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24 March 1998

TRANSCRIPT: 3/21 BACKGROUND BRIEFING ON KOREA FOUR-PARTY TALKS

(U.S. 'disappointed' by results of recent round of talks)  (4000)



Geneva, Switzerland -- The United States was "disappointed" by the
results of the recent round of talks between the United States, South
Korea, North Korea, and China on the Korean peninsula situation,
according to a senior administration official speaking on background.


"We came to identify the concrete steps the four parties could take to
improve the atmosphere and reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula,"
the official said in March 21 remarks in Geneva, Switzerland. "Our
purpose was to focus the discussion on military confidence-building
measures that could enhance transparency and reduce tensions on the
peninsula."


"In the interest of flexibility, since we could not achieve agreement
for the creation of two subcommittees, we agreed to consider
establishing one subcommittee to address confidence-building measures
that would ultimately lead to a permanent peace," the official
continued. "Unfortunately we were unable to make progress because the
North Koreans were unwilling to consider these pragmatic steps.
Instead they focused on the issues of negotiating a peace treaty with
the U.S., and the subsequent withdrawal of U.S. troops."


The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Korea is not an issue for
negotiation at these talks, the official stressed.


"In this context, it is important to note that the 37,000 U.S. troops
on the peninsula, as compared to the threat posed by the 1.2 million
members of the North Korean People's Army, are not a cause of tension
on the peninsula," the official said. "On the contrary, U.S. forces
have helped maintain peace and stability for 45 years. The presence of
U.S. forces on the peninsula is and will be determined by the U.S. and
ROK on the basis of their mutual security alliance."


Following is the transcript of the background briefing:



(begin transcript)



Background Briefing on Four-Party Talks



March 21, 1998

Geneva, Switzerlandf



SENIOR OFFICIAL: Let me do it this way: I'd like to give you some
points by way of an introduction. Then I'll be happy to take questions
and elaborate if I can.


We came to identify the concrete steps the four parties could take to
improve the atmosphere and reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula. We
proposed various mechanisms, including two subcommittees, based on the
already-agreed agenda. We saw this as a reasonable way to move the
dialogue from sterile debate to more productive exchanges among
experts from the four sides.


Most of the week was spent discussing these various procedural
mechanisms. Our purpose was to focus the discussion on military
confidence-building measures that could enhance transparency and
reduce tensions on the peninsula. In the interest of flexibility,
since we could not achieve agreement for the creation of two
subcommittees, we agreed to consider establishing one subcommittee to
address confidence-building measures that would ultimately lead to a
permanent peace.


Unfortunately we were unable to make progress because the North
Koreans were unwilling to consider these pragmatic steps. Instead they
focused on the issues of negotiating a peace treaty with the U.S., and
the subsequent withdrawal of U.S. troops. As we've stated before, any
side can bring up any issue at any time. We welcome the opportunity to
clarify our policy, or listen to that of others. However, the position
of the U.S. remains unchanged: The withdrawal of U.S. forces from
Korea is not an issue for negotiation at these talks.


In this context, it is important to note that the 37,000 U.S. troops
on the peninsula, as compared to the threat posed by the 1.2 million
members of the North Korean People's Army, are not a cause of tension
on the peninsula. On the contrary, U.S. forces have helped maintain
peace and stability for 45 years. The presence of U.S. forces on the
peninsula is and will be determined by the U.S. and ROK on the basis
of their mutual security alliance.


Those are the points that I wanted to share with you. And so now I'd
be happy to take your questions.


QUESTION: So how can you narrow the differences over the peace agenda,
and withdrawals, if possible, in the future? Can you continue the same
discussion at the next plenary session? How long can you wait, and is
there any way to move this process forward? Or you will change tactics
and you will find some other way to move this process?


SENIOR OFFICIAL: Let me try to come at that from a slightly different
direction, because what you're identifying is that there is a
tremendous gap between the North Korean position -- which is wanting
to begin with a negotiation over U.S. troop withdrawal, preceded by a
U.S.-North Korean peace treaty -- versus the position of the other
three parties -- which is that we really should begin this process by
trying to take some practical steps to build up some confidence and
establish the basis for greater dialogue. We thought at various points
during the week that we were making some progress towards getting this
placed on a more practical footing. But the North Korean side kept
returning to their original position.


Now, your question really is: Will we ever really close that gap? I
think all I can say is I can't predict that, but I think there is
value in having these discussions with the North Koreans and laying
these things out for the purposes of mutual understanding. But whether
we will close the gap or not, I cannot say.


QUESTION: Is the fact that you didn't even agree on a date for
resuming, does that sort of put you back to square one in a sense --
even almost as if the four-party talks hadn't happened? Because now
isn't -- I mean -- in a situation where you're going you have to be
dealing with the North, and negotiating back and forth just to get
them back to the table, and given the games that tend to get played,
and demands for concessions and so on. Aren't you essentially back to
square one? You may clarify that you have different views on it, but
beyond that, isn't it really back to where you started?


