DEPARTMENT OF STATE PRESS BRIEFING INDEX
Tuesday, April 15, 1997 Briefer: Nicholas Burns
My final announcement pertains to North Korea. In response to an
expanded appeal targeted specifically towards feeding children, by the
United Nations World Food Program, and after consultation with the
Republic of Korea and the government of Japan, the United States
government has decided to provide humanitarian assistance in the
amount of 50,000 metric tons of corn, valued at approximately $15
million, for use in assisting the roughly 2.4 million children under
the age of six in North Korea, who we believe are at risk because of
the current food shortages.
Flooding in 1995 and 1996 destroyed considerable farmland in North
Korea. This exacerbated North Korea's chronic food production
shortfalls, resulting in very widespread food shortages and
malnutrition. The World Food Program estimates this year's shortage at
1.8 to 2.3 million metric tons, or nearly half of North Korea's food
needs. The United States government assistance will be in the form of
PL 480, Title II emergency food aid. Specifically, the United States
government will provide corn to feed nursery and kindergarten-age
children under the age of six.
The United States government has chosen the World Food Program as the
channel for this assistance because of the World Food Program's proven
ability to monitor distribution of assistance to ensure that it ends
up where it is supposed to end up. Now, this brings the total of U.S.
food assistance to North Korea since 1995 to approximately $33.4
million. The United States remains the single largest donor of food
assistance to the World Food Program.
Let me just give you, if it's of interest -- I think it may be -- some
additional background information. On April 3rd, as you'll remember,
the World Food Program of the United Nations expanded its outstanding
appeal by an additional 100,000 metric tons, which brought its total
appeal to 200,000 metric tons, roughly $95.5 million. You know that
the United States has already contributed $10 million to this food
appeal in February, so our total contribution to both -- to this
appeal -- to both parts of it, is $25 million.
The World Food Program expanded its appeal following the March visit
to North Korea of its executive director, Catherine Bertini. Ms.
Bertini found that conditions in North Korea were critical, and that
the status of children's health and nutrition, in particular, in North
Korea is grave.
And the expanded appeal specifically targets, as I said, children
under six. Now, we consulted with the World Food Program over the
course of the last several weeks, with Japan, and with the Republic of
Korea. And we believe this response and the response of our allies and
friends around the world will go a long way towards meeting the
objectives of the World Food Program. The United States response alone
to the entire appeal should constitute just under 40 percent of the
tonnage of food commodities that is required, and just over a fourth
of the value that is required. Now, our purpose in providing this
assistance is solely to respond to the ongoing humanitarian food
crisis in North Korea.
We've had many discussions with the United Nations, with American
non-governmental organizations, with experts -- agricultural experts,
and we have information available to us through a variety of means
that convinces us that the food situation in North Korea will reach a
critical stage this Spring with certain vulnerable groups, especially
children, severely at risk. We have already heard reports, credible
reports, of death by starvation in the North Korean countryside, and
it is our belief that the United States and other countries must
respond to this appeal in order to help save those children.
We believe that if no further outside assistance were to be
forthcoming, malnutrition would become more serious and could lead to
more civilian deaths by disease and by starvation. The World Food
Program has an effective monitoring system in place in North Korea,
working with North Korean government agencies. And you can be sure
that we will monitor the distribution of this food aide very
carefully, to ensure that it reaches the intended recipients.
I think that is all the background information that I wanted to give
you, but if you have any more questions about this, I'd be glad to
take them. George.
Q: There was no mention of tomorrow's meeting on the four-party talks.
Could you be more explicit and say there's no linkage between today's
announcement and tomorrow's meeting?
BURNS: I can certainly do that. We do intend to meet in New York
tomorrow: The North Korean Vice Foreign Minister, Kim Gye Gwan, as
well as the South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister and their delegations
for a tri-lateral meeting. That meeting is to hear the North Korean
response to our suggestion, with South Korea, for four-party talks to
improve stability in the Korean Peninsula.
There is no relationship between the announcement by the United States
today on food aide to the political discussions that will take place
tomorrow. We view the issue of food for children as a humanitarian
issue only. It is not linked to politics, nor should it be.
Q: As you're well aware, a congressional delegation recently returned
from a trip to North Korea. And while they, in anticipation of this
announcement today, were welcoming the Administration's decision to
contribute, but were actually asking for a greater amount. It was
their assessment that more was required -- that it is, as you said, a
very dire situation. I know you just gave a list of the various
departments and individuals who were involved in the decision, but how
did you reach this amount? Do you feel that this is going to be
sufficient for what you view as a problem there?
BURNS: Well, we hope so; we certainly hope so. We have to rely on the
designated and acknowledged experts here, namely the United Nations
and the World Food Program. These are the people that have gone into
North Korea time and again over the past couple of years. They're the
people who visited the orphanages and the countryside and the farms
and the cities to see the depravation of the North Korean people.
