News

[EXCERPTS] DoD News Briefing

Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
Wednesday, April 16, 1997 - 11 a.m. AFB, Tampa, Fla.,
following the Secretary's acceptance of the Bull Simon's Award

..............

With respect to Korea, I just returned from Korea. It was a
very productive trip. I had occasion to meet with the minister of
Defense, the foreign minister and also the South Korean
president. It remains a very tense, dangerous time. 

Obviously, we have seen increased reports about the lack of
food in North Korea and that' s of concern to us. And food has
never been a weapon that the United States would use against a
people. We don't seek to use food to starve innocent people. It
has not been our policy. There are questions, however, on the
part of the South Koreans and on the part of the Japanese
government officials that I talked to as well and part of my own
questions about whether or not there ought to be some change
in the behavior of the North Koreans as well to carry out
extensive and expensive military exercises at the time that their
people are starving. It seems to me to be a misallocation of
resources. But nonetheless, hopefully there are talks that will be
started in New York. Hopefully that the North Koreans will
participate actively in those four party talks and that we'll see
some modification or some change in terms of the course of
activities that the North Koreans have been pursuing. 

What I saw was an economy that certainly was not thriving
compared to what's going on in the south. And so they're
hopeful, the South Koreans are hopeful that the talks will prove
productive. I'm hopeful they will prove productive. 

But we also have to be vigilant. This is a very dangerous area.
They still have the fourth largest army in the world. They still
have more than 50 percent of their forces forward deployed
within 100 kilometers of the DMZ. And they still have a
formidable capability to do a great deal of damage in the short
term. 

As I said before, were they to launch an attack, ultimately, I
think it would prove to be very devastating to them should they
do so. And hopefully they will not. And so the purpose for our
diplomatic efforts is to work with our South Korean allies and to
work in conjunction with them, in consultation with them so that
we can have a unified approach. We do not want to see the
United States split away from South Korea and try to take a
leading role in this because this is really something that should be
resolved between the North Koreans and the South Koreans.
To the extent that we can be helpful in bringing the parties
together, we want to do so. But ours is a supportive role and
not a leading role. 

Q: Why did you go so far as to recommend some sort of
assistance to North Korea as a way of making a presumably a
less hunger country a less dangerous one? 

A: I think we already have. We've already indicated that we are
sending food to the North Koreans. My concern has always
been to make sure that we have international organizations to
see to it that the food goes to the hunger civilians and not simply
to reinforce the military itself. And hopefully, that can be
achieved. We want to see people who are hungry, fed. By the
same token, we would hope that the North Koreans would see
that the allocation of their resources are disproportionately going
to their military at a time when they have very hunger people in
their country.