SENIOR OFFICIAL: Of course there is a potential for that kind of
outcome, I don't think that's what will happen. You'll notice in the
Chairman's statement -- which was agreed to by all four parties, of
course -- it says that we will pursue the date of the next plenary
among the four parties. So there really is only one mechanism to do
that, and that's the four-party working group that meets in New York
from time to time for logistics purposes. We'll use that.


QUESTION: Can I understand that means you and Li Gun will meet in New
York?


SENIOR OFFICIAL: No. The working group does involve Li Gun, but it is
the working-level officials from the PRC, the U.S., and the ROK who
are located in Washington.


QUESTION: Just what is the next step?



SENIOR OFFICIAL: All the parties will go back to their capitals, and
we will chew on these results and try to come to a clearer
understanding of what happened here and what was being said. But as a
practical matter, the next real step is to have some discussion at the
working level in New York to schedule the next plenary.


QUESTION: When will it take place?



SENIOR OFFICIAL: I couldn't say, but I think the pattern has been
approximately once a quarter. So that would be the ball park.


QUESTION: Is that still effective?



SENIOR OFFICIAL: I think it will be.



QUESTION:  Is Mr. Roth going to go?



SENIOR OFFICIAL: The next plenary? The next plenary would be among the
heads of delegation.


QUESTION: Is it maybe Mr. Roth?



SENIOR OFFICIAL: It should be Mr. Roth, unless we change our head of
delegation. In fact, there will probably be some change from the heads
of delegation of other parties as well. Just the natural personnel
process.


QUESTION: Will you discuss this withdrawal of U.S. forces, this issue
of the gap through the working-level meetings in New York?


SENIOR OFFICIAL: No.



QUESTION: This should be discussed at the plenary session?



SENIOR OFFICIAL: Yes.



QUESTION: Was the fact that you did not set a new date for a round,
what does that mean?


SENIOR OFFICIAL:  I'm sorry, I don't quite understand the question.



QUESTION: The fact that you did not set a date.



SENIOR OFFICIAL: It means that the next step is to set a date.



QUESTION: So there is no date?



SENIOR OFFICIAL: Yes, if there was a date we wouldn't need to set a
date.


QUESTION: Was this a setback?



SENIOR OFFICIAL: No, I don't consider this a setback. I would say that
what we have is an outcome that falls short of what we hoped to
achieve. We were disappointed. We came here intending to do serious,
practical work and we found the exact same mood among the delegations
from the PRC and the ROK.


QUESTION: The question of the U.S. troop withdrawal; did North Koreans
want it on the agenda of the subcommittee?


SENIOR OFFICIAL: The North Korean position is that the first and, as
far as I know, perhaps the only topic that is worth discussing is,
first, the negotiation of a U.S.-North Korean peace treaty, followed
by the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Korean peninsula. That is
their position. It has not changed. They have accepted, as a matter of
principle, that there may be a role for confidence-building measures
at some future point. But they re not prepared to agree to begin from
that point.


QUESTION: Did you see differences among the North Korean delegation?



SENIOR OFFICIAL: I don't detect any differences among the North
Koreans, and they showed no flexibility.


QUESTION: Is it your sense that they came here with instructions "dig
in!," act as they have done many times in the past -- say the same
things over and over, see what you can get -- or that they came here
with any room to actually make a serious effort to find common ground?


SENIOR OFFICIAL: That's somewhat the same question. They came here
with no flexibility, and therefore I must conclude from that --
speaking quite personally -- that I did not sense that they were not
really here to negotiate. So this, from their point of view, they were
not showing me that this was a negotiating round. This was a round to
lay out sort of maximalist positions. Now, I think that one could
speculate that in the North Korean concept of a long negotiation, that
would be a very appropriate way to begin: You have one, perhaps even
several rounds, in which you stick to your maximalist positions before
you begin to find flexibility. We had hoped this negotiation would be
on a somewhat more accelerated schedule than that.


QUESTION: What are you doing here that you had not done but you were
supposed to do in Beijing? What have you done here that you hadn't
intended to do there?


SENIOR OFFICIAL: This round, as the Chairman did accurately state,
this was a round in which we did launch into substantive positions --
a very thorough airing of the North Korean position, and we rebutted
it with equal thoroughness. What we had hoped to do in Beijing was to
do some of this practical organizational work that would have
permitted us to move on to some discussion of tension-reduction on the
Korean peninsula. And, unfortunately, that work -- which was our
agenda -- really was not advanced. Thus we are disappointed.


QUESTION: What did you mean about chewing over the results?



