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DoD News Briefing


Monday, November 23, 1998 - 10 a.m. (EST)
Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

[Also participating in the briefing was Frank D. Kramer, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.]

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Q: Secretary Cohen, when we talk about security in the East Asia Pacific region with the continuing threat of missiles, missile technology from North Korea, there's been some discussion about whether or not the Navy's theater-wide missile program ought to get more funding because it could be used by Japan to help increase defense of the Japanese islands.

Is there any consideration of shifting more funds into that system in order to develop that sea-based system a little sooner?

Secretary Cohen: As you know, we have at least five systems that are currently under active research and development. We will try to utilize all of these systems to come up with the appropriate system for the defense of our forward deployed forces and for the defense of our allies. There's no decision at this point as to which system will be used.

We are working with the Japanese government. We are exploring with them ways in which they can cooperate with the United States in helping to conduct this research and development for the best system that would be desirable for the region.

Q: Is there any evidence that North Korea is preparing to conduct another missile test like the one in August?

Secretary Cohen: I wouldn't want to comment on any intelligence aspects. We follow it very closely, and should further tests be conducted we will, of course, respond appropriately.

Q: This report was conducted against the backdrop of a major crisis, a financial crisis in Asia over the last year and a half. Are there any themes in this report that might calm, in some respect, the crisis? Any kind of connections whatsoever?

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Secretary Cohen: ..........

We are going to continue to urge restraint on the part of the North Koreans as far as the missile testing is concerned. The most recent tests in August, the one that appeared to be a launching of a satellite, has caused great consternation in the region so we're going to continue our dialogue with the North Koreans to see if we can't promote greater restraint on their part.

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Q: The report said that the 1994 agreed framework deflected a military confrontation in Korea. Would the failure to get access to that underground site and the collapse of that agreed framework bring the situation back to that point of a possible military confrontation?

Secretary Cohen: We think that the agreed framework has been successful to date, to the extent that it has been complied with.

Again, questions have been raised as to whether there has been full compliance. Those questions have to be resolved. The United States does not intend to pay tribute, to pay compensation in order to carry out a verification of an agreement, but we think that the agreement, to the extent that we are aware today, it has been successful in containing the growth and development of a nuclear capability on the part of the North Koreans. If that agreement has not been complied with, if there have been any activities undertaken by the North Koreans that would in fact undermine that agreement, then it certainly poses a very serious threat to the region and calls into question the ability to maintain the agreed framework.

Q: How high, though, is your suspicion that if the agreement has been circumvented by that underground...

Secretary Cohen: I don't think it's helpful to try to qualify or quantify how high the anxiety level is. I think it's important to say that there have been serious questions raised. Those serious questions have to be resolved. Unless they are resolved, then that will, in my judgment at least, call into question the viability of the agreed framework.

Q: Mr. Secretary, a few months ago the assessment of that facility was that whatever it was, it really wouldn't be on-line for several years. It was a massive burying in rock and so on. Is there anything in the current assessment that changes that time frame into a more urgent question of nuclear capability?

Secretary Cohen: I think that even though the questions concerning that particular site may change over the long term into something much more than it is today, it would be important for us to determine at this point what the intent and what the capability of that underground facility would be. What the intent of the North Koreans and its capability ultimately would be.

It would seem to me not to be a prudent course to wait until the facility is completed and then ask for inspection and then find that it's something inconsistent with the agreed framework. So I think it's important to answer the questions now rather than waiting any extended period of time.

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Q: A question on the North Korean (unintelligible). So what's your current understanding on missile deployment in North Korea.

A: I'm sorry?

Q: Missile deployment in North Korea.

A: I'm not sure...

Q: Do you know the missiles, do you think North Korea has finished their deployment of No Dong, and how about Taepo Dong?

A: Obviously the Taepo Dong launch was a matter of concern. The Secretary said that if there was another launch it would be a continued matter of concern.

Our situation with North Korea is the following. Not only do we have the problem with the underground facility, we also have the problem with the missiles and they do provocative things like they did a few, about a year and a half ago I guess it was, with respect to the submarine infiltration. The question is whether or not North Korea in the overall is going to act as one of the community of nations or is it going to continue to threaten its neighbors. So it's the recent combination of events that has really raised lots of questions as well as the specific problems with respect to the Agreed Framework.

Dr. Perry has been appointed the coordinator to review all this. He'll report back to the President. And we'll obviously take account of it as we go forward.

Q: I wanted to follow up on. With regard to the underground facility specifically, there has been quite a bit of talk about pulling out, the West pulling out of the Framework Agreement. I wanted to ask what's the status now? Will there be more talks, more attempts to reach out to the North Koreans to gain access for inspection of that underground site? And when, in a step wise, procedural wise fashion, would the U.S. seriously then be considering a pullout of KEDO?

A: I think the Secretary made it fairly clear. We think it's important to resolve now the questions that this underground facility raises. We're obviously not going to pay a penny in order to do that. They need to demonstrate that they are in compliance with KEDO. Pardon me, with respect to the Agreed Framework.

With respect to how precisely we go forward, that's one of the very reasons that we have Dr. Perry to undertake the review. He was here in Washington last week, he'll be here this week, and we'll go forward. It's just premature to try to give you a time frame.

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Q: Can I ask what the goal of the Agreed Framework to North Korea is? (unintelligible) the collapse of North Korean (unintelligible)? And do you consider any change in the threat to North Korea with regard to recent threats?

A: First of all, the fundamental strategy we have in the Korean Peninsula is one of deterrence. We have worked with South Korea for a long time now, more than 40 years, and through a combination of the efforts of the South Korean governments [sic] and their own people, and the United States involvement there, South Korea has grown and prospered in a way that could only have been hoped for a long time ago. We want to continue that. We want to continue to have South Korea grow and develop. We have every confidence that South Korea will work its way out of the current financial problems, and we will continue to use the U.S. forces there as well as the possibility, if necessary, that there would have to be more in order to maintain deterrence and allow South Korea to grow.

With respect to North Korea's recent overall activities, that raises serious questions for us. It raises questions in the context specifically of the Agreed Framework, but it also raises the question why would a country that wants to have good relations undertake so many acts such as the missile launch, which has obviously raised great difficulties in Japan, and we're very sympathetic to those, and we're going to work with the government of Japan on those.

Whether we change our strategy or not is specifically what we will look at in terms of Dr. Perry's review, but we will maintain the aspect of deterrence.

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Press: Thank you very much.

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