to how stable the government is because of a confluence of pressures on the government in Pyongyang. After the last two or three days, does the State Department come away with the feeling that these people can deliver on whatever promises or understandings we've arranged at? Or is there speculation as to whether this government can really deliver or really come through on, perhaps, agendas being discussed now being carried through, whether they can really survive? There's speculation every day as to how long this government's going to remain in place.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We see evidence all the time that the Government of the DPRK is following through on actions and on matters we've discussed or on its commitments with regard to the Agreed Framework. So that would be my answer.
Q: Did the North Koreans ask you not to say anything about their presentation on the food situation, and, if not, can you tell us if their presentation was consistent with the grave warnings that the international agencies have put forward about the food situation there?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, we weren't asked specifically not to mention anything. It's just that the U.S. delegation to the talks, you can understand, simply doesn't, in public, want to go into detail about the matters that we discussed. That's just normal diplomatic practice. So that's the reason why --
Q: You can't characterize how bad it is up there food-wise?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The North Koreans have participated in efforts to launch an international appeal for food assistance. They have allowed monitoring of their situation. They've been quite open about it, and there are many, many sources available on the public record, some of the information coming directly from the North Koreans themselves, to characterize what the situation is. I wouldn't want to try an independent assessment of my own.
Q: There was a report this morning North Korea may respond to the discussions, Wednesday's meeting, within 2-3 weeks. What's your comment on that? My next question is, can you expect Mr. Kim is going to visit New York today?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The first question -- I have no idea when the North Koreans will respond. Of course, we hope it will be soon and will be positive. But they haven't responded yet, and I have no idea what their schedule is. They said they're studying the proposal. And since we spent five hours with them on Wednesday, I think it's only fair that they have some time.
I do not know what Minister Kim's plans are. He may very well return to New York to return to catch a flight home, just to answer your question directly. I think he's going to Washington. I think perhaps he's returning home from New York.
Q: Is Mr. Kim's visit to Washington the result of either an invitation extended to him or a desire expressed by him today at these talks? Also, did you brief Chinese officials yesterday among your activities or, if not, when do plan to brief China on the Joint Briefing?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, the first question, Mr. Kim and his party received invitations from private organizations in Washington, invitations for him to visit and participate in their activities there. He expressed the desire to attend, to take up those invitations, and that was approved.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It was approved by the State Department. I don't know exactly what the time-line was. There's a process for doing that.