The World Food Program itself has estimated the needs at roughly
200,000 metric tons of food commodities. The United States is
supplying 40 percent of the tonnage, and one-quarter of the value that
is needed. That is a highly significant contribution by one state out
of all the states around the world who ought to be seriously
considering a contribution to this.
We do appreciate the views of members of Congress who have returned
from North Korea. We've talked to them. We want to learn as much as we
can from them, because we don't have U.S. government officials, as you
know, stationed in North Korea. We have to rely on the United Nations
for this expertise of whether or not this is the right amount of food
aid. And we believe we are working with the right organization here.
Q: Do you know, though, I mean, based on what has been pledged so far,
whether or not the appeal that the World Food Program made has been
met? I mean, I don't actually have the figures in front of me but I
don't know if this contribution now puts them at the point where they
have completed the appeal, or is there more?
BURNS: I don't believe that the total appeal has yet been met. I think
I have to refer you to the government of South Korea for what it
intends to do. I would have to refer you to the government of Japan
for what it intends to do. There are many other countries around the
world, particularly in the Asia Pacific region, who ought to seriously
consider this. Surely we can put politics aside to help children,
especially very small children who are at risk.
Q: You have mentioned several times that the money will go to
children. Is that because that is all the World Food Program is asking
for, or is the United States making that specification?
BURNS: No, the World Food Program has decided to target its current
program on children under six because they believe that that is the
segment of the North Korean population that is most at risk, where
malnutrition and even death by starvation is taking place right now.
So that is the affected group that they want to help and we are very
pleased to contribute to that effort.
Q: Nick, have any of the first shipments, have any of them arrived yet
in North Korea?
BURNS: The shipments from the $10 million contribution that we
announced in February will arrive in two shipments by two vessels from
Houston, Texas, to Nampo, I believe, in the first two weeks of May.
Now, we do have arrival schedules, I think, for the fourth, and the
second is a week or so beyond that. But arrival schedules are somewhat
general and they are targets, so I would think safely to say the first
two weeks of May we expect the first two ships to arrive from the
United States with the $10 million. We'll now have to go out very
quickly and contract for additional ships from the United States to
undertake -- first of all, we will have to procure the corn in the
United States, and then the transport of the corn to a port in the
United States and the shipment by sea. All that will take time.
So this $15 million contribution, I think we are talking about food
arriving probably as quickly as a couple of months. It does take quite
a long time, but all this has been factored in. We do have American
food arriving in just a couple of weeks from the first shipment.
Q: Is it possible to buy food under this program someplace that is
closer so that these people can get the food sooner?
BURNS: Well, you know, the World Food Program is obtaining food from a
variety of sources so some of the food that will be obtained will be
closer to North Korea and, therefore, that food will be used first.
But this food shortage is going to continue for many, many months, if
not throughout the entire year. So American food will arrive when it
can and it will make a difference when it arrives.
There are laws that we have to operate under here, P.L. 480, Title II,
does, of course, require a purchase of American food commodities in
the United States and shipment from the United States to North Korea.
But certainly the United Nations can take additional food shipments to
make up the immediate needs of the population.
Q: Pardon my ignorance and for being late on this briefing, but who
will feed the older children and the adults that are malnourished in
North Korea? And I have another little aspect of that I would like to
BURNS: Bill, this is a very large and diversified effort to try to
improve the food situation of the North Korean population.
There are other private voluntary organizations, international
agencies, that are at work here. There is also bilateral, has been
bilateral food assistance in the past from South Korea to North Korea.
There are many avenues and channels of distribution. We have chosen
the World Food Program because of its effective distribution system
and because we, frankly, share the belief that children are the most
affected by the current food shortages.
Q: The under six-year-old children, are those who will receive U.S.
grain, donated U.S. grain?
BURNS: That's right, yes. There are roughly 2.4 million children under
the age of six who we believe are adversely affected by the food
shortages. The 50,000 metric tons of American food will go towards
Q: And then on the other issue of agriculture in North Korea to
sustain themselves in the future -- is the U.S. offering any
BURNS: Not formally, on a government-to-government basis. I know that
former President Jimmy Carter has done some work with agronomists in
this area, as have a number of American PVOs. Essentially, we believe
that the North Korean economic system, the Communist system, is
certainly in part to blame for the current economic woes of the
country. Communism has failed all over the world. It's failing again
in North Korea. The economic system is failing because it doesn't make
sense, it doesn't add up. It's never worked anywhere in the world that
That's why China has had to convert its own system to a free-market
system, its own economic system. Certainly government inefficiencies
have contributed to this. We want to be of help. There is a
humanitarian urgency to do so.
Q: Could I ask about the timing? If you were to, say, announce this on
Thursday, it could be interpreted as a reward for North Korea if they
say yes tomorrow to the four-party talks. What would your response be
BURNS: Well, you know, we can't -- what we have here is, we have two
tracks of issues with North Korea right now. We have the political
track, which is our hope that the North Koreans will respond to the
four-party talks proposal. And we have this track of a food emergency.
