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[EXCERPT] U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing

Thursday, May 8, 1997 Briefer: Nicholas Burns

QUESTION: There's a Reuter's story out of Tokyo, quoting Japanese officials saying that the United States is now tying the issue of humanitarian food aid to North Korea's willingness to join the four-party talks. Is there such a -- MR. BURNS: I've not seen the Reuter's story, and with all due respect to Reuters, which is a terrific news organization, has a wonderful correspondent here in the State Department -- having said all that as pretext to an answer, I can tell you the United States is not tying food assistance to North Korea to the hope that the North Koreans might join the four-party peace talks. I would remind you that the United States is the lead contributor to the current appeal by the World Food Program. We've said many times that if there are future appeals by the World Food Program, we will take them very seriously; and we mean that. We are not tying food aid in any way whatsoever. Now, there's been a lot of commentary out of Tokyo because there was a very important trilateral meeting yesterday among the United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan. Chuck Kartman, our Acting Assistant Secretary represented the United States. They did discuss the worsening food situation in North Korea in all of its dimensions. The United States did not indicate at that meeting a change in policy on this question of food aid. In fact, I know that the first ship, the Galveston Bay, arrived at the port of Nampo yesterday. It is currently off-loading many thousands of tons of corn and corn-soy blend. The second ship will be arriving in just a couple of days. That is from the first tranche of assistance that we pledged in February. The second tranche of assistance, those ships will be underway soon, and a total of $25 million in food aid will be delivered. So we're going to continue with our commitments. QUESTION: Nick, on Korea. MR. BURNS: Yes. QUESTION: Has the U.S. proposed alternative dates for the missile talks? MR. BURNS: Well, that's what we plan to do. We plan to propose alternative dates now that the North Koreans have said that the dates of May 12th and 13th are inconvenient for technical reasons, whatever that is. I can't explain that. Perhaps the North Koreans or someone else could explain what technical reasons are. But we hope these talks can be rescheduled. We want to have them because we're concerned about the issue of missile proliferation. QUESTION: You said you can't explain what technical reasons are. Do you think this is a serious impediment, or do you have a sense the North Koreans will come to the table in a few weeks? MR. BURNS: Well, in the words of my former boss, Secretary Christopher, the North Koreans are sometimes, perhaps most of the time, opaque. So rather than try to give you a detailed answer as to why they've chosen to postpone these talks, I think you should refer - perhaps if you tried to tap into the website, the North Korean website, you could pose and e-mail question to my counterpart, the North Korean Foreign Ministry Spokesman in Pyongyang, and ask him what technical reasons are. But we do hope that the North Koreans will accept our proposal to schedule and to show up at missile proliferation talks, as well as to seriously reflect upon the serious offer made by the United States and South Korea for four-party talks. There's a lot on the table. QUESTION: That's a much gloomier analysis, it seems to me, than what was offered from that podium two days ago. MR. BURNS: This podium? QUESTION: Yes. MR. BURNS: No -- QUESTION: Not by you. MR. BURNS: John and I have no - there's no difference in whether we're gloomy or sunny. I think we almost always see eye to eye on these affairs. QUESTION: Nick, how about -- MR. BURNS: I think maybe we're opaque on this. But in responding to an opaque situation, sometimes the best thing is just to be straightforward. QUESTION: Two days ago, it was put in terms of, hey, it's a technical reason, we'll set another date. QUESTION: And it will happen. And you're -- MR. BURNS: I completely agree with that brilliant statement by Mr. Dinger. QUESTION: Okay. Two days later now, the U.S. doesn't see any real hang-up, nor does it understand what North Korea means by technical reasons; is that correct? MR. BURNS: I'm just saying I prefer not to tell you exactly why the North Koreans chose to postpone the meeting because I'm not sure we know. They cite technical reasons. All we know is that we want to have the meeting. We think they ought to sit down with us because missile proliferation is a very big issue of concern to us. But I thought John did a brilliant job when I was away, yes, and I would gladly associate myself with the way he described it two days ago. QUESTION: Well, that's going off on a tangent. If you want to see -- MR. BURNS: I don't want to go off on a tangent. QUESTION: If the U.S. wants to make sure they come to talk, one rather obvious way is to propose new dates. Why can't you settle on new dates? MR. BURNS: John, have we actually proposed new dates? QUESTION: No, no. MR. BURNS: We have. John says we have. QUESTION: You haven't? MR. BURNS: We have. QUESTION: You have. MR. DINGER: We proposed dates. We're working on it. We have proposed dates. MR. BURNS: We have proposed them. The North Koreans have not come back and said we agree or disagree, right? We're in that stage of these -- QUESTION: You remember the word soon, two days ago? You proposed that they meet soon; is that correct? MR. DINGER: Within a few weeks hence. QUESTION: Within a few weeks. MR. BURNS: Within a few weeks hence. QUESTION: Well, backwards would be impossible. MR. BURNS: See, we're being - you never can say that the United States is opaque; we're transparent. QUESTION: Within a few weeks hence. Hence is unnecessary. Within