By Jane A. Morse USIA Diplomatic Correspondent 04 March 97

Washington -- The United States is prepared to look at security "in a fairly broad sense," as final preparations are made for an upcoming briefing by the United States and South Korea for North Korean officials.

During a background briefing March 3, a senior State Department official, who did not wish to be identified, acknowledged that "It's all too easy to be very cynical about the whole idea of peace talks on the Korean peninsula...." Nonetheless, he admitted to being "excited about the project we're about to launch."

And that project -- a day-long briefing to be held March 5 in New York City -- is the culmination of months of work which began with the April 1996 visit of President Bill Clinton to the Republic of Korea (ROK). On April 16, Clinton and President Kim Young Sam announced a proposal to hold "Four Party" talks with North and South Korean officials as well as U.S. and Chinese officials. The hoped-for outcome is to replace the armistice with a peace agreement.

The Clinton-Kim announcement came at a time when the North Koreans were engaged in very threatening rhetoric and destabilizing activities such as troop movements in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which is forbidden under the armistice, the State Department official said. Yet the Clinton-Kim offer was an invitation to the North Koreans to participate in setting the agenda for talks -- an invitation made with no conditions attached, the official noted.

North Korea's decision to attend the March 5 "Joint Briefing" represents the first time North Korea has agreed to sit down with South Korean officials to discuss peace agreement possibilities and is an important turning point, according to the State Department official. Previously, the North Koreans insisted that they would talk only with U.S. officials, a demand that was consistently rejected by the United States.

The State Department official predicted that "The North Korean side will be very careful to preserve an element of doubt and to see how far they can take that. However, I would say that for the North Koreans the hard decision was to sit down with the ROK in a venue where the armistice is the subject under discussion." The official emphasized that all sides understand that the "Joint Briefing" is just a briefing and not peace negotiations.

He added that "I can't predict whether they (North Korea) will go on to Four Party talks...but I do feel strongly that for them that first meeting this coming Wednesday is the highest hurdle."

The official noted that "We have worked for months to craft a joint presentation in which the two sides -- that is, the U.S. and ROK -- have comparable roles, where we make every effort to not allow the North Korean side to somehow play one of us off against the other. We have worked very hard to make sure that what we say is internally consistent."

"We're going to try to convince them (North Korea) that we're prepared to look at security in a fairly broad sense," the State Department official said. He explained that security issues extend beyond military considerations to the economic situation, including North Korea's severe food shortage. "If the North Koreans choose to broaden these talks in that direction, we will be prepared to take that seriously and to try to deal with it," the State Department official said.

Leading the respective delegations will be Acting Assistant Secretary of State Charles Kartman, North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan and South Korean Assistant Foreign Minister Song Young-shik.

The day following the March 5 Joint Briefing, U.S. and ROK officials will review the previous day's work with each other and make themselves available for any follow-up questions from the North Koreans.

On March 7, the United States will hold bilateral talks with the North Koreans. Among the topics to be discussed will be North Korean missile sales to "rogue states," the opening of U.S. and North Korean liaison offices, terrorism concerns, and an accounting of U.S. missing-in-action from the Korean War.

The State Department official predicted that the North Koreans "will want to raise particularly our rather complex sanctions regime and their hope that it can be lifted." But he added that North Korean expectations on this point are "unrealistically high," and that any progress towards lifting sanctions will depend on North Korea's taking steps to satisfy U.S. concerns on the bilateral meeting agenda.

The United States has "a fairly complex set of sanctions that are tied to a number of different things," explained the State Department official. "One set is called the 'Trading With the Enemy Act'; one set is caused by North Korea's inclusion on the (U.S.) terrorism list; and we also have some more targeted sanctions that are related to missile sales...."

But the March 7 bilaterals are important, the U.S. State Department official emphasized, because "we are, in fact, offering them the opportunity to sit down and talk to us about how to get to a permanent state of peace" which would lead to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea being removed from "enemy status" with the United States.