SENIOR OFFICIAL: Sorry for the colloquialism.



QUESTION: That's all right. I'm interested in the second part. What
are the results?


SENIOR OFFICIAL: Well, let me say, I probably misspoke, since I
wouldn't point to this as being a very long list of results. But there
were a lot of words exchanged, and we need to take a serious look at
what was said.


QUESTION: Can you elaborate a bit on the, your outline of some of the
confidence-building measures?


SENIOR OFFICIAL: Well, I don't really want to lay out a particular
list of confidence-building measures, because, first of all, there are
only a certain universe of things that are done in this field that
build confidence. But they are in a four-party context, they will have
to be discussed and agreed upon by all four parties. So I'm not going
to suggest that there's a magic U.S. list that is going to be the sole
subject of discussion on confidence-building. We would hope that there
would be something that was a little bit more of a true discussion
among the four parties. But you re quite right that it is quite easy
to imagine that things that have been done elsewhere around the world
probably can be applied on the Korean peninsula also. And the list of
such things is finite.


QUESTION: Did you put aside the real sticking-points, troop withdrawal
and a separate peace treaty, to agree on subcommittees?


SENIOR OFFICIAL: We... there was a great deal of time spent on the
subject of subcommittees. We were able to agree that this process
needed subcommittees. But, unfortunately, even in this discussion,
which we thought was headed toward some sort of an agreement on
subcommittees, the North Koreans kept insisting on their agenda. And
so we were unable to reach an agreement to create the subcommittees.


QUESTION: Can you clarify the middle of the week report about North
Korean bilateral dialogue with South Korea?


SENIOR OFFICIAL: The report out of Seoul didn't really refer to
discussions among the four parties. Apparently -- and I'm not privy to
this, you'll have to get this from the ROK -- there were some
contacts, and something seemed to be coming from that, but I don't
have any facts for you on that. Did it color the atmosphere? Perhaps
it did. Our feeling all along has been that the four parties needed to
meet in a rather businesslike and serious atmosphere, and there should
be an ability to meet with one another to do that kind of work in
various groupings. And these groupings could be bilaterally, or any of
three of the four, or among all four. And it seemed to us that having
a meeting between the two Korean sides would be a natural part of
doing business in the four parties to talk about four-party business.
Since that meeting never took place, one might assume that the North
Koreans are still engaged in some of their old business.


QUESTION: (inaudible)



SENIOR OFFICIAL: In fact, it had been our hope that the meeting in
Berlin would clarify some of their questions about the direction of
bilateral relations in a way that would have a positive feedback into
the four-party talks.


QUESTION: Does the failure to get anywhere here prejudice in any way,
I mean, is this going to play a role in the U.S.-North Korea bilateral
issue? They are not moving at all toward what you'd like to see here.
Will that affect your, the U.S.'s, willingness on certain issue...


SENIOR OFFICIAL: That's a good question. I don't think so. Although in
the immediate disappointment of this, I probably shouldn't try to
project too far into the future. But if I discipline myself enough, I
recall that I've always expected this to be a rather lengthy process
that was going to require patience. And I think with that as a
principle, one shouldn't let the immediate disappointment of any given
round color the basic approach.


QUESTION: There was a suggestion from the Chinese -- I just talked to
Chen Jian, who said he thought there was a little bit of a lack of
flexibility on both sides, and that perhaps the U.S. could be a little
less anxious about the introduction of the issue of troop withdrawal.
Is there any area where you could see some give to let the North
Koreans feel that at least they're able to address this issue --
without giving up the principle that it's not something they can ram
through ?


SENIOR OFFICIAL: Frankly, I don't quite understand the comment made by
the Chair because so much of the time was spent giving the North
Koreans a chance to address this very issue. I'm not quite sure what
else you'd want.


QUESTION: Please let me know.. I'm sorry, I have to repeat my
question. What will be the carrot for North Korea? Is it easing
economic sanctions? The U.S. is ready to ease economic sanctions in
exchange for confidence-building measures? If North Korea accepts
certain steps, then will the U.S. will be ready to give them some
carrot? Is it the total U.S. strategy?


SENIOR OFFICIAL: I'm delighted to have you ask that question, because
it's simply misguided. This is not about finding the right carrot. The
United States and the ROK proposed -- and in fact somewhat in response
to previous North Korean proposals -- to begin talks to replace the
armistice after 45 years. The North Korean side, inexplicably, were
very suspicious of what was a quite simple and transparent proposal.
And, in the course of that, they tried to make various linkages to
their food needs, etc., before they would consider coming to
four-party talks. I'm just replaying old history to you now.


