[EXCERPTS] DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
BRIEFER: NICHOLAS BURNS MONDAY, APRIL 21, 1997
BURNS: The Secretary, after breakfast, met with the Director of USIA,
Joe Duffy; the Director of ACDA, John Holum; and the acting Director
of AID, Jill Buckley, along with our Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott and
others. This was the first in a series of regular meetings to make
sure that, as we launch the implementation of the reorganization of
our foreign affairs agencies here in Washington, it's done so in a
very cooperative way; and done in a way that will be open and
inclusive and lead to the best possible results.
As you know, the Secretary has asked Undersecretary of State Pat
Kennedy to coordinate the efforts of all the agencies as we seek to
consolidate and integrate over the next several years. He is going to
be establishing a variety of working groups to let this happen. And as
I said, the Secretary will be meeting regularly with the agency heads
to make sure that this process unfolds in as good a way, positive a
way, for all of our employees here in all of the agencies as can be
Q: Do you have any reaction to the comment by the North Korean
defector, to the effect that war is an option of the North Korean
BURNS: Well, as Secretary of Defense Cohen said yesterday, there's no
question that the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea is
one of the most dangerous spots on Earth -- that 151-kilometer-wide
zone. The United States has deployed 37,000 troops to the Republic of
Korea, and we've done so for many decades because we are fundamentally
committed to the defense of the Republic of Korea and the North knows
We will maintain the American presence in the Republic of Korea, in
South Korea. We will defend our ally, South Korea, obviously, if there
is ever a situation where the security of South Korea is threatened.
However, I think we need to remind ourselves that all of the
international diplomacy with North Korea over the past couple of
months has been to orient the North away from any threats towards war
or any plans to initiate any conflict with the South and with the
That is why the United States and South Korea have jointly proposed
the four-party peace talks. It's why we hope that the North Koreans,
despite all the missed meetings over the last couple of days, might
still accept our proposal for the four-party peace talks. We are
working well with the North Koreans, and effectively, on the issue of
the agreed framework -- possibly the single most important issue to
the United States, to South Korea and Japan. We have frozen North
Korea's nuclear program.
We have also responded successfully, and we think quite vigorously, to
North Korea's wish for food assistance, with the $25 million proposed
by the United States in the last two months. So despite the rhetoric
that one sometimes hears too often from Pyongyang, and despite what
Mr. Gwan has said, we think that actually the events seem to indicate
that the North Koreans at least are opened to further talk with the
United States, with South Korea, with Japan, with other countries in
Asia who are interested in peace and security on the Korean Peninsula.
But the fundamental point, of course, that we must always remember is
that the United States is committed to the security of the Republic of
Korea. That's why our troops are there. That's why they're forward
deployed. They are ready, and we are confident that if we can continue
some of this political progress, we can diminish the talk of conflict.
But we're certainly ready to defend the Republic of Korea if we have
Q: What's the story in New York? Why have the North --
BURNS: Why did you spend all weekend in New York? When did you get
Q: Why are the North Koreans basically leaving you guys hanging? And
is there a realistic possibility that they will have a senior
negotiating session anytime soon?
BURNS: Well, just to review the state of play, we were supposed to
have had a meeting on Friday and then one on Saturday. Last evening,
the North Koreans asked suddenly for a meeting. So there was an
informal informational session in New York last evening. Our leader of
our delegation, Chuck Kartman, was here. So Mark Minton, our very
capable office director, represented the United States. There was an
exchange of views last evening.
Now, I understand that there is the possibility of another
working-level session this afternoon up in New York. Chuck Kartman,
who is now in Washington, and with whom I spoke on a couple of
occasions this morning, is prepared to return to New York for any
meeting of the three delegations that the North Koreans wish to
propose. At this point, however, the North Koreans seem reluctant to
come back to the Republic of Korea and the United States for the kind
of full working session that we had anticipated.
The offer of four-party peace talks is still on the table. We hope the
North Koreans will accept it. Whether they will or not is anyone's
guess. So there is a bit of a muddle in New York right now, a
diplomatic muddle. But I can assure you, it doesn't change the policy
or the attitude of the United States; or for that matter, the Republic
of Korea. The offer's on the table. It's a good offer. We think it
makes sense for North Korea to accept the offer.
With all this talk that we've heard over the weekend of people
threatening war, and with the talk of a food crisis, this is surely
the time for North Korea to turn towards the United States, the
Republic of Korea and China and to begin these talks towards peace and
stability on the Korean Peninsula. That's the goal of the talks.
Q: But, Nick, how long are you going to wait? I mean, realistically,
if North Korea continues to string you out over the course of the next
week or so --
BURNS: Well, I think that there are probably two answers to this
question. The first answer is, we can't wait forever. We can't keep
our finely-tuned and highly-charged diplomatic team ready in New York
forever. At some point we've got to tell that team to stand down.
That's not today because I think there will be a working group. We
hope there will be a working level session. We still do hold out the
possibility of a full session led by Chuck Kartman, our American
negotiator. But we'll just have see if the North Koreans are
interested in that kind of meeting.
