THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Cheju, South Korea) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release April 16, 1996
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
Hyatt Regency Hotel Cheju, South Korea
8:40 A.M. (L)
MR. MCCURRY: Good morning, everybody. Let me explain first what I am going to attempt to do now and explain why we're doing it in the fashion we're doing it. Some of you are asking me and asking us about some wire bulletins that you've seen. I'm prepared to address those as less forthcomingly as I can at this point. I'm going to talk for a little while, take some questions, and then what I'd like to do is then go into briefing format with two senior officials who on an embargoed basis will be able to satisfy your desire to know a lot more about what we expect President Kim and President Clinton to talk about at their press conference today.
We're doing this, I should explain, because of the very tight time deadline pressures that we have. As you know, after the press conference you only have about a half hour or so of filing time before you have to leave. And given that, we won't be able to be in a position to brief you more thoroughly after the press conference. So I'm proposing ground rules here; I want to make sure that there's no objection to it, that after I'm done talking for a while, giving you something that you can use now in terms of this news cycle, we then go into an embargo format in which I think you'll see a lot more detail in the types of things we're talking about. Any objections to that format?
Q Embargoed until when?
MR. MCCURRY: Embargoed until the beginning of the press conference between President Kim and President Clinton. Hearing no objections, then we'll proceed. Why don't I -- I'll just start by saying, as you all know, we are here today in the Republic of Korea, at the invitation of President Kim for two very important reasons: first and fundamentally, to reaffirm the importance the United States attaches to our security alliance with the Republic of Korea at a time in which we've seen some evidence of tensions along the border between North and South. And at a time when we see the fragile nature of the peace arrangements deriving from the 1953 Armistice that are in place, it is very important for the United States to once again assert its security interests in the alliance that we have with the Republic of Korea.
Secondly, the United States has long encouraged an active dialogue between North and South that could lead to reconciliation and lead to precisely the type of lessening of tensions that we desire. I will tell you that in the course of the last two months there have been substantial diplomatic efforts underway between the Republic of Korea and the United States that we believe have led to progress in the question of dialogue that President Clinton and President Kim will be able to address in their meeting shortly.
Those, without getting at this point into the substance of those discussions, I would say that they involve ideas first presented by the South Korean side to propose a way in which the North and the South could have a dialogue in which the United States would play an active role. And the United States' view is that participation by the People's Republic of China in such a dialogue would also be extremely helpful.
It should come as no surprise that that is a subject that we expect the two Presidents to discuss in greater detail after their meeting when they have their press conference today.
Why don't I, with that introduction, then take any questions that you have for right now, and then we'll move on.
Q May we take it that the South Korean side has been briefed on this and is aware that this is forthcoming?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I would say more than just briefed. Beginning with conversations that National Security Advisor Tony Lake had with his counterpart, Yoo Chong Ha, the Blue House National Security Advisor, beginning, as I say, about two months ago, there's been a substantial effort to understand better what process might advance our goal of discussions that could lead to peaceful reconciliation of North and South.
There's been a great deal of work done on that. There have been some ideas that are now ready to be finalized by President Kim and President Clinton. And many of these ideas have already been shared in appropriate and diplomatic channels with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea -- the DPRK -- and also with the People's Republic of China, and other governments in this region, specifically, Russia and Japan.
Q Is this a joint United States-Republic of Korea proposal, or is this a United States proposal?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it would be -- if we have the happy outcome today of further progress towards the goal of a dialogue that can lead to reconciliation, it would be put forward as a joint peace proposal by the two Presidents.
Q What indication do you have from China that they would be willing to participate?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, these ideas have just in the last several days been in a position where they could be explored in greater detail with other governments, and I can't characterize their response. But there seems to be understanding on the part of the People's Republic of China of our desire for a dialogue of this nature.
Q Mike, granted that it's difficult to ever know what the North is thinking or anything, but is there any belief that the recent provocations in the DMZ by the North is in any way tied to this, them trying to take credit for pushing the United States into this?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as I indicated, we've been in discussion with the Republic of Korea for some time -- discussions that predate the recent incursions along the DMZ. I can't speculate as to the motive for those incursions other than to refer you to public statements that have been made by the DPR.
Q What impact did those incursions have in creating this joint proposal?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, our interest in a dialogue that could lead to reconciliation and putting in place the type of permanent peace that would replace the armistice is well-known and has been a central tenet of our foreign policy related to this region for some time. I would say more those incursions underscore the fragile nature of the 1953 armistice, the reasons why the United States believes it's imperative for all governments in this region to honor the terms of the armistice until there is such agreement in place that leads to other peace arrangements.
Q Is it safe to say that the fairly muted reaction in Washington to the incursions was a result the fact that there have been discussions with Chung Ha and Seoul?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that would be too easy to make that type of analysis and that not necessarily is the case.
Q Has North Korea agreed already to this?
