[EXCERPTS] DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
Friday, April 18, 1997 Briefer: Nicholas Burns
4-5,6-8 Meetings in New York Today
5-6 Status of US/International Food Assistance to North Korea
8-9 Prospects for Four-Party Talks
QUESTION: What's happening in New York? I hear the North Koreans are
BURNS: Well, what's happening in New York is that -- I believe that
the meeting, the trilateral meeting among the North and South Korean
delegations and our own delegation will begin at 4:00 p.m. this
We're looking forward to this meeting. We hope that in this meeting we
will make further progress in our attempt to convince North Korea to
agree to our invitation to attend four-party peace talks to end the
Korean War, 43 years after the armistice stopped the fighting. Now, we
understand that the delay in the start of the meeting today was caused
by the need of the North Korean delegation to check back with
Pyongyang on some details of the negotiations.
That is not surprising. This kind of thing happens all the time in
negotiations. I cannot anticipate how long these negotiations will go
today. I did speak with Chuck Kartman at about 11:00 a.m. this
morning. He said in a negotiation like this, it's very hard to predict
how long it will go; whether they will finish up tonight, whether it
will go into tomorrow, it's just something we will have to see about
later in the day.
Q: They had presumably all day yesterday to consult, too. Have the
North Koreans raised some objections, asked for some changes in the
proposal that the U.S. said no, and they had to go back to Pyongyang?
Is there something going on here that you can tell us?
BURNS: There is a lot going on. There is a lot going on. But I can't
tell you anything that's going on. Look, there are negotiations going
on. In negotiations, all delegations, in my own experience, always
check back with capitals. Capitals give instructions, negotiators
execute those instructions. So it's not surprising that they would
have to check, and given the time differences between here and the
Pacific -- North Asia, not surprising whatsoever.
As to the content, we are trying to convince the North Koreans to
agree to the four-party talks. It's as simple as that. But we haven't
accomplished that yet. We hope to, but we'll have to wait a couple
more hours, or maybe even a couple more days to see if that's going to
be the case.
Q: On North Korea.
Q: I know you've talked about this an awful lot in the past, but can
you give us an update today on American efforts and the question of
hunger in North Korea?
BURNS: An update?
Q: Yes, I mean, I know in asking that question that you talked a lot
about that. Where do we stand today?
BURNS: Where we stand is that the United States has pledged $25
million in support of the World Food Program's appeal for aid to
children under six in North Korea. The first tranche, $10 million,
will be arriving in two shipments by our cargo vessels, American cargo
vessels, on May 4th and I believe May --
BURNS: Is it the 22nd, George? George has a prodigious memory. I said
this yesterday -- May 4th and May -- whatever it is -- I think a week
or two beyond that, the first tranche. We would hope that we could
execute the second tranche -- $15 million, 50,000 metric tons of corn
-- quickly so that within two months that 50,000 metric tons of corn
might arrive at North Korean ports.
This is a significant contribution. It represents, I believe, 40
percent of the volume that the World Food Program is looking for. And
it represents our belief that there is a serious food crisis in North
Korea, particularly affecting young children.
Q: There are a number of foreign countries that are looking at North
Korea with the same eyes that looked at Ethiopia a number of years
ago. What is the sort of international view of Americans towards those
countries? Are you prepared -- thinking of a leadership role in that
regard? Are you calling for more assistance from other countries?
BURNS: The United Nations World Food Program has taken the lead in the
international effort to meet the food crisis in North Korea. We have
great respect for the organization and for its past record of
effectiveness in North Korea. Therefore, that's where the lead is.
It's in New York.
We do hope that countries around the world will contribute to this
request because this isn't about politics. It isn't about propping up
the North Korean regime. It's about helping young children under the
age of six make sure they don't starve and to alleviate their
malnourishment. It's a humanitarian question.
Q: One quick follow-up on that. Congressman Hall on Capitol Hill has
been beseeching his colleagues to work in that direction, as well, so
far not with too much results. Does the State Department applaud his
activities or activity --
BURNS: We certainly applaud the concern and the energy that
Congressman Hall has brought to this question. He had a very important
-- he made an important visit there and came back with some
significant views that he shared with the Administration.
The United States has acted -- you know, when we act overseas, we
represent all the American people including the Congress. We have
extended $25 million in assistance, which is quite significant. It
does meet, I think, our share of what the World Food Program expected
would be done. But we do call on other countries to step up to the
plate -- to stand up and to contribute to this effort because, surely,
it's very difficult to argue with a humanitarian imperative like this.
Q: Nick, you don't find it at all unusual that the next meeting after
your comments yesterday and Chuck Kartman's more or less ruling out
any more new aid for the time being, that the North Koreans postpone
this meeting this morning? You don't see any relationship there? You
don't find it unusual?
BURNS: No, I don't. In fact, I would think the North Koreans would be
quite grateful for international assistance and for the leading role
that the United States has brought to this. We are the leading
contributor over the last two and half years to the United Nations
food campaigns for North Korea.
I know that North Korean officials consistently in the past, leading
up to these talks, have expressed their gratitude for the humanitarian
efforts of the U.S. Government and the American people. So I wouldn't
link those issues, no.
