Wednesday, March 19, 1997 Briefer: Nicholas Burns

Departure of Hwang Jong Yop from Beijing
Political Stability in North Korea
Reported US Agreement to Unfreeze North Korean Assets
World Food Program Survey on famine Situation/US Assistance

Q: Thank you. This is Chung-soo Lee of Korean Broadcasting system. Yesterday you work on the patient process of North Korean secretary Hwang Jang-Yop, and when Mr. Hwang Jang-Yop eventually succeeds in the defection to South Korea for political asylum, what do you expect him to do with South Korea?

BURNS: That will be up to Mr. Hwang and the Government of the Republic of Korea. That will be entirely up to them. Obviously, he defected because he wanted to go to the Republic of Korea. He is currently in the Philippines; and, if he does make his way to the Republic of Korea, to Seoul, in the future, it will certainly be up to him and of the Government of the Republic of Korea to decide what his role is or if he is public about his views or not.

Of course, we have a great interest in this case, as you would expect, and we're very pleased that it was resolved peacefully by the Government of China -- the People's Republic of China -- and by the Government of Korea, with the assistance of the Government of the Philippines.

Q: Is there any suspicion on the part of the State Department that there is this purge of top military leaders in North Korea that were sorted of hinted at?

BURNS: It's very difficult for us to come to a definite conclusion about what's going on in North Korea. We have seen now, I think, the departure of two Defense Ministers in the last -- a Prime Minister and two Defense Ministers or senior Defense people in the last month. Whether there's a pattern here to be established on an analytical basis or whether these are simply coincidental events, I think you might get a variety of viewpoints from experts on North Korea to answer that question.

We will simply have to try to wait and see what it all means -- perhaps this July when the three-year mourning period ends -- to see if the Government of North Korea reveals more about its own internal composition and its own policies. In the meantime, we have to make sure that we are ready to defend South Korea, which we are, with our joint military force in the Republic of Korea along the DMZ. We have to make sure that we continue to see the application of the Agreed Framework and the nuclear freeze, and that is happening, and we are attentive to the Four-Party Talks. We're waiting for a response from the North Koreans to that, and we're obviously interested in the food situation there, which is quite critical.

So those are the interests that we have. As for analyzing what's happening in North Korea, you can probably get that from Think Tanks around town, but we're a little bit reluctant to do that on the record, on camera, because there's so many different explanations of what might be happening.

Q: There are reports out of North Korea that the United States has agreed to unfreeze North Korean assets in the United States as part of its offer on the Four-Party Talks. Any comments on that?

BURNS: No, I simply can't comment on that. I simply can't comment on that at all. I'm sure the assets are still frozen, as we speak, and we have not yet received a response from the Government of North Korea about our proposal for the initiation of Four-Party Talks. Until we do, I don't think you're likely to see any kind of proactive measures on the part of the United States of the type you're citing.

Q: Would you go into a little bit of detail on what the offer was that the United States made? I mean, it was more than just an invitation to come to the talks. You probably didn't offer --

BURNS: We have really enveloped those talks in a veil of secrecy and confidentiality, as you would agree we should, in a situation like this. I mean, I'm sure you wouldn't want to write about most of this stuff, because we think our ability to be effective is going to be enhanced by maintaining the confidentiality of the talks. But we have an open offer on the table to begin the Four-Party Talks, and we hope that offer is accepted by Pyongyang.

Q: The Middle East?

Q: Wait, one more on Korea, please. The World Food Program sent a team to North Korea recently to survey the famine situation, and they came back with some really horrific stories of malnutrition. Do you know of any plans for them to up their requests, their dollar and I guess tonnage in food requests? Is the United States being asked to give more?

BURNS: As you know, we've just responded to a slightly earlier request just in the last month. We will be giving food aid to North Korea. That was announced by Secretary Albright during her European trip and her Asia trip. If the World Food Program comes forward with a new appeal, we will, of course, give it very serious attention, because we have great respect for that organization. Since 1995, the United States has given a total of $18.4 million in food assistance, cash and in-kind donations of food assistance to the U.N. appeals. We've been a major contributor, and we will continue to work very closely. Our latest contribution is $10 million to the latest U.N. World Food Program appeal.

Q: Do you have any idea when that $10 million in food might leave this country?

BURNS: When it will be disbursed?

Q: Yes.

BURNS: I can look into that and get you an answer. I don't think the food has left the United States, but I can get you a specific answer on that, Betsy. Be glad to do it.