News

STATE DEPT. NOON BRIEFING, FEB. 27
State Department Spokesman Nicholas Burns briefed NORTH KOREA
16-17 Changes to Political Structure/Food Aid/Four-Party Talks/Defection

Q: Nick, North Korea. In light of this -- of the Deputy Defense Minister of North Korea -- just last Saturday Defense Minister died in North Korea, and also the Prime Minister just resigned and Mr. Hwang defected. Do you see any changes of the leadership in North Korea? Any sign of change?

BURNS: There's clearly a lot going on in North Korea these days. It's clearly a time of turbulence in North Korean society -- no question about it -- with the events that you mentioned and also the terrible food shortages that are affecting the civilian population. We can't do much to affect the North Korean political structure or to affect who's in what job.

But we can do two things that are important. We can deliver the food aid that we promised, and we'll do that, because that might help young kids in North Korea who are victims of the system there -- the communist system there and second we can work at the Four-Party briefing talks that will commence on March 4 in New York to see if we can convince the North Koreans to go to peace negotiations with the South Koreans and the Chinese and ourselves, and we can make sure that the Agreed Framework is being implemented, which it is. These are our interests in North Korea, and we're going to pursue all of those interests.

But I think we have very limited leverage over what happens internally over who sits in which chairs in Pyongyang.

Q: March 4th or March 5th?

BURNS: March 4th.

Q: But they say March 5th.

BURNS: We said March 4th yesterday, didn't we -- the date for the New York --

Q: Three-party talks -- 5.

BURNS: Is it 5th? I stand corrected. Sorry.

Q: Can I follow. So you say -- in which direction do you think North Korea is going -- the reform direction or more turbulent and disorganized in light of the changing of the leadership?

BURNS: I think it's impossible for us to answer that question adequately for you. It's a complex society -- very difficult to read what's going on inside the country -- but clearly given everything that you've mentioned, society is in some turbulence.

Q: Nick, has it always been the Administration position that it doesn't serve anyone's interest for North Korea to come tumbling down in a violent upheaval, and your efforts have tended to sort of coax them into a more moderate position.

BURNS: Our primary interest is to see stability maintained on the Korean peninsula -- not that we support the communist system; we don't. But you don't want to see war break out, and that's why we have 37,000 American troops south of the DMZ -- inside or south of the DMZ -- and that's why we have a defense commitment to South Korea which is unshakable and has been for more than four decades. That's why we want to see the Agreed Framework maintained, because we don't want to see North Korea become a nuclear power; in fact, would never allow that to happen. So I think our interests are very, very clear, and we abide by those interests. We live by them.

Q: Can you tell me any new development of Mr. Hwang in Beijing?

BURNS: I do not. I'm not aware of any new developments. The Chinese Government and the South Korean Government are working together on this, and we just hope that this situation can be resolved peacefully and quickly and according to normal international norms, international practices in these kinds of cases. We had a very good briefing from the Chinese the other day about the status of Mr. Hwang and from the South Korean leadership two days prior to that.