Q: Well, but at the same time, they've asked for more -- in terms of
accepting the --
BURNS: Well, Sid, I can't go into what has been said in the privacy of
the confidential discussions underway up in New York. I just can't
acknowledge what has been said and what hasn't been said. I just know
that the United States has acted for the good here, and that our
contribution is quite significant.
Q: Well, I'm only pointing out the causal effect between your rebuff
of their request for more food and their delay of this meeting -- it
was delayed first till 10:00 a.m. then till 2:00 p.m., now till 4:00
p.m., asking you to comment on that, and wondering whether you all --
or have the North Koreans told you the meeting will resume at 4:00
p.m.? Or whether you all are assuming it will like you did with the
other two times this morning?
BURNS: Well, first of all, let's just put the record straight here.
It's an alleged causal effect. This is your supposition, Sid. It's the
Balman Supposition; it's not the U.S. Government supposition because I
don't agree with it.
Q: There are a lot of others who are making --
BURNS: -- we diplomats are trained in one thing above all things, and
that is to be patient. If we had gotten impatient about meetings
starting on time at Dayton, Ohio, a year a half ago, we never would
have dragged the parties across the finish line in November 1995. We
were very patient then; we went into extra innings. We gave them a
deadline, they didn't meet it. We went into extra innings, went to the
bottom of the 11th. We got it done. We will be patient.
Chuck Kartman is a very experienced foreign service officer. He has
served twice in South Korea. He knows the Koreans well. He knows the
North Koreans well. This kind of thing is not unusual in international
negotiations. We're not ruffled at all. We're patiently going about
our business here at the State Department. We're going to put our
shoulder to the wheel and make these negotiations succeed.
Q: Well, you don't appear --
BURNS: I just want to assure you, we're doing the right thing for all
of you and the American people here, Sid.
Q: Well, we're very relieved about that.
BURNS: Thank you very much. I'm glad to hear it. I'm heartened by that
Q: -- the details, are the North Koreans conditioning their acceptance
of the four-party proposal on anything?
BURNS: Well, George, with all due respect, the negotiations -- you
know, I don't know whether we're at the end of the beginning or the
beginning of the end or where we are in these negotiations. I mean,
the negotiations could end today successfully. They could end today in
failure. They could go on until tomorrow. They could go to next month.
I just don't know. Until they end, I just can't divulge the many, many
secrets that we're withholding from you about the content of these
negotiations. That's not my job. It's your job to find them out. It's
my job to protect the integrity of the negotiations.
Q: Nick, if I could just follow up on that, my question is, did the
North Koreans tell you they'd be there at 4:00 p.m.? Is that firm? Are
you all --
BURNS: They didn't tell me anything. I've never talked to a North
Korean in my life. I've never negotiated with them. I think, no, I'm
sorry, I'm just trying to -- I understand that the North Koreans said
they'll be there at 4:00 p.m. Now, if they're not there at 4:00 p.m.,
and they want to come at 5:00 p.m., I think we'll still be there and
the talks will begin. So we're going to be very patient about this.
We've been waiting 43 years to try to begin a process to end the
Korean War. It never ended by treaty, it ended by armistice. A couple
more hours is not going to make a big difference to us.
Q: Thank you, Nick. Generally speaking, these discussions going on in
New York, are they prerequisites, prerequisite issues to the
acceptance of the four-party talks? Or can you even say that much?
BURNS: No, if the North Koreans wanted to stand up in Washington
Square and say that they wanted to go to the four-party talks, that'd
be good enough for us. But they wanted to come here to New York, to
the United States. They wanted to have a discussion with us about
their response to our proposal. So we'll meet with them. They don't
have to jump through any hoops. If they just say, we agree to the
talks and we'll come, the talks will begin. We'll get together with
the Chinese and the South Koreans and we'll schedule talks.
Again, this is a very important proposal. This is about peace and
security in one of the most unstable and dangerous places on Earth --
the DMZ that separates North and South Korea. 37,000 American soldiers
are up there; hundreds of thousands of South Korean soldiers. We want
to create an environment where they don't have to go to war, and where
the security of our ally, South Korea, and all the people of South
Korea can be protected. That is the aim of going to four-party talks
and fashioning an agreement that will reduce the dangers, the military
dangers along the 151 miles of the DMZ.
Q: You're not saying that the North Koreans have already said, oh, we
want to have four-party talks, but ..
BURNS: I'm not saying anything like that.
BURNS: Because I'm not reporting on the contents of the negotiations.
Are you guys filibustering here? Do you want to keep me out here until
4:00 p.m., so then I can say the talks have started? I mean, there are
lots of important issues. We've got the Middle East. We have CWC. We
have the Red Cross. We have reorganization. We've been waiting a
decade or two for that. We've got the Romanian foreign minister. We've
got the Slovak foreign minister. We have Antarctica, which you never
ask me about; and I've got a statement on it today. I'm loaded for
bear. We've got Turkey; we've got Greece; we've got everything --
Colombia. Yes.Let's talk about foreign policy here. Lebanon, we've
got all sorts of things. Yes.