News

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING on NORTH KOREA
February 26, 1997 Briefer: Nicholas Burns
11 DPRK Postponement of Briefing on the Four Party Talks
12 Food Aid and the Four Party Talks
12-13 Chinese Request of Asylum for North Korean Defector Hwang

Q: Why is third time a charm? Korea has refused to come to the joint briefings -- North Korea -- twice. Did something transpire when Secretary Albright was in Seoul that makes them believe that the third time is going to be a charm?

BURNS: The North Koreans did postpone twice last month the Four-Party Talks briefing that had been scheduled for New York, but they let us know. We meet with them in New York, as you know, weekly. They let us know in that channel that they wanted to come this time; that they were definitely coming, and on that basis we decided to go forward with the briefings. This is a good sign.

The object of this exercise is to convince the North Koreans that they ought to go to the talks with China, the United States and the Republic of Korea to talk about ways to reduce tension along the demilitarized zone. Secretary Albright was up there last Saturday. It's an extraordinary experience to look over that fence into North Korea; to know that it's one of the most heavily fortified places on earth.

What the North Koreans should know is that the United States has a fundamental commitment to the security of South Korea; that our 37,000 troops in the Republic of Korea are dedicated to defending South Korea. That's why we want to go to the Four-Party Talks: to reduce this climate of suspicion and distrust, to reduce the level of military tension along the 151 miles of the Demilitarized Zone, and to try to point towards eventually a peace treaty that would end effectively, after 46 excuse me, 43 years, the Korean War.

Q: History. They refuse to come to the Four-Party Talks, and we are now giving them $10 million in food aid. Do you think they're going to keep holding out until they get as much food aid assistance as they can get?

BURNS: The United States has not drawn a connection between aid to kids in North Korea, which is what our $10 million is going towards. It's going to be food to help people -- kids under five and their families, obviously -- their mothers and fathers cope with malnutrition. We don't draw that connection.

Q: How are you assuring that it's going to the kids and the mothers and fathers and not --

BURNS: We're working through the World Food Program, which has an established track record for effective distribution, and the World Food Program tells us that the people under greatest threat during the current famine in North Korea are very small children. The threat is malnutrition and death by starvation. Therefore, the money contributed by the United States, by the Republic of Korea, by European Governments, is going to be directed through the WFP to those kids. We're confident that the food aid will get to those kids. It's not going to go to the North Korean military, and it's not going to go to the North Korean Government.

But North Korea has a national self-interest in showing up at New York on March 5, because the country is in crisis. There's obviously a political crisis underway, and there's also, obviously, a food crisis underway. They need to get on to the work of peace with South Korea, 43 years after the armistice of 1953, and that's our goal. We hope after the briefing on March 5th, the North Koreans will decide to go to the formal peace talks that President Kim and President Clinton envisaged when they announced this last April.

Q: Nick, is China -- can you confirm or deny that China actually approached the United States or Madam Albright when she was there about giving political asylum to Hwang Jang-Yop if he doesn't find his way back to Seoul or if he doesn't get asylum anywhere else?

BURNS: No, I just have no comment to make. I'm not aware of any such request. I was in all the meetings that Secretary Albright had with President Jiang Zemin, with Premier Li Peng and with Foreign Minister Qian Qichen. I'm just not aware of it. In fact, when we were in Seoul and Beijing, we were briefed by the South Korean Government and the Chinese Government on the state of play concerning the defector, and we received very good briefings on it. We are not a party to this. We've not been requested to be involved, as far as I know, and we haven't volunteered that.

Q: Did you have briefings on that? Do you know what his state is? Can you -- do you have any --

BURNS: I cannot, because the United States Government is not involved. So I would really direct you to my colleague, Shen Guofang, the Chinese Spokesman, or the South Korean Spokesman.