[EXCERPT] U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing
Thursday, May 8, 1997 Briefer: Nicholas Burns
QUESTION: There's a Reuter's story out of Tokyo, quoting
Japanese officials saying that the United States is now tying
the issue of humanitarian food aid to North Korea's
willingness to join the four-party talks. Is there such a --
MR. BURNS: I've not seen the Reuter's story, and with all
due respect to Reuters, which is a terrific news organization,
has a wonderful correspondent here in the State Department
-- having said all that as pretext to an answer, I can tell you
the United States is not tying food assistance to North Korea
to the hope that the North Koreans might join the four-party
peace talks. I would remind you that the United States is the
lead contributor to the current appeal by the World Food
Program. We've said many times that if there are future
appeals by the World Food Program, we will take them very
seriously; and we mean that. We are not tying food aid in any
Now, there's been a lot of commentary out of Tokyo
because there was a very important trilateral meeting
yesterday among the United States, the Republic of Korea
and Japan. Chuck Kartman, our Acting Assistant Secretary
represented the United States. They did discuss the
worsening food situation in North Korea in all of its
dimensions. The United States did not indicate at that
meeting a change in policy on this question of food aid. In
fact, I know that the first ship, the Galveston Bay, arrived at
the port of Nampo yesterday. It is currently off-loading many
thousands of tons of corn and corn-soy blend. The second
ship will be arriving in just a couple of days. That is from the
first tranche of assistance that we pledged in February.
The second tranche of assistance, those ships will be
underway soon, and a total of $25 million in food aid will be
delivered. So we're going to continue with our commitments.
QUESTION: Nick, on Korea.
MR. BURNS: Yes.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. proposed alternative dates for
the missile talks?
MR. BURNS: Well, that's what we plan to do. We plan to
propose alternative dates now that the North Koreans have
said that the dates of May 12th and 13th are inconvenient for
technical reasons, whatever that is. I can't explain that.
Perhaps the North Koreans or someone else could explain
what technical reasons are. But we hope these talks can be
rescheduled. We want to have them because we're
concerned about the issue of missile proliferation.
QUESTION: You said you can't explain what technical
reasons are. Do you think this is a serious impediment, or do
you have a sense the North Koreans will come to the table in
a few weeks?
MR. BURNS: Well, in the words of my former boss,
Secretary Christopher, the North Koreans are sometimes,
perhaps most of the time, opaque. So rather than try to give
you a detailed answer as to why they've chosen to postpone
these talks, I think you should refer - perhaps if you tried to
tap into the website, the North Korean website, you could
pose and e-mail question to my counterpart, the North
Korean Foreign Ministry Spokesman in Pyongyang, and ask
him what technical reasons are.
But we do hope that the North Koreans will accept our
proposal to schedule and to show up at missile proliferation
talks, as well as to seriously reflect upon the serious offer
made by the United States and South Korea for four-party
talks. There's a lot on the table.
QUESTION: That's a much gloomier analysis, it seems to
me, than what was offered from that podium two days ago.
MR. BURNS: This podium?
MR. BURNS: No --
QUESTION: Not by you.
MR. BURNS: John and I have no - there's no difference in
whether we're gloomy or sunny. I think we almost always see
eye to eye on these affairs.
QUESTION: Nick, how about --
MR. BURNS: I think maybe we're opaque on this. But in
responding to an opaque situation, sometimes the best thing
is just to be straightforward.
QUESTION: Two days ago, it was put in terms of, hey, it's
a technical reason, we'll set another date.
QUESTION: And it will happen. And you're --
MR. BURNS: I completely agree with that brilliant
statement by Mr. Dinger.
QUESTION: Okay. Two days later now, the U.S. doesn't
see any real hang-up, nor does it understand what North
Korea means by technical reasons; is that correct?
MR. BURNS: I'm just saying I prefer not to tell you exactly
why the North Koreans chose to postpone the meeting
because I'm not sure we know. They cite technical reasons.
All we know is that we want to have the meeting. We think
they ought to sit down with us because missile proliferation is
a very big issue of concern to us. But I thought John did a
brilliant job when I was away, yes, and I would gladly
associate myself with the way he described it two days ago.
QUESTION: Well, that's going off on a tangent. If you want
to see --
MR. BURNS: I don't want to go off on a tangent.
QUESTION: If the U.S. wants to make sure they come to
talk, one rather obvious way is to propose new dates. Why
can't you settle on new dates?
MR. BURNS: John, have we actually proposed new
QUESTION: No, no.
MR. BURNS: We have. John says we have.
QUESTION: You haven't?
MR. BURNS: We have.
QUESTION: You have.
MR. DINGER: We proposed dates. We're working on it.
We have proposed dates.
MR. BURNS: We have proposed them. The North
Koreans have not come back and said we agree or disagree,
right? We're in that stage of these --
QUESTION: You remember the word soon, two days
ago? You proposed that they meet soon; is that correct?
MR. DINGER: Within a few weeks hence.
QUESTION: Within a few weeks.
