THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Cheju, South Korea)
BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS
Hyatt Regency Hotel Cheju, South Korea
8:52 A.M. (L)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The joint U.S.-ROK announcement, the proposal to hold a four-party meeting to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula, will, in fact, be the subject of the press conference between President Kim and President Clinton this afternoon.
The key points of that announcement are: First, that the two Presidents met to exchange views regarding the situation on the Peninsula, and reaffirmed their shared desire to work positively to encourage a process of reconciliation for the Peninsula. Secondly, that the United States reaffirmed its commitment to the security of the Republic of Korea and to the strength of the alliance. Third, that the two Presidents are proposing to convene a four-party meeting of the representatives of the Republic of Korea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the People's Republic of China, and the United States as soon as possible and without preconditions. The purpose of this proposal is to initiate a process aimed at achieving a permanent peace agreement. The two Presidents are likely to reaffirm their belief that the military armistice agreement must remain in place until a permanent stable peace arrangement is reached to take its place. And finally, that the two Presidents hopefully will indicate their desire that this process will over time address a wide range of issues.
There was a question about the 1991 Baker idea, which was a two-plus-four idea that came up in '88 and then again in '91. That idea in '91 was not well responded to, not positively responded to, by either of the Koreas or by China. And therefore, the proposal did not go very far.
So the key points: We're here to reaffirm the security alliance, the solidarity with South Korea; it's a four-way process, we're not in any way suggesting that the United States and North Korea will negotiate a separate peace agreement; the offer will be put out today, it is a generous offer and will remain open.
And then there were questions about communications that we've had over the last several days with the North and with China. The question was asked, how has China responded. So far they have responded with understanding. As far as North Korea, we have not received any official reply from them.
We did, in fact, inform the Japanese, who have reacted with support. And we have -- who have reacted with support at the -- Secretary Perry was in Tokyo just a day ago and spoke to Japanese officials about this.
Q What exactly would be the standing of the United States and China at such a -- is this really an effort to get what amounts to bilateral talks going with the United States and China as helpful participates or observers, or are all parties somehow equal at this table?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, you have used a couple of words that apply -- participate, helpful. The notion is that it is a four-party proposal, yet it is not intended to undermine our belief that peace on the Peninsula is primarily the responsibility of the Korean people, North and South. And so the U.S. necessarily has to be a helper, a facilitator, a promoter of that because in the final analysis it will be North and South.
Q So it applies to the turnaround of our --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes -- well, yes.
Q So the two parties were to agree, the likelihood of the other two undoing it is limited, I presume.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Were there to be a reconciliation between North and South that satisfied all of the interests of each, then one would expect those that have been trying to help them facilitate that to be supportive, yes.
Q You said, no preconditions but that you would assume that all parties would agree that the armistice stays in effect. Is that kind of not a precondition?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The armistice is in effect now, has been in effect, and the terms of the armistice itself and the establishment of the commission spell out that it will stay in effect until there is a permanent peace that replaces it.
Q So if the North Koreans would say, well, we will come to the meetings, but we're not saying that we necessarily agree that the armistice is in effect, would the meetings go on anyway?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is a peace proposal. This is an offer to begin a process to achieve a permanent on the Peninsula.
Q I don't think that is an answer to the question. The question is, if they said we would come to this meeting but we don't accept that the armistice is in effect, would the meeting go on anyway?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think what we have to do is wait and see how we are going to implement this proposal once we have heard reactions from the North.
Q Short of a peace settlement, Mike mentioned confidence-building measures in the interim you hope this would facilitate. Give me some examples of what measures you would like to see.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Confidence-building measures in the military area, for example, could involve moving troops back from positions of confrontation, not unlike some of the confidence-building measures that take place in other regional security fora. Over a period of time, one might anticipate that you could get into discussions on economic kinds of issues.
Do you have any others?
Q Why do you think the North would be ready to deal with the South at this point when they have refused, right along, and assisted that it be strictly a U.S.-North Korean operation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Probably because countries act in their own self-interest, and there is a constellation of factors coming together on the Korean Peninsula now that lead us and others to believe that the timing for toward proposal is ripe.
Q You mean, the starvation and so forth?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And the deteriorating economic conditions, yes.
Q When you say economic issues, is the U.S. prepared to offer any sort of aid?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We haven't talked about -- we have not talked about any of the details of how this would be implemented yet even with the South Koreans in terms of when the meeting would be, where the meeting would be, what kind of an agenda that would be. That is the next step after today's announcement.
Q And is there any quid pro quo being offered to the Chinese for their support, investment?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. No, this is a U.S.-ROK offer to initiate a peace process on the Peninsula. And that is the totality of it.
Q Did they ask for a quid pro quo and we turned them down, or is it just --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. No, we have informed the Chinese, along with the Japanese and the North Koreans of the content of this proposal. The Japanese have been very supportive, the Chinese have been very understanding, and we don't yet have an official reaction from the north.
Q If we get it, or we like it or --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Chinese have said that they share the desire to achieve a permanent and stable peace on the Korean Peninsula. They share the desire to have the armistice continue until it is replaced by a permanent peace.
