U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
February 10, 1997
12-14..........World Food Program Appeal for Food Assistance
13.............Status of Joint Briefing on the Four Party Talks
15-16..........Saddam Hussein's Family
21-22..........Chemical Weapons Convention
MR. BURNS: I just want to raise one thing since we're on Asia, which is a little bit troubling. That is, the Clinton Administration was criticized over the weekend by the Washington Post for not considering, in a serious way, the question of food aid for North Korea. This was very puzzling to me -- very puzzling, indeed. Because we said several times last week, publicly -- maybe the Washington Post needs to read the transcripts or maybe they just need to pay attention to what we're saying -- that the United States had met previous food appeals from the World Food Program; that we did treat as an urgent matter the humanitarian situation of the people of North Korea.
Therefore, quite puzzling to see this quite strong criticism of the United States for not taking into considering humanitarian concerns in addressing this question.
I can just tell you that the World Food Program, we expect, will issue a new appeal for food assistance to North Korea this week; that it will be similar to the one issued last year. When we receive this appeal, we will very seriously study its analysis of the food situation in North Korea. We will make our decision to provide food assistance to North Korea based solely on humanitarian considerations.
As always, we'll talk to our ally, consult with our ally, the Republic of Korea -- South Korea. But we said last week -- and I just wanted to reaffirm this week -- that we are interested in helping people in need around the world and that humanitarian considerations will be the criteria that will apply here. It's very puzzling to see this strong editorial criticism from a major national newspaper when it is completely undeserved. We've been paying attention to the situation. We've been talking to the United Nations. We've been talking to the North Koreans. We've talking to the South Koreans.
The Government is at work here. We're doing our job. We're doing what we must to fashion a good, consistent policy on the Korean Peninsula for peace. I think it's incumbent upon people who write editorials to listen to what we say and to take it into consideration.
QUESTION: In the same newspaper, there was an op-ed article by a former senior AID official which suggested that the famine in North Korea could be worse than the famine in Ethiopia in 1984. What's the State Department's assessment of that analysis?
MR. BURNS: We do not have an independent assessment of the food situation in North Korea because we don't have any American officials in North Korea. But we do rely upon the United Nations and the World Food Program.
As you know, the United States has been a major contributor. I believe the level of our contribution was $8.2 million in 1995, to people who were affected by the flooding; an additional allocation was made by the United States in 1996. So we have to rely on the United Nations and on the food experts. But we do so -- and we take their appeals very seriously; very seriously, indeed. I 'm just puzzled by this criticism.
QUESTION: Has the United States ever used food aid to North Korea as a bargaining chip?
MR. BURNS: Not that I'm aware of. In fact, I said very clearly last week, repeatedly, we are not using food aid as any kind of lever to convince the North Koreans to approach the negotiating table in New York to have a briefing on the Four Party Talks. I said last week consistently that we are interested in this question on humanitarian grounds. I just want to reiterate that today. We don't deserve to be criticized like this unfairly and inaccurately. People ought to do their homework.
QUESTION: Nick, you say "not that you know of." Are you leaving out the possibility that maybe in some other chamber somewhere it has been used as a bargaining chip?
MR. BURNS: We've been trying to arrange a briefing on the Four Party Talks. The North Koreans have decided that they cannot attend those talks, at least at the present time, because they have on-going private, commercial negotiations with Cargill and other companies. We would like that deal to go forward. But we've never used food aid as a lever against the North Koreans; certainly have not because we have to pay attention to the humanitarian questions here.
QUESTION: Nick, for years, we used to do assessments of the food situation in China and the former Soviet Union. We didn't rely on the U.N. or any other NGO's for their assessments. We have so-called national technical means to do that. The question is, doesn't the State Department policymakers have access to national technical means, analysis by the Department of
Agriculture and other agencies, that talk about the situation on the ground in North Korea? Can we not make policy based on those assessments?
MR. BURNS: I'm not aware, at least when I was working on the Soviet Union, that we ever used so-called national technical means as a sole basis to judge a situation. The fact is the two situations are not analogous. In the situation of China and of the Soviet Union, we had American diplomats on the ground. We had an ability to bring in our own experts to assess the food situation. We do not presently have that ability with North Korea. Thus, we rely on the very good services of the United Nations which we trust, and we work well with the United Nations and the World Food Program in the past and I believe we'll continue to do so.