Now, we're responding to the timing of the U.N. appeal for food, which
was quite recent -- just in the last ten days. We've responded very
quickly to this appeal.
Frankly, we're mindful that a lot of people think that we're doing
this for political reasons. We're not. And to make that very clear, we
decided to announce it before the talks started -- before we even knew
what the North Korean response would be to the four-party talks
proposal. And if the response is negative, the food aide goes forward.
If the response is positive, the food aide goes forward. We have to
meet humanitarian imperatives before we meet political ones.
Q: I assume that it's coincidental that today is Kim Il-song's
BURNS: I wasn't aware of that. He wasn't in my birthday book.
Q: But his successor Kim Il-song's successor -- appointed 120 new
generals today, according to wire service reports. Does the U.S. have
concern about the size, the (inaudible) size of the North Korean
military at a time when the world has to provide food?
BURNS: I believe the North Korean military is one of the largest
standing armies in the world -- over a million troops that face our
troops and South Korean troops, just north of the DMZ. That's
obviously a concern of the United States. There's no reason for North
Korea to have an army that large. North Korea ought to spend more of
its time attending to the needs of its own people -- devoting less
resources for military purposes, and more for the good of its own
And frankly, what we hope to achieve in the four-party talks, if we
can get the North Koreans to come to the four-party talks, is a series
of measures that would further stability in the Peninsula, and
ultimately lead to a peace treaty to end the Korean War that the
armistice stopped in July 1953. There is no reason to have an army
that size on that peninsula. We want peace and stability in the
peninsula; and the quicker the army is reduced in size, the easier
that will be.
But in the meantime, because that army is there, the United States,
37,000 American troops, are joining several hundred thousand Republic
of Korea troops to defend the Republic of Korea. And Secretary
Albright was over at the L.A. Times editorial board this morning. It
was televised so you probably saw it. She said several times the
United States has a security commitment to South Korea. We will meet
it. We are meeting it today. We will continue to meet it until that
threat disappears from the north.
Q: Iran. Can you comment on the Israeli report of the test firing of a
medium range Iranian missile designed to carry an unconventional -- it
says unconventional war head -- I presume that is nuclear? What does
the U.S. have to say about this?
BURNS: What kind of Israeli report is this?
Q: The Israelis reported that a 930-mile range missile was tested by
the Iranians -- one that could reach their nation with an
unconventional warhead is what it says. Do you have any comments?
BURNS: No, I don t. I have not see the report. So I can't comment on
Q: And has the U.S. asked or have the Germans volunteered to help in
providing intelligence on Iran to the United States?
BURNS: I can never even discuss the word intelligence or any
information related to it.
Q: How about increased cooperation by the Germans?
BURNS: I would refer you to the German government.
Q: In the Middle East?
BURNS: I refer you to the German government on that issue.
Q: Did you see The Washington Times story about Mr. Einhorn's
testimony last week and how he may have softened it 24 hours after a
statement was --
BURNS: Well, The Washington Times -- you know. Yes, I did see The
Washington Times story. And I, you know, I was not alarmed by the
story. I hope The Washington Times isn't alarmed by the story.
You know, it's well known -- and Deputy Assistant Secretary Einhorn
testified to this effect a couple of days ago -- that the United
States has some continuing concerns about the government of Iran's
chemical weapons program, and about dual-use material obtained from
And we have talked to the Chinese about this. And the Iranians are
fully aware of our concerns. We have not determined that any action by
the Chinese government has violated its international obligations or
U.S. law. But we are mindful of the allegations. We look into them
very seriously. We follow them with a great deal of resources behind
that effort from here in Washington, D.C. and in the field. And nobody
has been more concerned about this than Bob Einhorn.
Now, usually what happens when you go to the Hill, you testify and
often the Senators and House members ask you follow that with written
testimony. We did submit written testimony and we made a minor change
that altered the substance of the testimony. But that happens, too.
Nothing surprising in that.
And, of course, the second version represents what we wanted to say.
And we will continue to follow this very closely. But I wasn't very
alarmed by the supposed -- by some of the histrionic charges in The
Washington Times story.
Q: I want to go back to a North Korean issue.
Q: Do you know that Japan's government is still very reluctant to give
another food assistance for North Korea? What kind of conversations do
you have with the Japanese governments? Actually, what does the United
States want Japan to do?
BURNS: Well, Japan has to make that decision. Only Japan can make the
decision as to whether or not it contributes to the food appeal by the
United Nations. We understand that Japan has -- that both the
government and many people in Japanese society have a number of
concerns about the way that North Korea has treated Japanese citizens
in the past, including the alleged abductions of Japanese citizens
over the past couple of decades by North Korean agents. That's a very
At the same time, there is a humanitarian crisis underway in North
Korea, particularly affecting children. And we -- Americans believe
that that's a very important imperative that has to be considered.