THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (San Diego, California)
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT TO THE POOL Lawrence Residence San Diego, California
5:55 P.M. PST
Q Mr. President, we understand you talked to the Korean President. What did you tell him?
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I'd like to make a statement about the Middle East, and then I'll answer the Korean question.
The announcement today that Israel and the PLO have reached accord on security measures in Hebron is very, very important. It opens the way to now resume the Israel-PLO dialogue on Gaza and Jericho and to complete it successfully. And this, plus the announcement that the negotiations with regard to Syria, Jordan and Lebanon will all resume in April, means that the Middle East peace process is back on track. It's very encouraging to me, and I hope it would be to all the American people.
Now, I just completed -- literally, just a few minutes ago, 10, 15 minutes ago -- a conversation with President Kim of South Korea about the whole Korean situation, and about his recent trip to Japan and to China. He and I reaffirmed our common intention to continue to work together for a peaceful but firm resolution of this problem with North Korea.
The North Koreans themselves have committed to a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. They have committed to the IAEA inspection process. All we want is for them to keep that commitment, as well as their commitment to resume their dialogue with South Korea. And we're going to work very closely together in the U.N. and in other ways to try to pursue this. We hope that we will be able to do it in strong cooperation with the Japanese, who have helped us every step of the way; and with the Chinese, who have played a very constructive role in this. And I would also hope that Russia will be able to help in this process.
I first raised this whole issue -- Korean issue -- with President Yeltsin sometime ago. And so we and the South Koreans are working to try to get the cooperation of all these parties and others. But in the end, the North Koreans will have to decide whether they wish to be completely isolated or not, or whether they will just keep their commitments; and in return for simply keeping commitments they've already made, have the opportunity to integrate their nation into a broader and far more prosperous world.
Q They use very hostile language sometimes. They've implied that sanctions might be, in their mind, a declaration of war. How do you respond to that?
THE PRESIDENT: Nothing could be further from the truth. We have done nothing offensive to North Korea. All of our military moves -- indeed, the Patriot Missile -- has been entirely defensive. And any actions that we would support in that regard would be actions to which we have been forced by the North Koreans simply because they have declined to keep commitments that they themselves have made.
If we're going to do business in this world, people have got to be able to rely on the commitments that countries freely undertake. And, again, I would say the way is still open to North Korea simply to follow the commitments they've already made. There are ways they can do that. We are going work very closely with the South Koreans, but I think we have to be firm and persistent and just keep working at it; and we intend to do that.
Q How optimistic are you about a U.N. resolution, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't want to characterize it in that way. I'll just say that we and the South Koreans are exploring, with all the relevant parties, what our options are, and we'll see what develops over the next few days.
Q Sir, how big of an impediment is the Chinese to try to reach an international agreement on this issue? Tonight, the nonaligned nations said they would support China. Is this hurting the chances for an international agreement because of China's problem?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we'll have to see where China comes down on it in the end. The Chinese have always been somewhat more cautious because of their long-standing relationship with North Korea. And also they have -- I think they are genuine in not wanting to do anything which provokes some sort of crisis.
On the other hand, I would remind you that the Chinese certainly don't want North Korea to become a clear nuclear power because of the consequences that might have for them, as well as for Japan. And the Chinese are now doing eight or ten times as much business with South Korea as with North Korea. So, their long-term economic interests clearly are in pursuing a nuclear-free Korean peninsula in which North and South Korea are ultimately partners and both trading with a more prosperous China.
So I think their long-term objectives -- security and economic -- are consistent with what our long-term objectives are. So I hope that we can work through this crisis. But in the end, I will say again, the Chinese -- no different from any other country -- should want all nations who give their word to keep it.
Q Sir, is this in retaliation against the U.S. because of our trade problems, our trade differences?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I really don't think so. I don't think that has anything to do with this whatever.
Q Are you going to -- about the Middle East -- Mr. Arafat or anyone?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm in contact with the Middle East parties all the time. To date, this has required quite a lot of effort and personal time and believe me, from here on in, it will require much more; time on the part of the Secretary of State, the President, and all of our resources. So, I think you can say, over the next couple of months, this will require a significant commitment and investment on the part of the United States; and we intend to do that. It's worth it.
END6:05 P.M. PST