... ... ...
QUESTION: I'm just wondering whether you can offer any insights as to the state of family relations in the Hussein family of Baghdad? For example, is Saddam Hussein's wife under house arrest? Is Uday Hussein -- what kind of injuries he sustained; anything you might have?
MR. BURNS: I'm just not a particular expert on the state of affairs in the Hussein family which is a very troubled family. I think, in this case, you might want to just trust the newspapers and read the newspapers and be intrigued by it, but we have no independent knowledge of the intrigues going on in Baghdad.
With autocratic dictatorial regimes, countries run by tyrants, you often see, when they treat their people in a dictatorial manner, it also sometimes extends to their family.
I think it's no surprise to see that Saddam Hussein has had problems in this family. He is a disturbed person, and so we'll just have to let that go as it is, and I have nothing much more that I can add to it.
... ... ...
QUESTION: Do you think Bush and Baker will be persuasive with the Republicans in Congress? Jesse Helms said he respected her views, but making it very clear that he won't be deterred in trying to streamline, as it puts it, spending. Not giving you more money; giving you less.
MR. BURNS: Secretary Albright's major message in Houston for the two days was on these issues: Chemical Weapons Convention, resources, money for American diplomacy, we need to have a bipartisan base. Republicans and Democrats ought to be able to work together. But it was very helpful to see a former Republican President, a former Republican Secretary of State, both of whom are very respected people in our society, who were very successful in their own foreign policy over four years -- to see them come out so unreservedly and so strongly for Secretary Albright's position and the President's position on these particular issues.
She came back encouraged that Republicans and Democrats can work together. There was an editorial in The New York Times this morning that strongly supported this position, that there should be bipartisan support for the Chemical Weapons Convention. So she is encouraged.
As you know, she had a round of appointments on Capitol Hill last week. She'll continue that this week. In addition to the testimony, she will be talking to individual members of Congress this week. When she gets back from her trip on the 25th of February, she'll resume that. This is a major priority for the Secretary, and she's working hard on that.
QUESTION: There was a letter in The New York Times yesterday, signed by Caspar Weinberger, Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Doug Feith, who worked chemical weapons at the Pentagon, urging the Administration to please stop wrapping the Reagan Administration in with the Chemical Weapons Convention. It was an entirely different approach, and that the former President would never have agreed to something like this, because according to them you've already acknowledged or conceded that you will not punish -- have no way of finding out if there are violations nor doing anything about it.
Without this becoming an arms control seminar, is the Administration still confident that this is a Reagan Administration initiative?
MR. BURNS: It's interesting. I think there's a little rewriting of history going on here. It was Vice President George Bush that led the way to prepare the United States for these negotiations. At the time, you and I remember, there was a division in the Reagan Administration. Vice President Bush, I think, led the successful effort to commit the Reagan Administration to the negotiations, number one.
Number two, President Bush and Secretary Baker negotiated it, and Secretary Eagleburger signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in January of '93. Maybe the losers in the intramural squabbling back ten years ago are trying to rewrite history, but I wouldn't be fooled by that, because I think that President Bush has spoken very clearly. He spoke from his driveway in Houston, Texas, on Saturday morning about how important it is that Republicans and Democrats unite on this issue.
QUESTION: On Chemical Weapons, Nick, could --
QUESTION: May I go back to the testimony, too?
MR. BURNS: Yes, let's stay on Chemical Weapons.
QUESTION: Is there any plan -- does the Secretary have any plans to meet with Senator Lott, Mr. Helms' boss, regarding the scheduling of a vote?
MR. BURNS: The Administration has already been in touch with Senator Lott -- who's boss?
QUESTION: In theory -- his leader. His leader. Mr. Helms' leader, I should say. Let me amend my first statement.
MR. BURNS: We've already been in touch with Senator Lott about our concerns on this issue, and I'm sure we'll l continue to be. I know that Sandy Berger went up a couple of weeks back for a meeting with Senator Lott, and we have great respect for him. We have great respect for Senator Helms, and we'll continue to be in contact with both of them on this issue and others.
QUESTION: Have you heard anything back regarding the scheduling of a vote?
MR. BURNS: I'm not aware of a scheduled vote on this issue.
It's a major legislative priority which the Secretary of State is
going to follow up on quite vigorously. You should have been in
Texas with us. We had a great time.