a few weeks would be good. MR. BURNS: We're very transparent people and government. QUESTION: All right. MR. BURNS: We believe in transparency. QUESTION: So in the meantime, have you kept an eye on what North Korea may be doing in the way of proliferating? That could be a technical reason - they've got a few jobs to finish off, a few packages to pack. (Laughter.) QUESTION: The Washington Times is liable to find it out tomorrow, and you'll have to deal with it anyhow, so - (Laughter.) MR. BURNS: God help us. QUESTION: Have you been keeping tabs on their proliferation? MR. BURNS: Barry, you're in a very suspicious -- QUESTION: Of North Korea? A little, yeah. MR. BURNS: -- mood today. QUESTION: A little suspicious. MR. BURNS: Let me just tell you -- QUESTION: The U.S. Government thinks they're the world's number-one proliferator. They've called off talks where you were going to have difficult talks with them that you were going to call to their attention your concerns about their proliferation. You have no new date set. You don't know why they called off the talks. So I wonder if you're keeping an eye on them and have picked up anything disturbing. MR. BURNS: We're keeping an eye on them -- QUESTION: Have you picked up anything disturbing? MR. BURNS: -- as you would expect us to do, because we do find very serious allegations about North Korea's missile program, obviously, and some of its activities. That's why we want to have talks. We do have the ability to monitor the activities of the North Koreans, and of course we do that regularly and consistently because it's in our national interest to do that. We hope, as John said, that the North Koreans will agree to the resumption of the talks, to specific dates, and they will show up for the talks. But I can't tell you the talks have been rescheduled until the North Koreans agree to that. QUESTION: Can I ask about the food thing? MR. BURNS: Yes. QUESTION: And in a non-prejuritive way. Nobody -- MR. BURNS: You mean your question or my answer? QUESTION: Well, I am not - no matter how this question is interpreted. MR. BURNS: Okay. QUESTION: Is there any intention here to suggest the United States would be so heartless as to condition delivery of food to starving people to the political moves taken by their government? Okay, so that's not the question. I distinctly remember -- MR. BURNS: I was about to answer that question. QUESTION: Well, because you had said, we don't do that. We are humanitarians. MR. BURNS: It's true. We don't do that. QUESTION: All right. Now, back in Korea, Secretary Albright said quite -- MR. BURNS: In February. QUESTION: In February, when it seemed quite logical, that, indeed, the political situation in Korea is likely to have a bearing on the food situation. And I took that to mean, fairly obviously, that if North Korea behaved better, there would be more of an inclination in the - they would do better financially; economic conditions would ease. They would have more money to buy food. They might get more food that way. Isn't that what this is all about - without using the word tying? Isn't it true that North Korea's political behavior has a lot to do with how much food they will receive? MR. BURNS: Well, I do remember Secretary Albright's comment. I remember where it was made in the -- QUESTION: Yes. MR. BURNS: -- right after lunch with the South Korean Foreign Minister. That is not what Secretary Albright meant, and I have talked to her about it a couple of times. QUESTION: All right. MR. BURNS: It's not what she meant at all. QUESTION: Her pejorative. You understand. MR. BURNS: No. I understand that. It's not what she meant. Let me tell you just where I come from this morning. I just got back from Mexico last night. I turned on NPR this morning. There was a very good report from Tokyo by the very good correspondent there who said, essentially, the United States has shifted gears and is now tying food aid to the four-party talks. I made inquiries this morning - John and I together - and we understand in very clear terms that is not the case. Unfortunately, he's a very good correspondent. I don't know what that correspondent heard from other government officials, not U.S. but other governments. But the United States is not tying food aid. We think we ought to respond on a humanitarian basis. Let me just give you the obvious evidence for that. We have not succeeded yet in convincing the North Koreans to show up at four-party talks. We haven't even succeeded in convincing them to show up at missile proliferation talks. So we are not happy. We think they should have showed up to both talks by now, and we hope they will in the future. But we have not taken that unhappiness and changed our policy to deny them food aid. We continue with the food aid. The Galveston Bay arrived yesterday. There will be at least three more shipments arriving, totaling $25 million. We remain open to further contributions should the World Food Program say that that is necessary, even in the near future. So I think we have made clear by our own actions that we are not tying food aid - or any other word you want to use, Barry. We are not linking it. We are not associating it, because there is a humanitarian imperative here. QUESTION: Nick, this discussion is a little bit misleading. MR. BURNS: Well, not from my part, Carol. I'm sorry to just be very quick to say that. QUESTION: All right, that's not being critical of you. I'm just - it's sort of by omission, really. On the one hand, the United States does say it will proceed with its own humanitarian deliveries, and it has. As you say, when the World Food Program asks, the United States has responded. But it is also true that U.S. officials have said that there will be no effort to - I mean, the amount of emergency food aid that has gone to North Korea is very small compared to what the need is assessed to be. And what U.S. officials have