THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Seoul, Republic of Korea) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release November 21, 1998
PRESS BRIEFING BY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR SANDY BERGER Shilla Hotel Seoul, Republic of Korea
5:40 P.M. (L)
MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon, everyone. The President's National Security Advisor, Samuel Berger, will brief you, give you a read-out on the President's bilats with President Kim and answer your questions. And then I'll come up afterwards if you have any other questions. Thanks.
MR. BERGER: Good afternoon. Let me just quickly go through my notes of the bilat and summarize them for you. President Kim began by talking about the APEC meeting from which he just returned. He said that he was, of course, disappointed that the President had not been able to attend but was very impressed by the contribution of the Vice President to the meeting, and said that there was a clear consensus at APEC that the American leadership was indispensable to the solution of the Asian financial crisis.
He expressed disappointment that there was not consensus on the trade initiative. As you know, there was refusal in the final analysis of the Japanese to agree with one element of that, but a decision by the ministers to refer it to the WTO, but he was pleased that the APEC leaders had agreed to other steps to deal with the crisis.
The President talked in general about his ideas about the international financial crisis, the need in the short term for both dealing with individual situations, setting up a precautionary facility, the work that we've done with Japan in providing money for Asian businesses and Asian banks that need work-out assistance.
They talked a bit about Japan and the economic challenges. President Kim asked President Clinton about the trip to Japan and the meetings with Obuchi. The President said that they had talked about the economic challenges laid before Japan and recounted for President Kim the discussion that they had had specifically about Korea and KEDO and the North Korea problem.
The discussion then turned towards North Korea. President Kim laid out what he basically described as the three principles of the South Koreans towards the North: One, they will not tolerate provocations that undermine or threaten the security of South Korea; two, they will not seek to undermine North Korea; and three, they seek co-existence with North Korea. And he described his conversations with President Jiang recently and the convergence between South Korea and China on handling of North Korea.
The President said he strongly supported the policy of President Kim -- the engagement policy -- and the challenge was to continue that policy in the face of actions by the North that are provocative. He told President Kim, as he indicated at the press conference, that we have asked former Secretary Perry to be a special advisor to the administration in dealing with North Korea, helping us assess our North Korea policy.
Talked about the agreed framework. The President said that he believed that we had gotten a good deal out of the agreed framework. Again, as he said in the press conference, that without the agreed framework, North Korea would have spent the last several years producing a good deal more plutonium that would have been available for nuclear weapons than without it, but that now we needed to deal with the underground site in the North, the suspect site, where there are suspicions about its intended use but not conclusive evidence, a view that was shared by President Kim.
Also talked about the North Korean missile program and the importance of containing that missile program, which really now upsets the balance not only in the Korean Peninsula but in the region, as the Japanese look with apprehension at the launching of missiles over its head. And clearly indicated, as we have in our conversations with the Japanese, that these matters are matters that need to be dealt with very closely between the South Koreans -- so very disconcerting to watch you all watch television -- can you just fill me in from time to time what's going on? I mean, is it a soap opera?
Q It's a fashion show.
MR. BERGER: A fashion show, oh -- I just wanted to know what I was competing against, that's all. I mean, your eyes are riveted, particularly the male eyes. (Laughter). I think I've just undermined my own briefing here, but anyhow.
President Kim said that he agreed with the President 100 percent on what he had said about the North, the importance of dealing seriously with our concerns about whether the agreed framework is in fact being complied with, that we must require access; if it is a nuclear-related site, we should call for it to be shut down. That he had been briefed on Ambassador Kartman's recent discussions with the North Koreans in Pyongyang, and while those discussions did not produce a resolution they also leave room for further discussions.
President Kim then talked about the positive -- he said, would you like my assessment of North Korea and gave kind of the same rack-up that he gave in the press conference, the positive steps being -- the negative steps being the infiltration of the Northern submarines into South Korea's waters, the suspected underground site, the missile launching. Those are all sources of considerable concern.
At the same time, conflicting signals, the tourism project that he referred to with President of Hyundai and the North Koreans now taking South Korean's up to see some natural sites in North Korea; the fact that Kim Jung-il had specifically been engaged in the development of that project; the fact that there were journalists now and more cultural and political leaders who were going to the North, he saw that as a slight change; the talks that are going on with the United States, both on missiles and on the nuclear program; and the changes in the DPRK constitution, which provide for limited private property and market economy; and the expanded number of North Koreans that are now permitted to go abroad for training.
And he basically described this as kind of a mixed picture that he sees in the north, but that his objective is to promote security and cooperation at the same time, essentially to offer the North the kind of choice that the President I thought put quite starkly at the end of the press conference, either a choice of trying to -- a fruitless decision to try to dominate the situation militarily or a choice to try to reach accommodation with President Kim, who is clearly reaching out to the North should they be prepared for some kind of reconciliation.
On the bilateral relationship, they both agreed it was in strong condition, which after six years I've never been in a bilateral in which the leaders agreed it was in a weak condition. The President urged completion of the cost-sharing agreement with the South on the cost of our forces. The strains on the South Korean economy have caused a delay in completing the cost-sharing arrangement, renewing it.
And then the conversation went to the economic area. The President said that he had been very impressed by the economic recovery program that had been persistently pursued by President Kim. Don't forget, President Kim arrives in office and finds that the roof has fallen in before he has had a chance to really unpack his crates. The President said he hopes that we have been helpful through the various things that we have done in the IMF, our bilateral assistance, OPIC, Ex-Im.