MR. BURNS: Within a few weeks hence.
QUESTION: Well, backwards would be impossible.
MR. BURNS: See, we're being - you never can say that
the United States is opaque; we're transparent.
QUESTION: Within a few weeks hence. Hence is
unnecessary. Within a few weeks would be good.
MR. BURNS: We're very transparent people and
QUESTION: All right.
MR. BURNS: We believe in transparency.
QUESTION: So in the meantime, have you kept an eye on
what North Korea may be doing in the way of proliferating?
That could be a technical reason - they've got a few jobs to
finish off, a few packages to pack.
QUESTION: The Washington Times is liable to find it out
tomorrow, and you'll have to deal with it anyhow, so -
MR. BURNS: God help us.
QUESTION: Have you been keeping tabs on their
MR. BURNS: Barry, you're in a very suspicious --
QUESTION: Of North Korea? A little, yeah.
MR. BURNS: -- mood today.
QUESTION: A little suspicious.
MR. BURNS: Let me just tell you --
QUESTION: The U.S. Government thinks they're the
world's number-one proliferator. They've called off talks
where you were going to have difficult talks with them that
you were going to call to their attention your concerns about
their proliferation. You have no new date set. You don't
know why they called off the talks. So I wonder if you're
keeping an eye on them and have picked up anything
MR. BURNS: We're keeping an eye on them --
QUESTION: Have you picked up anything disturbing?
MR. BURNS: -- as you would expect us to do, because
we do find very serious allegations about North Korea's
missile program, obviously, and some of its activities. That's
why we want to have talks. We do have the ability to
monitor the activities of the North Koreans, and of course
we do that regularly and consistently because it's in our
national interest to do that. We hope, as John said, that the
North Koreans will agree to the resumption of the talks, to
specific dates, and they will show up for the talks. But I can't
tell you the talks have been rescheduled until the North
Koreans agree to that.
QUESTION: Can I ask about the food thing?
MR. BURNS: Yes.
QUESTION: And in a non-prejuritive way. Nobody --
MR. BURNS: You mean your question or my answer?
QUESTION: Well, I am not - no matter how this question
MR. BURNS: Okay.
QUESTION: Is there any intention here to suggest the
United States would be so heartless as to condition delivery
of food to starving people to the political moves taken by
their government? Okay, so that's not the question. I
distinctly remember --
MR. BURNS: I was about to answer that question.
QUESTION: Well, because you had said, we don't do that.
We are humanitarians.
MR. BURNS: It's true. We don't do that.
QUESTION: All right. Now, back in Korea, Secretary
Albright said quite --
MR. BURNS: In February.
QUESTION: In February, when it seemed quite logical,
that, indeed, the political situation in Korea is likely to have a
bearing on the food situation. And I took that to mean, fairly
obviously, that if North Korea behaved better, there would
be more of an inclination in the - they would do better
financially; economic conditions would ease. They would
have more money to buy food. They might get more food
that way. Isn't that what this is all about - without using the
word tying? Isn't it true that North Korea's political behavior
has a lot to do with how much food they will receive?
MR. BURNS: Well, I do remember Secretary Albright's
comment. I remember where it was made in the --
MR. BURNS: -- right after lunch with the South Korean
Foreign Minister. That is not what Secretary Albright meant,
and I have talked to her about it a couple of times.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. BURNS: It's not what she meant at all.
QUESTION: Her pejorative. You understand.
MR. BURNS: No. I understand that. It's not what she
meant. Let me tell you just where I come from this morning. I
just got back from Mexico last night. I turned on NPR this
morning. There was a very good report from Tokyo by the
very good correspondent there who said, essentially, the
United States has shifted gears and is now tying food aid to
the four-party talks.
I made inquiries this morning - John and I together - and we
understand in very clear terms that is not the case.
Unfortunately, he's a very good correspondent. I don't know
what that correspondent heard from other government
officials, not U.S. but other governments. But the United
States is not tying food aid. We think we ought to respond
on a humanitarian basis.
Let me just give you the obvious evidence for that. We have
not succeeded yet in convincing the North Koreans to show
up at four-party talks. We haven't even succeeded in
convincing them to show up at missile proliferation talks. So
we are not happy. We think they should have showed up to
both talks by now, and we hope they will in the future.
But we have not taken that unhappiness and changed our
policy to deny them food aid. We continue with the food aid.
The Galveston Bay arrived yesterday. There will be at least
three more shipments arriving, totaling $25 million. We
remain open to further contributions should the World Food
Program say that that is necessary, even in the near future.
So I think we have made clear by our own actions that we
are not tying food aid - or any other word you want to use,
Barry. We are not linking it. We are not associating it,
because there is a humanitarian imperative here.
QUESTION: Nick, this discussion is a little bit misleading.
MR. BURNS: Well, not from my part, Carol. I'm sorry to
just be very quick to say that.