The second answer is, even if the delegations disperse in New York at
some point this week, the offer by President Clinton and President Kim
still stands -- the offer of four-party talks. If for any reason we re
not able to consummate an agreement this week, that offer will still
stand on the table -- stay on the table, excuse me.
Q: The South Koreans are saying that the North Koreans have demanded
more food aid, and they want the United States to make some sort of
commitment about lifting sanctions. Is that basically what's on the
table? Is that what's blocking this?
BURNS: Well, yes, I think that the North Koreans have raised the issue
of food assistance throughout these meetings in New York, the meetings
that were held last week. They continue to raise it. Our response is
that we don't link food aid to these political talks for peace and
stability on the Korean Peninsula.
In fact, we don't believe that food aid should be a pre-condition or a
condition, or linked in any way to these talks. Now, having said that,
I think the North Koreans can see good faith on the part of the United
States. We have responded twice now in two months with a total of $25
million to the UN food appeals. We're the largest single donor over
the last two years. We've already responded positively to the United
Nations when North Korea has been in trouble on the question of food.
So I think we've shown our good faith on that issue.
But clearly the North Koreans just need to make a fundamental
decision. Do they want to go forward with four-party talks or not? The
offer remains on the table. But I don't think the delegations can just
sit there -- all that high-priced diplomatic talent from the State
Department -- forever.
Q: The issue --
BURNS: They've got to get back down here to Washington and work on
some other problems.
Q: What about the issue of lifting -- the United States lifting
BURNS: Well, the United States is not in the position to take any
further action until we see where we re going in this relationship.
The sanctions remain in place, and with good reason.
Q: Nick, would this current model be attributable to the timing of Mr.
Hwang's arrival in Seoul and his public statements? Is that possibly
making the North Koreans nervous?
BURNS: I have no idea. I just don't know. I don't believe they have
stated so to the American delegation. I have no way of knowing what is
going on in their minds. They just have to make a straight up and down
political calculation here, a national interest calculation.
We think it is in North Korea's interest to go to the four-party talks
because we need to move forward with the issue of peace and stability
on the Peninsula. Yes, sir.
Q: Have the South Koreans indicated to you how long they are willing
to stay in New York?
BURNS: Well, I don't want to get into that. We obviously are in very
close touch with the South Koreans. South Korea is our ally, our joint
negotiating partner. But I don't think it's time for anybody to make
I'm just trying -- we're trying to be forthcoming here. If they want a
meeting of the full delegations, we'll have a meeting of the full
delegations. If they want a working level meeting, an informational
meeting, we'll have one of those. But whatever happens, the offer is
going to remain on the table. That's the important point today.
Q: You say that the North Koreans have raised a food issue. In what
BURNS: Well, let's just review the bidding here. The North Koreans
told the United States and South Korea, we want to come to New York to
give you an answer to your offer for four-party talks. That's why we
held the meetings in New York last week.
We didn't get the answer. We haven't got the full answer. We have some
preliminary indications, but not a full answer. They do continue to
raise the food issue in the course of those political talks. They want
the issues to be joined. Our view is, we are responding adequately and
vigorously and with some compassion, from a humanitarian point of
view, to the desperate food situation of the North Koreans. The United
States has been the leader in that regard, other countries are
So the North Koreans ought not to worry about that. Food aid is going
forward. But let's not link food aid or any other issues as
pre-conditions or conditions to the four-party talks proposal. It's so
important, we've got to move forward with that on its own basis.
Q: They want a long-term humanitarian aid commitment from the United
States? Is that what they're talking about?
BURNS: I can't speak specifically. You will have to ask Kim Gye Gwan
and the North Korean delegation what they want. I can't speak
specifically to what they're telling us because I don't want to betray
the confidentiality of the negotiations.
But it's obvious from the public comments that you've heard in New
York -- and I felt we had to say this today -- that they are raising
the food aid issue. We just hope to assure them that food aid is
coming. It's coming through the United Nations and through private
voluntary organizations. They ought to be assured that we have made a
good faith proposal on the four-party talks.
Q: If you're not able to get an answer on the four-party talks, will
you continue with the U.S.-North Korea bilateral?
BURNS: We haven't made that decision yet. We re not predicting failure
yet; we're optimists. We prefer to think that the North Koreans will
want to have this meeting at the highest level, that is with Chuck
Kartman, and that they'll want to move forward. If they don't, we'll
have to deal with that situation as it comes along. Charlie?
Q: Different subject, Nick?
BURNS: Still on North Korea? David.
Q: Nick, you said that you are responding adequately to their request
for food, and you said that the North Koreans ought not to worry. But
food program -- World Food Program officials on Capitol Hill last week
were saying that the situation looked so serious that there might be
-- that the kinds of contributions that have so far been offered by
the U.S. and others might not be anywhere near adequate to avoid mass
hunger before the end of the summer in North Korea. So don't they have
every reason to worry? And don't they have every reason to try to use
whatever bargaining power they have to get more food?