said is that there will no large-scale effort, no systematic effort to deal with the food crisis in North Korea until North Korea comes to the peace talks. I mean, there have been a number of public comments that once North Korea sits down at the peace table, then all things can be on the table. And so there is a distinction here between the emergency food aid and the long-term, larger effort, whatever that might be, to try to deal with this issue. MR. BURNS: Well, let's see if I can be helpful in clarifying -- QUESTION: I think that is what is confusing me. MR. BURNS: -- in clarifying you - because I think you have asked a very good question, and you have probably drawn it the way it should be drawn. We do not favor the current economic system of North Korea, which is a communist system, which has clearly failed the people. President Clinton mentioned this a couple of weeks ago. We would like to see that system changed because it's that system that has failed the North Korean people and has led to the starvation and to the deprivation that millions of North Koreans are now experiencing. So are we going to put into North Korea billions of dollars of American, or Western, or Asian money - either bilaterally or multilaterally to subsidize a communist economic system? No way. We're not going to do that. But that's not the question that we've been asked by the United Nation's World Food Program. The World Food Program came forward with a limited appeal -- limited because it's not $5 billion, it's several hundred million. Excuse me, no, it's not several hundred million, excuse me. Let's check the figure. But it's a limited amount. QUESTION: (Inaudible) MR. BURNS: Let's check the figure, but it's a limited amount. QUESTION: (Inaudible). MR. BURNS: I think that was the figure and that rings true. We have done, if you look at our $25 million contribution, the most of any country around the world, and I think the World Food Program is satisfied by the level of our assistance. So, we're going to respond on an emergency humanitarian basis to try to get food to people who need it in a failing system, but we are not going to spend billions of dollars of American money to prop up a decrepit, ancient, oxymoron, which is communist economics. There is the distinction that I think we can all draw for you. Unfortunately, I think Barry's first question pertained to some of the press reports coming out of Tokyo that we've decided even to hold up the limited food assistance of that type of assistance, and that's what I heard this morning in the press reports and I can tell you that's not the case. So, I'd like to draw that distinction which I think is pretty clear. QUESTION: Have American officials said to the North Koreans that if you come to the four-party talks and if there is progress, et cetera, there might be some assistance down the road? MR. BURNS: What I think we've said, without betraying the confidentiality of those negotiations, is that if you come to the four-party talks, many things are possible in the relationship. But I wouldn't just center on food aid. But I'd center on the future. We'd like to eventually at some point have a more normal relationship with North Korea. Now, that objective will really depend and be a function of North Korea's ability to change and to adapt and to act in a way that is consistent with international principles economically and politically. It's a longer term objective. QUESTION: Even if it were still communist North Korea? MR. BURNS: We're going to continue to cooperate with North Korea on MIAs. In fact, the talks are underway this week here in Washington headed by DOD on that issue, on the Agreed Framework, on the four-party talks and on the question of food. There are possibilities, obviously, for cooperation that would emanate from any kind of political normalization, but these are objectives that are far in the future and that are going to be very difficult to achieve. Yes? Still on North Korea? QUESTION: I know that DOD has the lead in this issue, but can you report on the progress on the MIA talks? MR. BURNS: DOD has the lead, Mr. Wold, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, is the lead on MIA issues. We have a State Department representative there. I think I would prefer to let DOD characterize how the talks are going. There are more than 81,009 cases of MIA from the Korean War. There is an attempt to try to bring the families, some of the American families together with a North Korean delegation this week here in Washington and we hope that 50 years after the war - excuse me - 40-odd years after the war, that might be possible to bring them together so that the North Koreans can hear directly from American - New York - thank you - the North Koreans can hear directly from American families what their personal concerns are. Thank you, Sid, for correcting me on that. QUESTION: Does the United States have a voice on the World Food Program? MR. BURNS: It's an agency of the United Nations. So, there are Americans who work for it and since we're the largest financial contributor, yes, we have a voice; but it is an agency of the UN and we work very well with it. QUESTION: But the United States has input into the - has a voice on the organization that determines how much is, in fact, an emergency ration of food for the North Koreans. MR. BURNS: Those decisions are made by the experts, by Ms. Bertini and the experts on the World Food Program staff, so they are not in any way dictated to by the United States or any other member country. We have a voice in that Americans are in the organization, itself. In the annual review of these organizations we can assess country by country whether we are pleased by the performance of the organization. I don't want to insinuate that somehow we're calling the shots of an independent UN agency. We have a great respect for it because it has a very good track record.