QUESTION: All right, that's not being critical of you. I'm
just - it's sort of by omission, really. On the one hand, the
United States does say it will proceed with its own
humanitarian deliveries, and it has. As you say, when the
World Food Program asks, the United States has
responded. But it is also true that U.S. officials have said that
there will be no effort to - I mean, the amount of emergency
food aid that has gone to North Korea is very small
compared to what the need is assessed to be. And what
U.S. officials have said is that there will no large-scale effort,
no systematic effort to deal with the food crisis in North
Korea until North Korea comes to the peace talks.
I mean, there have been a number of public comments that
once North Korea sits down at the peace table, then all
things can be on the table. And so there is a distinction here
between the emergency food aid and the long-term, larger
effort, whatever that might be, to try to deal with this issue.
MR. BURNS: Well, let's see if I can be helpful in clarifying
QUESTION: I think that is what is confusing me.
MR. BURNS: -- in clarifying you - because I think you
have asked a very good question, and you have probably
drawn it the way it should be drawn.
We do not favor the current economic system of North
Korea, which is a communist system, which has clearly failed
the people. President Clinton mentioned this a couple of
weeks ago. We would like to see that system changed
because it's that system that has failed the North Korean
people and has led to the starvation and to the deprivation
that millions of North Koreans are now experiencing.
So are we going to put into North Korea billions of dollars of
American, or Western, or Asian money - either bilaterally or
multilaterally to subsidize a communist economic system? No
way. We're not going to do that. But that's not the question
that we've been asked by the United Nation's World Food
Program. The World Food Program came forward with a
limited appeal -- limited because it's not $5 billion, it's several
hundred million. Excuse me, no, it's not several hundred
million, excuse me. Let's check the figure. But it's a limited
MR. BURNS: Let's check the figure, but it's a limited
MR. BURNS: I think that was the figure and that rings true.
We have done, if you look at our $25 million contribution,
the most of any country around the world, and I think the
World Food Program is satisfied by the level of our
assistance. So, we're going to respond on an emergency
humanitarian basis to try to get food to people who need it in
a failing system, but we are not going to spend billions of
dollars of American money to prop up a decrepit, ancient,
oxymoron, which is communist economics. There is the
distinction that I think we can all draw for you.
Unfortunately, I think Barry's first question pertained to some
of the press reports coming out of Tokyo that we've decided
even to hold up the limited food assistance of that type of
assistance, and that's what I heard this morning in the press
reports and I can tell you that's not the case. So, I'd like to
draw that distinction which I think is pretty clear.
QUESTION: Have American officials said to the North
Koreans that if you come to the four-party talks and if there
is progress, et cetera, there might be some assistance down
MR. BURNS: What I think we've said, without betraying
the confidentiality of those negotiations, is that if you come to
the four-party talks, many things are possible in the
relationship. But I wouldn't just center on food aid. But I'd
center on the future. We'd like to eventually at some point
have a more normal relationship with North Korea. Now,
that objective will really depend and be a function of North
Korea's ability to change and to adapt and to act in a way
that is consistent with international principles economically
and politically. It's a longer term objective.
QUESTION: Even if it were still communist North Korea?
MR. BURNS: We're going to continue to cooperate with
North Korea on MIAs. In fact, the talks are underway this
week here in Washington headed by DOD on that issue, on
the Agreed Framework, on the four-party talks and on the
question of food. There are possibilities, obviously, for
cooperation that would emanate from any kind of political
normalization, but these are objectives that are far in the
future and that are going to be very difficult to achieve.
Yes? Still on North Korea?
QUESTION: I know that DOD has the lead in this issue,
but can you report on the progress on the MIA talks?
MR. BURNS: DOD has the lead, Mr. Wold, Deputy
Assistant Secretary of Defense, is the lead on MIA issues.
We have a State Department representative there. I think I
would prefer to let DOD characterize how the talks are
going. There are more than 81,009 cases of MIA from the
Korean War. There is an attempt to try to bring the families,
some of the American families together with a North Korean
delegation this week here in Washington and we hope that
50 years after the war - excuse me - 40-odd years after the
war, that might be possible to bring them together so that the
North Koreans can hear directly from American - New
York - thank you - the North Koreans can hear directly from
American families what their personal concerns are.
Thank you, Sid, for correcting me on that.
QUESTION: Does the United States have a voice on the
World Food Program?
MR. BURNS: It's an agency of the United Nations. So,
there are Americans who work for it and since we're the
largest financial contributor, yes, we have a voice; but it is an
agency of the UN and we work very well with it.
QUESTION: But the United States has input into the - has
a voice on the organization that determines how much is, in
fact, an emergency ration of food for the North Koreans.
MR. BURNS: Those decisions are made by the experts, by
Ms. Bertini and the experts on the World Food Program
staff, so they are not in any way dictated to by the United
States or any other member country. We have a voice in that
Americans are in the organization, itself. In the annual review
of these organizations we can assess country by country
whether we are pleased by the performance of the
organization. I don't want to insinuate that somehow we're
calling the shots of an independent UN agency. We have a
great respect for it because it has a very good track record.