BURNS: First, I think it's a very important point that the United
States has responded to every appeal by the World Food Program since
1995, over two years now. We've been the leading contributor. When the
World Food Program came forward in late January and said we need food
for North Korea, we responded. When they came forward a couple of
weeks ago and said we need an additional batch of food, we responded.
If the World Food Program comes forward again and says, it's not
enough from the international community, we need more, we would
obviously look at that very seriously, as we do all requests from the
United Nations. So I don't think it's fair to leave the impression
here that somehow the United States is falling down on the job.
We've responded to every appeal. But we can't create the appeals. We
rely upon the World Food Program to tell us what the need is, what
they need from individual member countries of the United Nations. What
you've seen is a very generous contribution from the United States.
This may not be the end of the story. If there are further appeals for
food, then we'll look at that very seriously on a humanitarian basis
-- not linked to any of these political issues. We even said last
week, if the North Koreans come to New York and reject the four-party
peace talks, we will go forward with our food aid. It is not linked in
We haven't told the North Koreans you have to agree to the four-party
talks if you want food aid. We've not said that. We've said we're
going forward on a humanitarian basis. So I don't like the implication
-- not necessarily by you, David, but by other people on the Hill --
that somehow the United States is not doing enough. We've responded to
every appeal; and if another one is put before us, we'll look at it.
Q: They've also said the Japanese and the South Koreans have not come
up with the amount of aid that the World Food Program was asking for.
They are waiting to hear what the answer is. And that is, I guess, the
North Koreans' concern.
BURNS: All countries need to make their own decisions. We believe this
is a humanitarian crisis. We believe it is a serious food deficit; and
we believe countries ought to react to this the way they would to any
other part of the world when there's a serious food crisis. All of us
have a humanitarian imperative to help. It's not, obviously, just a
question for South Korea and Japan. It's also a question for many
other countries around the world. Asian countries that are close to
North Korea, geographically -- closer than we are -- also have an
international responsibility to act. We're convinced of one thing --
there is a genuine food crisis in North Korea.
Q: On Sunday you were saying that this is sort of a chicken and the
egg situation. And some experts think that instead of sort of
insisting that the North Koreans accept peace talks and enter into
that process, and then having the Americans and the South Koreans deal
in a much larger, systematic way with their food problem, that there
should be a package deal. You know, they accept the peace talks
simultaneously with lifting sanctions or there being some huge
donation from the Japanese or the South Koreans.
Acknowledging all that you've said before, I just want to see, is
there any thought being given to that kind of a deal, given the
situation you're in now, which is an impasse?
BURNS: We do know that the people of North Korea are desperate for
food assistance. It's been 43 years, going on 44, since the Armistice
was signed in 1953. Surely we don't want to link the provision of food
assistance to political talks. It may be another 40 years before we
can get a peace treaty signed. Who knows? It may be four months; it
may be 40 years. So we don't want to link food aid to the peace talks,
because we want to get the food to the people who need it quickly,
without any regard to politics and to international negotiations.
That's the first thing to say.
Second, there's an offer on the table. The offer was made April 16th,
1996, at Chezu Island, by President Kim and President Clinton. It's a
good faith offer. It's time the North Koreans decided whether they
want to accept the offer or not. That offer is in the national
interest, we believe, of North Korea to accept because it provides
them a way, along with China, to talk to the U.S. and South Korea
about how we can diminish the DMZ; how we can establish something in
the longer term that might represent a peace treaty that will protect
all Koreans -- North and South. That surely has to be in the interest
of North Korea.
So we're not in the business of linking all these issues. We think
it's a straight up or down proposal, very fair, very clear. Yes.
Q: Can I try and clarify that you said that eventually the U.S. side
would have to stand down. Can you just say if that's days or weeks or
longer than that?
BURNS: Oh, it's hard to predict. We have a lot of patience. We're
patient people. We want these talks to succeed. We have our team in
New York. Chuck's ready to take the shuttle up to New York whenever
the North Koreans want to meet. Chuck will lead the team, Chuck
It just stands to reason, we can't stay there for a year. We can't
stay there, probably, for a month; maybe not even for a couple of
weeks. Who knows? Maybe not even a full week. But we can certainly
stay another day or two, and then we'll have to see what happens.
Q: Going back to talks with North Korea.
Q: Did they demand any specific kinds of grains or quantities?
BURNS: I can't go into the specifics of the negotiations. They did
talk repeatedly about food assistance, but I don't want to get into
the details of it.
Q: Would you confirm whether you have been permitted to have a chance
for U.S. direct questioning Mr. Hwang Jang Yop?
BURNS: Yes. As Secretary Cohen said yesterday, we've been assured by
the South Korean Government that we will have direct access to him,
and we look forward to that.
Q: Any particular timeframe on that?
BURNS: I don't know when that will happen. Obviously he's just arrived
in Seoul today. He's been through quite an ordeal over the last
several months, but the United States will have access to him. That's
very important considering the role we play for the defense of South
Q: That was my question. So I take it, Nick, the United States then
would have an interest to verify the story he tells about the
conditions and about the mental state of the government of Korea?
BURNS: We have an interest in talking to him about a variety of