U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
February 28, 1997
Briefer: Nicholas Burns
NORTH KOREA Briefing on Four-Party Talks Food Aid
IRAQ Violations of UN Resolutions
IRAN/SYRIA Reported Remarks by Mr. Ekeus re: Development of Weapons Programs
Q: The North Korean Vice Defense Minister has passed away a few days after the Defense Minister, and I wonder if you could give us your comments on that as well as if you see any repercussions to the situation in --
BURNS: Trying to understand events in North Korea is a great challenge. The Prime Minister has resigned. The Defense Minister has died. The Acting Defense Minister who succeeded him has now died. There's a food shortage in the country. It's a turbulent and chaotic time in North Korea. We can't know everything that's going on inside North Korea, but we do know that we want to get to the Four-Party Talks briefing on March 5 at the Hilton Hotel in New York.
Q: Oh, is that where it is?
BURNS: Yes, it is. And we'll be glad to give you the coordinates, because we do want the American press to come and cover that event -- the first meeting. Chuck Kartman will be leading the United States delegation -- Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kartman. I believe Vice Foreign Minister Li will be leading the North Korean delegation. I will check on the South Korean Government participation.
Our emphasis here is on that Four-Party Talks briefing, on the Agreed Framework, and on the food aid, and we'll focus ourselves on that. Trying to figure out what's going on inside North Korea is a challenge. We try to do it, but I can't give you a rational explanation for why all these events are occurring in such a short period of time.
Q: Nick, is food aid on the table in the Joint Briefing?
BURNS: No. As you know, Secretary Albright made a decision on that a week ago Monday night -- a $10 million U.S. grant allocation to the North Koreans, to the World Food Program, to alleviate suffering and malnutrition among young kids. We've made that decision. It's not linked to the Joint Briefing. It's not going to be an agenda item, because the Joint Briefing pertains to the Four-Party proposal for peace in the Korean peninsula.
Q: Probably you look at food aid as in connection --
BURNS: As one of our ongoing concerns in general, not in association with the Four-Party Talks.
Q: Do you have any indication that the passing of the Defense Ministers will in any way affect these upcoming talks?
BURNS: No. We have no indication that it would. We expect the North Koreans to show up in New York next week.
Q: Have they picked up visas?
BURNS: I believe they're going to be picking up visas tomorrow morning in Beijing, Saturday, March 1st.
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Q: Still on Saudi Arabia. Yesterday you said that there were -- that the Saudis and Americans are in full agreement on the U.N. sanctions on Iraq. Was there some discussion of what was going to happen in Iraq, a post-Saddam world? The Saudis have indicated that they wanted to discuss that with you. And also can you confirm that the Oil Minister was at the State Department yesterday with these talks? You didn't mention him yesterday.
BURNS: The Oil Minister was not in the meetings with Secretary Albright that Prince Sultan and Prince Saud held -- two meetings. I can ask the Near East Bureau whether or not he was here for other meetings -- on your second question.
On your first question, there was a very good and detailed discussion of Iraq, and there was a genuine agreement -- complete agreement -- that our two countries will push in the United Nations to maintain all the sanctions on Iraq, because Iraq does not deserve to have them lifted. They've done nothing to have them lifted, to meet any of the requirements of all the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.
As for the second part of your first question, I just can't go into that.
Q: Nick, the U.N. arms inspector, Mr. Ekeus, two days ago he urged Turkey about the Iraqi arms buildup, and he believes that the Iraqi has a substantial amount of arms, especially the long-range missile. Do you share his concern about that?
BURNS: Savas, I missed who the "he" is. Who are you talking about?
BURNS: Oh, Rolf Ekeus.
Q: Rolf Ekeus.
BURNS: Ambassador Ekeus has done a magnificent job in exposing the consistent pattern of violations by the Iraqi Government of all the U.N. resolutions pertaining to the arms and chemical weapons and biological weapons, and we continue to give him our full support. The Iraqis have done nothing -- nothing to merit a lifting of United Nations sanctions. This issue came up in Secretary Albright's trip throughout Europe and also in Asia, and it was a big part of the conversation. The United States will not permit the U.N. Security Council to lift those sanctions, because Saddam Hussein doesn't deserve it. If we lift them, he'll again become a threat to his neighbors, and we cannot allow that to happen.
