THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DAVE JOHNSON
The Briefing Room
7:25 P.M. EDT
MR. JOHNSON: I think with the Q&A session you had at the beginning and the Prime Minister's session with you on the driveway you've heard much of what I have to say already. I will keep this mercifully brief.
The President and the Prime Minister had about a half-hour meeting this afternoon, and there were two sets of topics they discussed -- the peace process in Northern Ireland and the talks which began today which we hope will advance that. And the United States-European Union relationship and the progress we hope to make there during Ireland's term in the presidency.
On the peace process, privately as well as publicly, you heard both the President and the Prime Minister express some optimism as the talks got underway. The Prime Minister was especially thankful for the engagement of the United States and especially for the personal engagement of the President. As the Prime Minister said on the walk out front, it's clear that the President is not simply engaged from a overarching point of view, he's got a strong knowledge of the individual parties' perspectives and he wants to do whatever the United States can do to help move this process forward.
The Prime Minister offered a special thanks to the President for his continuing to provide Senator Mitchell to chair these talks in what is often a thankless task, but one that has the prospect for bringing a real and a durable peace to Northern Ireland.
Both the President and the Prime Minister agreed on the need for an IRA cease-fire, and they agreed that the real progress which we need in the talks will ultimately require it and that the people of Northern Ireland, Catholic and Protestant, both want it.
With respect to the European Union and the issues we hope to address there, the progress that we would like to make during Ireland's term of office falls into a couple of areas. One has to do with customs and standards, and those things which would help our business community and ultimately the consumers who consume the products of the United States and the European Union in one another's countries and even at home because it would potentially help lower some costs.
There are some negotiations and discussions going on over that now. There's still some issues that remain to be ironed out, but as the Prime Minister suggested, if we could find ways to work together so that duplicate standards don't have to be matched just for the sake of duplication in both countries, but can be done in a way which preserves health standards for the consumers in both the European Union and the United States, that would be ultimately helpful for our consumers and helpful for our businesses as well, and for our workers.
Also talked a bit about efforts to work together on narcotics trafficking, both in terms of some work to be done in the customs area and work to be done in interdiction. We want to work together especially on issues that affect the Caribbean since that is where narcotics come out of -- Latin America into the United States and Europe. And it's an area where the United States and European countries have continuing responsibilities -- the United States because of our coastal region there and the presence of our Coast Guard; the European Union because of continuing economic interests and even political interests there, especially in the case of France and the United Kingdom.
That would be a comprehensive effort in terms of interdiction, police cooperation and other areas where we need to help -- where we can work together to confront narcotics traffickers in that region.
We also are going, in the customs area, to be working on an agreement which covers a couple of different areas. One is so-called "precursor chemicals," those are ones that are used in legitimate commerce in the pharmaceutical industry and in other aspects of the chemical industry, but when diverted, and can be used to manufacture illegal narcotics and illegal drugs, not necessarily narcotics, which plague both the United States and the European Union.
That agreement would also be helpful in terms of helping us police and work together in a customs effort on intellectual property protection and antifraud efforts in that respect. And we look forward to working these things out.
Finally, I want to mention the President, having brought up the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization and our desire to continue to work together with the European Union on that issue, we have an interim contribution, that is KEDO has an interim contribution from the European Union of $6 million. We would very much like to have a second interim contribution, and we would like for the European Union to become a member of KEDO, serve on this board and have access to its firms to have access to the contracts with KEDO we'll ultimately be providing in order to provide for its replacement of the electrical-generating capacity in North Korea.
We're hoping that when the Foreign Ministers of European Union meet on October 1st and 2nd, they will make a second interim contribution and they will also provide the mandate for the negotiations to begin between the European Union and KEDO so that that permanent state is on the board and that continuing annual contribution can become part of the relationship between the European Union and KEDO.
The vast bulk of the funds to be contributed to KEDO, of course, will be coming from the Republic of Korea and Japan, but we believe it's important for countries in the rest of the world, the United States and Europe to show active participation and active contributions to this organization, because stemming and keeping frozen the nuclear program in North Korea ultimately benefits all of us.
Since I've covered this forum so comprehensively, I can doubt there would be any questions, but if you have any, I would be pleased to try to answer them.
Q Did Bruton indicate that that was their line of thinking, about becoming permanent members of KEDO?
MR. JOHNSON: He indicated that they wished to continue to work with KEDO. He did not state conclusively that this mandate would be issued; but we are hoping that that will be the case.
Q Any hopes about a second contribution to KEDO, a second interim contribution? Did he mention any figure, or --
MR. JOHNSON: No, no figures were discussed on either side on the second tranche for the interim contribution.
Q What kind of a figure would you like to have for the Europeans?
MR. JOHNSON: I think we've studiously avoided the publicly asserting a figure, so I will try not to --
Q How about privately?
MR. JOHNSON: We can meet right after this and I'll tell you privately. (Laughter.)
Q As I read the wires, it sounded like the meeting in Belfast got off to a rather shaky start. Mitchell had called, and I guess -- tomorrow, Tuesday, because there was some bickering between some pro-British groups. Why is this such a great start in --
MR. JOHNSON: I don't think that any of us think that these are going to be easier or they are going to proceed at lightening speed. But I think that all of the people who working on these talks are in touch with the parties on a daily basis. I believe that there is reason for optimism and room for optimism, notwithstanding the issues that you point out, and the problems that confront the parties are ones that are ultimately amenable to resolution. And we believe that as former Senator Mitchell is a very talented and patient steward of those talks, and he and the parties are going to work hard and try to move them forward.
Q David, was today's meeting intended to coincide with the start of the talks?
MR. JOHNSON: No. Many of you may know that the Prime Minister was invited by the Congress to address a joint session, and he is there for that purpose.
MR. JOHNSON: I believe so -- that purpose, and he and the President thought that this would be a good opportunity for them to meet and to talk, and it is a good coincidence, we believe.
Q Any talk with the Secretary General?
MR. JOHNSON: No.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 7:35 P.M. EDT