Q From a political standpoint, would the Chinese not expect that if they were to participate in this, that they would not be slapped with any sanctions by the U.S.?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You're asking about a larger U.S.-China relationship question, not about the particular proposal. I think the way that we are dealing with the Chinese is that we are engaging them on a broad range of issues, pushing forward our interests as we derive them, as we see them, and there are not at this point the kinds of linkages that you're suggesting.
Q Mike said earlier that if we have this happy outcome, what is it between President's Clinton and Kim that they have to work out in this meeting this morning before they have a news conference?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the two Presidents will have an opportunity to discuss what the two National Security Advisors, Mr. Yoo and Mr. Lake have been working on for the last couple of months. They'll have an opportunity to talk about the follow-up steps, what comes next. They'll share their views on the situation on the Korean Peninsula. They'll probably also share views about regional security issues.
Q Let me put it another way. In what way would they not have a happy outcome? What would keep them from having that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: At the moment, I think it's a happy outcome. Pretty well said. (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think since they're talking on embargo, it's pretty clear they're already --(laughter) --
Q Was this by phone or did he come over here?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Mr. Lake actually was here on a trip with Bob. That was what, about --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: February.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- February, and then there's been regular phone and written communication between Mr. Lake and Mr. Yoo.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You will recall we were a little bit oblique when we announced that we would be stopping here today, but I would say the announcement today is certainly not the only reason we are here, but it was an aspect of the decision to make this stop.
Q You pointed out that the last time there was a proposal like this, the Chinese were not so excited about it. What's in it for them now that would make them want to do this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think what's different, really, truly, candidly is that that was five years ago. And the situation on the Peninsula in 1996 is significantly different than it was five years go in terms of both the political situation in the north as well as the economic situation.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I might also add that the Chinese have a much better relationship with the Republic of Korea now with formally established relations than they did in 1988 or 1991.
Q Are you suggesting there is more deterioration in the North's environment that makes China worry about its border too?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that's probably a consideration.
Q Why wasn't there just a proposal for the North and South Koreans to resume a dialogue with the United States alone as a participant, excluding China?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think when you look at the situation on the Peninsula and at the region more broadly, if you're going to have anything that lasts for a long time that reaches the point of stability and permanence, you really have to have the key players; and China is the great emerging force over then next 10 or 15 years.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Also, from a technical perspective, since we're talking about replacing the armistice agreement which was signed by those four, that was the appropriate group to include in this particular proposal.
Q Is it anticipated then that China and the U.S. would become guarantors or enforcers of any sort of peace agreement?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you'd have to wait and see, assuming that the peace process proposal that's being offered is accepted and that it gets underway, and then we're at a point where we've hammered out the terms of a peace agreement, presumably that element, the role of China and the United States in a permanent peace agreement, would have to be the subject of a discussion subject to negotiation. It's premature to say whether we would be guarantors.
Q What's your assessment of where Kim Jung Il is fully in charge and would be the guy who you'd be dealing with in this or is the military --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The situation in the North, I mean, it's an opaque society. There are probably twice as many opinions about what's happening there as there are people in the room. Certainly, there is a large strand of analysis that suggests that it is the military that is in control.
Q Does that include him or are you saying he's not fully in charge?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There's a large portion of analysis that suggests that the military is in control in the North.
Q Is that your assessment?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: My assessment doesn't matter.
Q Have China and North Korea indicated when they would respond to your offer? Is there a deadline?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, there is no deadline, there are no preconditions. This is an open offer. It will stay on the table.
Q Do you know when they might respond to your offer at all?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, not to my knowledge.
Q -- hasn't been that live an issue in diplomacy between U.S. and Korea, North Korea and South Korea lately. Yet we have this incursion into the DMZ a couple of weeks ago. Did they get wind of this, make a point about the armistice? Are they responding to us? Are we responding to them? Why is the armistice now the subject of our diplomacy?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think, as Mike suggested in his comments, this is something that has been underway for a long time, the notion of our desire to have resolution on the Peninsula and to have it predicated on a North-South dialogue, not on a U.S.-North Korea dialogue, has been out there for many years, as a matter of fact. The discussions between Lake and Yoo predated the incursions into the DMZ.
Q Do you foresee anyone from the United States going over there to talk to the North Koreans and lay this out in person?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have only begun thinking about that ourselves and we have not come to an answer. And that is -- the next set of questions after this announcement will be all of the details -- the where, whens and hows.
Q Peace treaty -- peace treaty would be signed at a four-party meeting, or at the South and North Korean meeting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that that's one of the, the sort of mechanical questions, if you will, that would have to be answered once the peace process got underway.
Q Will there be any U.S., any reference to the separate U.S. talks that have been going on with North Korea on such issues as missile proliferation and MIA issues?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Those subjects may very well be discussed between the two Presidents, but they are separate and apart from this peace proposal which stands on its own merits.
Q To get back one last time to the previous question, are you saying that this won't have any impact on your decision to take or not to take sanctions against China with regard to further -- matters?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the U.S.-China relationship is broad and multifaceted. We are in discussions with them at a variety of levels and the calculus in any individual issue has a lot of factors at play.
No, that's true. To go back to the particular ring magnet case that Secretary Christopher is looking at, his determination on tha A-25 case has nothing to do with this issue on the Peninsula.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 9:10 A.M. (L)