News

28 November 1997

TRANSCRIPT: 11/21 BACKGROUND BRIEFING ON FOUR-PARTY PREP. TALKS

(Plenary talks on Korean Peninsula to begin December 9)  (3410)



New York -- The United States, the Republic of Korea (ROK), the
Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), and the People's
Republic of China have agreed to begin plenary talks to achieve a
lasting and stable peace on the Korean Peninsula, according to a
senior American official speaking on background.


The negotiations are scheduled to begin in Geneva on December 9, the
official said at a November 21 background briefing in New York.


"There are two logical, broad agenda items" to the negotiations, the
official said. "One is that structural basket of how to replace the
Armistice, and then the other is that set of things which will reduce
tension or build confidence among the parties that make those
structural changes meaningful. And then you can find all sorts of ways
to break it down beyond those two."


"In order to get to Geneva, we have agreed that this very broad
language is suitable and appropriate to describe what we want to do.
So we have actually taken the very broad two-part agenda that I was
mentioning and further simplified it, although I think you will find
the necessary elements of the two-part agenda are contained pretty
clearly in it," the official continued.


The official stressed that there is no linkage whatsoever between
North Korea's participation in the talks and U.S. food aid to North
Korea.


Following is the transcript of the briefing:



(begin text)



BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL

ON FOUR-PARTY PREPARATORY TALKS



COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY

KELLOGG CENTER FOR CONTINUING EDUCATION

SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

November 21, 1997



SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Well, hello everybody again. This will be
the last time that I get to background you from here. From now on,
we'll be doing our background briefings in Geneva.


Today was really a rather quiet finish to what has been an on-again,
off-again process. For reasons that I cannot really even speculate
about, the North Korean side came with the seriousness that had been
absent in the last meeting. And we moved right through all the
business that we had to accomplish, namely the agenda and the specific
dates for this meeting. I would like to say, that there had been some
very fine work done by members of our delegations to help us get to
this point. And so this -- what we have called the working-level
meeting -- was an important contributor.


And, of course, as always, we are grateful to the people here at
Columbia for their generosity and flexibility in making these
facilities available to us on relatively short notice. Finally, I
think it is worth noting that although -- I will say that all four
delegations were present with seriousness of purpose and skillfulness
of their diplomacy. I would want to note in particular that the U.S.
and the ROK have, as always, been most cooperative and coordinated. We
have held consultations at various moments leading up to this. And far
from today having been a (inaudible) event that was sought
particularly by the United States and conceived of by the United
States, this was very much the fruit of our joint efforts dating all
the way back to the original proposal by the two presidents, President
Clinton and President Kim Young Sam, in Cheju. And so we have been
together every step of this long way.


The facts of what we agreed speak for themselves. They're in this
public, joint press announcement. But I would be very happy to
entertain questions if there are items of background that you wish to
ask about.


QUESTION: Did the North Korean delegation explicitly drop the demands
on troop withdrawal and a separate peace treaty with Washington?


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: The agenda, the language of the agenda was
agreed. It is a single statement. What we have done to get to that
point is to assure, as a principle of this, that all parties, or any
party, is free to raise any issue, which is, of course -- This is
something that we could not prevent from occurring anyway.


QUESTION:  So, is that a concession on the U.S. side?  (Inaudible)



SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Well, if you wish to call it a concession by
us, you're free to do so, but that was our position coming into this.
It's kind of hard to see how we conceded anything to get to our
position.


QUESTION: I thought your position was not to include those in the
talks, and this wording seems to be comprehensive enough so they could
(inaudible).


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Our position was that a broad and
comprehensive agenda would not prejudge the talks.


QUESTION: Why do you think North Korea got serious this time?



SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: I think you'll have to ask them. I do not
know. But I think that it was apparent by their behavior that they
were ready on this occasion to reach these agreements.


QUESTION: Is there any food aid issue or any kind of linking
(inaudible)?


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL:  No.



QUESTION: The announcement (inaudible) peace regime. (Inaudible) Is
that more towards reunification? What does peaceful regime mean?


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Well, at various times and in various
places, a lot of different words have been used to describe this -- a
peace regime, a peace mechanism, a peace structure, a permanent peace,
a peace accord, etc. -- and this just happened to be the word that
popped up this time. But it has no special significance.


QUESTION: To the last question. This (inaudible) agenda,
confidence-building measures have been dropped, the words
confidence-building measures were dropped and issues concerning
tensions, that was there. Is this some compromise to accommodate North
Korean request? I think they can discuss every -- redeployment or
(inaudible) U.S. forces on Korean peninsula. Is this some concession?


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: No, it isn't. This language is simply
consistent with the overall effort to make the language be broader,
rather than more narrow, and confidence-building measures is surely
subsumed by tension reduction.


QUESTION: What time frame are you looking at, at this point, to try
and accomplish something in the next round of talks? Is this is a
first in a year-long process (inaudible)?


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: I don't know if you all heard. The question
was about how long it's going to last. I think that this first session
will probably be a rather brief one and, perhaps, mostly procedural,
in order to launch the structures of this talk. And subsequent
sessions may be a bit longer. But I think that there will be many
sessions over a period of at least a few years. That would be my
prediction.