It's not ever our position that we were trying to coax them into the
talks with carrots. Nor is it our position that we re trying to coax
things from them within the talks by the use of carrots. What we re
trying to do is have a serious four-way discussion and negotiation
that will lead to replacement of the armistice with a permanent peace
regime. But, since a permanent peace regime is meaningless given the
present state of tensions, it has been our position -- and in fact
that of the ROK and the PRC -- that this whole process really did,
would, benefit from a reduction of tensions. When you ask me: What
carrot do we have to coax the North Korean side into reducing
tensions? If not they're not willing to reduce tensions, these talks
will never make any progress, and they will not succeed.


QUESTION: Realistically, what do you expect to see? Just looking
ahead?


SENIOR OFFICIAL: I expect to see more plenaries. I expect to see
several more plenaries that will also be a slow process of clarifying
views. I don't expect the North Korean positions to change rapidly,
but I think that over time they will eventually come around to seeing
the value of the kind of approach that we have suggested to them --
which is, let's take some simple steps to reduce tensions on the
Korean peninsula. That will be to everybody's benefit, and will change
the nature of further discussions.


QUESTION: How do you perceive the South Korean attitude? (inaudible)



SENIOR OFFICIAL: All I can tell you is what I saw here, which was that
their delegation came with a very good, serious frame of mind. They
were here to work. They were with us in making flexible proposals. I
just can't say whether there was any connection to other parts of the
policy.


QUESTION: Why were the talks scheduled for five days? Usually they
have bee shorter.


SENIOR OFFICIAL: Talks were scheduled for the longer period of time at
the request of the North Korean side. We simply ...


QUESTION: (inaudible)



SENIOR OFFICIAL: We never got to that level of discussion, so there's
no way to answer that.


QUESTION: I was just wondering, could you explain the value of having
one subcommittee? I can understand the value of having two or more,
but...


SENIOR OFFICIAL: Wonderful question, I've never understood it. Let me
deal with that in a somewhat more serious way. We suggested two
subcommittees because the general agenda that had been agreed upon by
all four parties seemed to break down quite neatly into two halves --
the first half being the replacement of the armistice with a permanent
peace regime, the second half being all the words that followed and,
which means tension-reduction on the Korean peninsula. When the North
Korean side made several, not entirely consistent objections, to this
proposal, it seemed as though they were recommending that we consider
a single subcommittee, then their preference was on the first half,
that is, replacement of the armistice with a peace regime. But they
then suggested that, since the Americans and the ROK are so concerned
about confidence-building measures, why not move that work into that
first subcommittee. Now, I have no desire to try to make all of that
make sense, because it really didn't make an awful lot of sense. We
were just trying to see whether there were points at which we could
come to some agreement. And so we accepted that alright, we will take
a look at this, showing our flexibility -- we will take a look at
whether we can make a single subcommittee make sense. I'm afraid that
before I could get to a point where all of this was elegantly arrayed
in my own mind, the meeting ended.


QUESTION: On the subcommittees, your proposal was that there would be
two, confidence-building to proceed in the second subcommittee...


SENIOR OFFICIAL: There are many questions of a practical nature, such
as that one, or the question of the level, that we never got a chance
to get to.


QUESTION: No, was the U.S. proposal simultaneous subcommittee
meetings?


SENIOR OFFICIAL: We never put that, any, practical suggestions like
that on the table. We were ready to begin to talk about those things,
but we never got to that point because the North Koreans kept bringing
into that -- all-- these discussions, the same points that I've
reviewed for you earlier, about the peace treaty and troop withdrawal.
So, unfortunately,, we never made any proposal, there was never any
discussion about practical aspects of the conduct of the
subcommittees.


QUESTION: Since one of the subcommittees was to deal with a permanent
peace treaty ... you proposed two subcommittees, one would deal with a
mechanism for a permanent peace, the second one with
confidence-building. Now, if the North Koreans want the peace treaty
and the U.S. withdrawal, surely the issue here is the troop
withdrawal.


SENIOR OFFICIAL: Another of the issues. You're quite right that is a
very major issue for the North Koreans, but the other issue, the
nuance is that the North Korean position is that they should make a
peace treaty with just the United States. And it would not include the
ROK. I think I have to go off to another meeting, so I'll take one
more question.


QUESTION: Generally, the position of the U.S. and South Korea was the
same?


SENIOR OFFICIAL: Not only generally, but entirely.



QUESTION: Just one last question. I mean that given that China were
not able to make the North Koreans go to open ground, how will South
Korea when it chairs the next round? The second question, is what did
you make of the North Korean mobilization?


SENIOR OFFICIAL: The question of whether or not there will be more or
less progress, depending on national identity of the chair, is one
that I really can't answer. Thus far every meeting has been chaired
fairly and without prejudice to any country's position. I would expect
it to continue that way, after all everyone is professional. The
question of the so-called wartime mobilization did not really figure
in these talks. It never came up.


Thank you.



(end transcript)