Q: And also, is it true of the neighbors' country -- Turkey's two neighbors' country -- Iran and Syria is also getting to more arms and buying more arms, the new kind of chemical weapons. Do you have any contact, or do you share this same concern of the other two countries -- Iran and Syria?
BURNS: We have long suspected, in fact we believe very deeply, that the Iranian Government is trying to achieve a nuclear weapons capability and trying to acquire or develop other weapons of mass destruction. That is why we are isolating Iran and encouraging our European friends to do the same. That policy of critical dialogue has not worked at all, and therefore, we are encouraging the Europeans to take a more realistic and tougher approach towards Iran.
Q: How about Syria?
BURNS: We have a well-known position on Syria, and we regularly talk about Syria. Syria is on the terrorism list. Syria is on lots of other lists. Stay tuned. We have a relationship with that government, because we want to further the Middle East peace process. We have a lot of concerns about the actions of that government.
Q: Nick, a quick follow-up. Those three countries, Nick -- Iran, Iraq and Syria -- does the State Department think their arms are a threat for Turkey?
BURNS: We think Iran is a threat to all of southeast Europe and all of Western Europe, and that's what's so puzzling about the continued attachment of many countries to the critical dialogue. It doesn't seem to be in the interests of those countries when in fact we know that Iran is trying to develop a capacity to build weaponry that can threaten countries thousands of miles away. The same is true of Iraq. There was just a wire service report this morning about Iraqi intentions to develop a missile that could reach Western Europe.
We have got to contain both countries because they are opposed to the peace negotiations and they support terrorist groups, and they are irresponsible governments.
Q: What about Syria? Syrian arms are a threat to Turkey as well?
BURNS: I think the Turkish Government is probably the best place to describe the threats that it appreciates to its own position in the world. I'm describing threats that the United States appreciates in the Middle East.
Q: On the threat to western Europe, that was mentioned in the wire report I think you just made reference to in the first part of the last series of questions.
Do you agree with Ambassador Ekeus that Iraq is developing or has weapons that are a threat to western Europe?
BURNS: You'll have to ask Ambassador Ekeus whether or not --
Q: Does the U.S. agree with his assertions?
BURNS: My answer to your question is, you'll have to ask Ambassador Ekeus whether or not he believes that Iraq has actually achieved the capability to produce these weapons or has them. That's what his mission is all about.
We believe that Iraq has the intention to acquire the weapons, and they've consistently lied to Ambassador Ekeus and the U.N. for five years about the fact that they hid some of the elements of those weaponry throughout Iraq. So we don't trust the Iraqi Government, and with good reason.
Q: Nick, can you say if the Secretary had any success in convincing the European nations to join in this policy of dual containment, as defined by the U.S.?
BURNS: She certainly hit hard at this point. She raised it herself from Rome all the way to Moscow, and she also raised it at every stop. She also raised it in Asia with the Japanese Government and Chinese Government with good reason, because we have a lot of evidence that both countries are threats -- present and future -- to all countries in the Middle East as well as European countries. I can't point to any dramatic change in the perception of the problem by the European governments, but we think the trend is in the right direction.
We sensed during these discussions -- in Europe, in particular -- a growing sense of feeling of frustration with the Iranians, because the Iranians have not changed their stripes. The Iranians are still funding Hamas and Hizbollah. They're still resolutely opposed to the peace negotiations, and we know that they're trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. We know that. We have the evidence, and we've given it to our friends.
So I think there's a growing sense that this critical dialogue hasn't paid off for the Europeans. There's just no concrete evidence of any change in Iranian behavior because they've gone to seminars and have had discussions over the past couple of years.
When you're faced with a regime like that, I think history teaches us that kind of regime, which is malevolent, has to be isolated. That's why President Clinton, in March 1995, made the very big decision to cut off American investment in Iran. It hurt a lot of American energy companies. They lost contracts to European firms, but there's something more important than commerce. It's national security. It's protecting your people from threats. The Iranians pose a potential major threat to all of us.
Secretary Albright made that point during her trip. There are things that are more important that business, than trade. National security is one of them. This is a point that we're going to continue to discuss with the European countries.