Of course, we will be working on this seriously and with urgency, and
so it's not our goal to have it drag out. But I think that the task is
big enough, we have waited long enough, that to lead you to believe
that we will get it all done within a few months would be foolish.


QUESTION: Who is supposed to be the heads of the delegations in
Geneva?


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Each delegation is now going to go back and
pick its delegations, and we will inform each other of what we're
going to do. So those are decisions that haven't been made yet.


QUESTION: You mention about the structure of the meeting. Do you have
in mind like a (inaudible) meeting and a (inaudible) meeting? Do you
have any kind of idea how do you structure the meeting?


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Well, we do have some ideas along these
lines. However, those are decisions that are going to have to come out
of the plenary meeting by mutual agreement.


QUESTION: The December 9th meeting is just one-day meeting or can go
along for two or three days?


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: It is not intended that it be just a single
day meeting, but I would think, myself, in terms of a couple of days
to do what we can realistically do in a first session like this. But
there's no set ending time.


QUESTION: Who proposed December 9, and how did you come to this
agreement?


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Let me see if I can recall that. A lot of
dates were looked at. Everybody had their calendars out, and we were
all looking at the travel schedules and fare schedules. And, to tell
you the truth, I don't really recall.


QUESTION: Did the North Koreans (inaudible) earlier or later?



SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: On this occasion, all four parties had
agreed that we would commence this process during this year. Those
were the dates that we all were able to agree on. There were a lot of
different proposals, and none of them was discussed in any terms other
than logistics and scheduling it.


QUESTION: Did anybody propose holding the talks after the 18th of
December?


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Christmas week was mentioned, and I objected
(laughter), because of Christmas.


QUESTION: So, how would you characterize the events (inaudible)?



SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Well, an overused word, but one that I feel
quite comfortable with on this occasion, is businesslike. There were
really no moments of difficulty. Everything just marched along. I
think that the imagery of the delegations sitting there with their
calendars out, looking for a date that would work, really sort of
captures the sense of --


QUESTION: That's not exactly what I meant. I meant in the scheme of
this sort of bumpy road that the peninsula's been on for the past 40
years.


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Well, I am very pleased that we are where we
are and that we achieved what we achieved. Of course, when we talk
about what it is that we are launching here, we are speaking
prospectively, what we hope to accomplish. And so it would not be very
politic of me to try to oversell it to you. But I feel that this is an
extremely important moment, and we have agreed that these four
countries will come together and begin the task of seriously trying to
replace the Armistice and seriously trying to reduce tensions on the
Korean peninsula. It holds enormous prospects for the future of the
Korean peninsula.


QUESTION: On the way to reunification?



SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Well, the goal of the two Koreas has always
been reunification, and the United States supports that goal. I
believe that you will be able to correlate progress in tension
reduction to the improvement of the prospects for peaceful
reunification. But it would not be correct for me to say that that is
the sole purpose of this effort. (Inaudible)


QUESTION: From the American perspective, does the date of December
18th, the Korean elections, have any significance on what you're
trying to do before that?


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Well, I don't vote in Korea, so honestly, it
was not a consideration for us. It would be a matter of simple logic,
however, that for the ROK delegation, they would not choose to begin
such a newsworthy event on the day of an election. If it had been the
day of an American election, that would've been our viewpoint.


QUESTION: (Inaudible) Christmas. Did the North Koreans propose
Christmas week?


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Yes. In the course of everybody trying out
various dates. It was certainly not the first thing that was
suggested. Yes?


QUESTION: You have already agreed to the level of plenary sessions,
and I think that the chief of the delegates will be either a cabinet
minister or officials who are appointed by cabinet minister. Does that
agreement still stand?


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Yes.



QUESTION: And also, what do you expect to discuss for those two days
(inaudible) talks to kick off that broad agenda?


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Well, I don't want to speak on behalf of the
other three countries involved. I believe that there is a symbolic
importance to the beginning of this. There must be a first step, and
the four parties must gather and must hear one another's views. And
before they can begin to discuss those views, they must hear them
first. Also, I believe that there are some structural issues that will
need to be addressed for the purpose of future meetings. And then
finally, some of the things that are contained in this agenda, this
broad language, such as tension reduction, we need to start to find
ways to implement that.


QUESTION: If you would like to set up a subcommittee which
(inaudible)... preparatory talks? And, second question, is the United
States drafting some proposal to facilitate... (inaudible)? Are you
initiating this process? Are you going to propose such details
(inaudible)... confidence building measures?


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: There is a very important role in the
context of tension reduction on the Korean peninsula. There's a very
important role for confidence building measures. And, yes, we have
been studying confidence building measures very seriously. I do not
wish to leave you with the impression that in this first meeting,
there's going to be a list of confidence building measures that will
be presented, discussed and either agreed on or rejected. It may be
more important to first establish a mechanism for studying confidence
building measures among (inaudible) the parties. This is not going to
be a sort of discussion in which the United State tables proposals and
the other parties are there to either agree or not. (Inaudible)


QUESTION: Was any mention made about the new leadership of North
Korea?


