Thursday, April 17, 1997 Briefer: Nicholas Burns

Q:  Can I ask you about North Korea?

BURNS:  Yes.

Q: Andrew Natsios who used to work in this building and now with World
Vision says that it's going to be three months at least before the
corn shipment that you announced the other day will actually arrive in
North Korea and be prepared for distribution.

He says that is has been common practice in the past to arrange what
he has called a "swap." In other words, the United States can go to a
neighboring country like China and draw down 50,000 tons from their
stockpile, which would be delivered almost immediately, and then that
would ultimately be replenished by the United States' shipment. Is the
United States looking into such a thing?

BURNS: I don't know if we are or not. But let me just try to respond
to Mr. Natsios a little bit. We have provided 25 million -- we have
offered $25 million in food assistance to North Korea. The $10 million
-- the first tranche, was announced in February. I understand that is
27,000 metric tons of corn, rice, and corn-soy blend.

The two ships from Houston, Texas, are supposed to arrive at Nampo in
North Korea on May 6th and May 22nd. Of the $15 million tranche that
we announced the other day, 50,000 metric tons of corn, we believe
that the ships carrying that corn can arrive in approximately two
months. Now, we are part of a larger international effort. Other
countries, many of them closer to North Korea, will be donating food
as well. We assume that those closer will be getting the food in a
nearer time to the North Koreans, and that will help serve some of the
short-term need to get food to the people and the young kids who need
that food.

If the World Food Program asked us to engage in any kind of a swap,
I'm sure we'd consider it. But we have to rely on the organization of
the World Food Program in this instance.
And I think that we have responded. We have certainly taken the
leading position in the world in responding to this. We're offering
more money. We're offering a greater volume of food than any other
country. We will be flexible in the way we do this because we want to
be helpful to help resolve the problem.

Q: You mention countries closer. He and Tony Hall say that the
Japanese, who are close, have been reluctant to contribute any new
food because of the political problems they have been having with
North Korea. Has anybody joined the United States in this last -- in
response to this last appeal?

BURNS: I don't have a tally list. You'll have to ask the United
Nations, which is coordinating this. I'm sure that other countries
have. But I just -- I don't have the list in front of me. Now, the
Japanese have -- you know, they have been reluctant in the past.
They'll have to make their own decisions. We do believe there is a
humanitarian imperative here. The World Food Program is focusing on
kids, six years of age and under, who are either malnourished or, in
some cases, starving. So we think there's an humanitarian imperative
and on that basis we made the decision -- not on a political basis,
but humanitarian.

Any follow-ups on North Korea?  Ron?

Q: In New York, apparently, the North Koreans are looking for more
food commitments before they commit to the four-party talks. Is that
something the United States can make any more commitments on?

BURNS: I think the United States has done what it can in committing to
$25 million in food aid. I'm not aware of any initiative within the
State Department or the U.S. government to try to see if we would
ratchet that up.

We've also said very clearly, we don't believe it is wise to link
questions of food delivery with political questions, like whether or
not we re going to have a peace treaty to end the Korean War. Now,
yesterday, Chuck Kartman, our negotiator, reported to you that he had
found encouraging progress in his day-long talks with the South
Koreans and the North Koreans. They'll meet again tomorrow on a
trilateral basis in New York. We, of course, hope that at the end of
the day tomorrow, we'll be able to say that the North Koreans and the
South Koreans and the United States have agreed, along with China, to
four-party talks. We hope we can get there, but I can't predict that.
We'll have to see where we are.

I understand that after the trilateral meeting, probably on Saturday,
there'll be a bilateral meeting between the United States and North
Korea to discuss the MIA issue, the agreed framework, to discuss the
possible opening of liaison offices in each other's capitals. Today, I
think there are some informal working-level conversations underway
among the three countries, but Chuck Kartman is testifying before
Congress here in Washington. That's the reason why -- one of the
reasons why the talks couldn't continue today in New York. So we're
hopeful that the talks might be successful, but it's never over until
it's finally over. So we have to be a little bit skeptical until we
get to the end.

Q: It is a generally known fact that North Koreans are suffering from
food shortages. However, Mr. Son Song Pir, who is North Korean
Ambassador to Moscow, said yesterday there is no food crisis
whatsoever in North Korea at all.

BURNS:  He must be misinformed.

Q:  Yes.

BURNS: Because we have heard directly from North Korean government
officials that there is a food shortage. That's what they said at the
United Nations and that's what they've said at the United States. So I
can't explain adequately the reasons for this very curious statement
out of the North Korean Minister to Moscow.

Q: Officially he's an ambassador saying -- announced in front of --
you know --

BURNS: That statement is at complete variance with everything else the
North Koreans have told us. We actually believe, based on what the
United Nations tells us, what visiting congressmen have told us, that
there is a food crisis and a worsening food crisis in North Korea.