MR. MCCURRY: We have had no official response to the ideas put forward by the United States, and we understand through other diplomatic channels, the Republic of Korea may have also put ideas forward to the North.
Q If it does take place as a result of these four-way talks, where would they take place and when?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe you'll hear -- if we are in the happy position later to have the two Presidents announce something about a joint peace proposal, I doubt you will hear them discuss modalities or format at this point. They are going to simply -- if they are in a position to do so, to put forward a proposal that then would have to be reviewed by other capitals.
Q Would the United States actually be party to the peace treaty if there were one, or would it be strictly a Korean treaty?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's the type of question that would be best answered if there is such a dialogue. But putting in place a peace treaty would certainly be one objective of that type of dialogue. But in a shorter-term period, it might also be desirable to have confidence-building measures that would increase security in this region and lessen tensions between the North and the South.
Q Mike, how and why was it decided to get China involved in these talks?
MR. MCCURRY: The People's Republic, on matters related to the North Korea nuclear program and other issues in this region, have been a valuable interlocutor as we deal with the security issues that arise in this region.
Q If China were to go along and Qian Qichen and Christopher talk about this, doesn't that change the whole tone of the question of whether or not there should be sanctions with Beijing regarding nuclear technology?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to relate this issue, which is vital to peace and security on the Peninsula to other outstanding bilateral issues that Secretary Christopher might want to explore.
Q -- but have the Chinese related these issues?
MR. MCCURRY: To my knowledge they have not. You might want to defer that question to some of our backgrounders in a minute.
Q Mike, why aren't the security issues and the sanctions issue related? Can you explain that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have a very broad, important strategic relationship with the People's Republic that has many aspects -- economic, political, security related -- and I think it would be incorrect to say that any one element of that dialogue relates directly to another element of that dialogue.
We evaluate all of the different issues that we address in the context of our bilateral relationship, and that gives an overall picture of the nature of the relationship . And as we've candidly characterized that relationship, it's one in which there are differences, but the importance of engagement to advance our security and economic and political interests is quite clear.
Q Can you explain how this two-plus-two is different than the one-on-one, which has appeared to always be the American insistence?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, no, the United States has always encouraged North-South dialogue that could lead to reconciliation, have acknowledged that we could, if needed, play a useful role. We have not, to my knowledge, suggested any particular format. It is true that from the North there have been suggestions that there ought to be direct dialogue between the United States and the DPRK. But I'm not aware of anything at this point that would lead us into that type of dialogue related to security and peace issues on the Peninsula.
Q A sort of related question -- how does this differ from what the Bush administration proposed in 1991? Baker went to Seoul then and he talked about four-way talks or six-way talks.
MR. MCCURRY: Let me kick that over to the next session. Any other subjects that you want to deal with now, before you lose me?
Q Is this really Seoul's proposal to us and we're trying to make it work, or did we come to them and say let's try this?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe we'll get a little more detail on background on that. I think it would be correct to say the South initially approached the United States several months ago with some ideas. Those ideas have then been shaped in an active dialogue between both sides and they are leading to, we hope, the announcement that the two presidents will make later today.
Q Mike, can you give us an update on --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, the request for an update on Lebanon. Some of you know that I briefed your pool at Elmendorf about the steps that Secretary Christopher has had underway in the last 48 hours to try to limit tensions along the border between Lebanon and Israel to bring greater measure of security to the citizens of northern Israel and the refugees from south Lebanon who have now moved north.
The Secretary has continued his diplomacy even en route here. I told you that he had had a discussion with Foreign Minister Farouk Shara of Syria while we were on the ground in Elmendorf, and he has since then, en route here to Korea talked to Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. And all of these efforts are aimed at creating greater stability and calm along the border and to attempt to put in place arrangements that will give both sides greater confidence that their citizens can be protected.
Q Have you had a chance to hear Colonel Qaddafi's latest denial that his facility south of Tripoli has anything to do with chemical weapons?
MR. MCCURRY: I caught a little bit of his interview on the Cable News Network, but it seemed a little too weird to properly evaluate at this point.
Q Why do you think it's so weird?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll just leave it at that.
Anything else? Can we all move on? Okay, now, let me make clear what the understandings are. That has to hold you, for those of you who are writing on deadline for tomorrow, that has to hold you for your newspapers tomorrow. We are now going to move into a session that is designed to really amplify the announcement you'll hear from the two Presidents.
Q In the ground rules, if we can make it in today's addition when the press conference begins we can use it?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. This is -- the only embargo here applies to the beginning of the press conference between the two. I think there are a number of different types of deadlines here; at that point, if you still have got late additions or some of you on the West Coast can make all your additions, that's fine. This is only just designed because out of respect and courtesy to the Republic of Korea we're trying to help you and we don't want to unnecessarily put them in a less than competitive condition as well.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 8:52 A.M. (L)