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: No.



QUESTION: Doesn't it affect in any way the attitude of North Korean?


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Speculatively? I suppose that it probably
does. The clarification of the leadership structure in North Korea,
this may have had some effect on their ability now to work through
these (inaudible) with us so smoothly. But that's speculation.


QUESTION:   Before December 9, (inaudible)?



SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Before December 9, do we have a plan to have
a --?


QUESTION:  Another bilateral meeting with North Korea?



SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: A bilateral meeting with North Korea. We
ordinarily do take advantage of the North Korean delegation's presence
in this country to hold bilateral meetings, and we expect that we will
do so again. But it would be not in connection with the meeting to
come, but rather in connection with their presence in this country
this time.


QUESTION: Can you explain (inaudible) status of (inaudible) North
Korea? Did that come up in any way?


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: The subject did not come up. It is not
linked. However, the status of that matter is that we recently sent a
team of U.S. Government officials headed by A.I.D. to North Korea to
conduct an assessment of the situation (inaudible), with respect to
food production, distribution, and health effects. The dates of that
team were (inaudible). There was a press statement about the results
issued in Washington last week, and a backgrounder by A.I.D. But I
could tell you, since you, I assume, aren't that familiar with this
aspect, they got around and saw some parts of North Korea that had not
been seen by American officials before. They felt that they had
received a good deal of cooperation from North Korean authorities.
They came away with better understanding of the situation in North
Korea. And, thus, one of the goals of this mission, which was to add
somewhat to the transparency of North Korea's situation, we did
achieve that.


QUESTION: At another meeting with North Korea, probably next week, are
you planning to propose a new (inaudible) easing economic sanctions
against North Korea. What will be the agenda of the bilateral meeting
next week?


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: We always have a rather broad agenda of
bilateral issues, and I think those issues are all very familiar to
you. They include some of the things that we have (inaudible) areas of
concern, such as missile exports, our missing from the Korean War,
terrorism, (inaudible) liaison offices. So, I think we will probably
cover all these areas.


QUESTION: One last question (inaudible). You had said that you thought
this was going to take several meetings. (Inaudible). Did you make any
agreement on what would happen after Geneva? Where you would go after
Geneva? Are you going to have a rotating (inaudible)?


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: We will make decisions at each plenary about
the schedule of subsequent plenaries, and they will all be held in
Geneva. The chairmanship and secretariat will rotate according to a
random draw -- with the sole exception being that the United States'
place in the draw is fixed. We're going to chair and be the
secretariat for the first meeting.


QUESTION: So, you will be the chair for the first meeting (inaudible)?


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: The United States will be the chair. The
head of the American delegation, to be named.


QUESTION: And about the agenda, it doesn't seem (inaudible). We can
discuss anything. But the first session coming up in Geneva, it
doesn't seem like we have achieved very much and (inaudible)...Do you
kind of have that perspective as well, or do you see it (inaudible)?


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Well, I can understand the question, but I
don't agree with it. I think that we've already cleared away an awful
lot of the underbrush. The issues of achieving a more stable peace on
the Korean Peninsula are very complicated. And they're not going to be
simplified by coming out with an agenda that has five, six items on
it. You could have several pages and still not have exhausted all of
the things that need to be done. So I assert that the most important
thing, in taking the first step down that road, is to do what we have
done, which is to establish a pattern of being able to meet and
discuss issues with all of the parties present.


QUESTION: One question about the language of the (inaudible)
announcement? May I understand that you have (inaudible) (one, broad?)
agenda, or you would have a (inaudible) agenda aimed at the
establishment of a peace regime and issues concerning tension
reduction?.


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: It is one broad agenda, with the ability to
further specify the agenda. It's the prerogative of the parties in
Geneva.


QUESTION: Now, you have a very broad agenda, but once the talks are
started, you have to think of concrete agenda. And in the event of,
you know, the talks (inaudible), you might face some difficulties, as
you have already. What would be the process for setting up the agenda
for the talks?


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Well, you could reasonably make the case
that the agenda should have 20 items on it. Or, alternatively, you
could reasonably make the case -- as I have done from this very podium
-- that there are two logical, broad agenda items. One is that
structural basket of how to replace the Armistice, and then the other
is that set of things which will reduce tension or build confidence
among the parties that make those structural changes meaningful. And
then you can find all sorts of ways to break it down beyond those two.


In order to get to Geneva, we have agreed that this very broad
language is suitable and appropriate to describe what we want to do.
So we have actually taken the very broad two-part agenda that I was
mentioning and further simplified it, although I think you will find
the necessary elements of the two-part agenda are contained pretty
clearly in it.


QUESTION: The North Korean delegation mentioned a threat. They will
inevitably raise the (inaudible) the U.S. and North Korea peace
treaty. (Inaudible).


SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Well, they did not make any such statement
today. If you're asking me, "Do I think that they have abandoned their
consistent positions?" No, I don't think that they've abandoned those
position. But I think that what they've done is agreed that it's
better to get to Geneva and have their positions heard in a serious
forum than not get there.


Well, I think we have exhausted your questions. I thank you very much
for coming.


(end transcript)