They talked about the one remaining -- or perhaps the most serious remaining problem in the South Korean economy, and that is restructuring the so-called chaebols, the large conglomerates, particularly the five large conglomerates. Now, in order to understand the magnitude of that problem, you have to understand that 40 percent of the Korean economy are these five companies. So the restructuring of these five companies and streamlining them and the economic efficiency and world competitiveness of these companies is very important to the economic recovery. And this is an area where I think President Kim agreed they have made the least progress.
There was some discussion of trade issues -- beef, pharmaceuticals, steel, the investment treaty. On all of those issues, President Kim indicated that they would try to be forthcoming. We then went into an expanded bilateral, which basically, since the limited bilateral had covered everything, was somewhat truncated. But there was mainly a discussion of the economic situation and the desire of the South Koreans now to begin to attract again foreign investment. We're trying to negotiate a bilateral investment treaty with the South Koreans.
There was some discussion of Y2K, something that we've been working on with the South Koreans, and they've now formed a working level public-private committee. And it's interesting, this is an issue that really -- totally obscure issue that no one had even heard about or understood a year ago, which is now increasingly on the bilateral agenda between the United States and the countries that we deal with.
Finally, they talked about a Forum on Democracy that was announced at the press conference. This is a joint project that will be undertaken between the United States and Korea to start something which will basically ultimately evolve, hopefully, into something like our National Endowment for Democracy.
Talked about Burma, where President Kim has been a stalwart supporter of Aung San Suu Kyi, and a very outspoken critic of the government; and a bit of a conversation about climate change, where Korea has signed the Kyoto Protocol, and although it has not yet agreed to mandatory targets, has agreed to voluntary targets.
So that's basically not as attractive as the show, but that's it.
Q Don't sell yourself short.
MR. BERGER: Okay, thank you.
Q Sandy, President Kim used the words -- and you echoed them today -- will not tolerate these provocations. President Clinton didn't use those terms. I'm wondering what it means from the United States' point of view, how far you go in terms of will or will not tolerate obfuscation on this inspection issue. Would the United States, for example, consider taking this issue to the U.N. Security Council seeking some sort of resolution demanding inspections?
MR. BERGER: These are very serious matters, and I think we consider them very serious. Let me take first the nuclear issue, and then the missile issue.
In the nuclear area, we reached an agreement with the North Koreans in 1994, after a long negotiation and quite a confrontational period in which we were about to go to the U.N., as you will recall, for sanctions against the North, by which the North Koreans agreed to freeze and ultimately dismantle its nuclear graphite reactors in Yongbyon, a five megawatt reactor and a 50 megawatt reactor that it was also constructing, plus a reprocessing plant. Essentially, this was, from a nuclear weapons point of view, an engine for nuclear material -- a factory for nuclear material -- even though it had, presumably, electrical generating capacity.
Now, that agreement has been complied with. And we know that because there are IAEA inspectors who are at the site and who are physically monitoring the site. The five megawatt reactors have been closed down; the reprocessing plant is under seal; the spent fuel rods have been canned; the construction has stopped on the 50 megawatt reactor. So, by and large, that's been a good thing, because were that not stopped, for the last three years they would have been continuing to generate these fuel rods, reprocessing them, presumably creating the fuel that goes into nuclear weapons.
Now, we have had information more recently on, in particular one site in the North, the purpose of which is not absolutely clear, but raises questions, raises serious questions. Serious enough that we believe that we need to have the opportunity to inspect the site. And that is the request that we have made to the North. We need to determine in the first instance whether it is inconsistent with the agreed framework in which the North agree that they will not build other nuclear graphite reactors or reprocessing facilities.
If this turned out to be a facility inconsistent with the agreed framework, obviously that would be a serious matter and we would demand the site be closed, but it would call into question obviously the viability of the agreed framework. But I think it's premature to reach that conclusion. We need to press forward with the North Koreans to gain access to the site.
Q Sandy, there has been a published report that plutonium has been found in the soil and water around these sites in Korea. Can you confirm that?
MR. BERGER: As far as I know, the report that you're referring to is a South Korean -- is based upon a South Korean press report. The South Korean government has said that is an incorrect report. Beyond that, these are obviously intelligence matters, and I can't comment.
Q I have a question on the same subject. If that suspect site is a hole in the ground, as the President just described it, how would going to inspect it help resolve the question of what its purpose is -- if there is nothing there?
MR. BERGER: Well, it's a complex hole in the ground -- put it that way. (Laughter.) It is -- I don't want to describe the site, but we believe physical inspection of the site would help us ascertain its purpose, and presumably not only once, but over a period of time. So let me leave it at that.
Q When the subject is the missile test, the administration says -- correct me -- that's not covered by the agreed framework. When it's the challenge inspections to see the site, that's not covered by the framework.
MR. BERGER: The fact is we don't know what the -- we don't have conclusive evidence with respect to the intended purpose of the site. If the intended purpose of the site were to build a graphite reactor or to build a reprocessing plant, it would be inconsistent with the agreed framework.
Q I meant the inspection. But the question is, why do you point to the agreed framework as a centerpiece of all policy if it doesn't cover these problems -- these additional problems with North Korea?
MR. BERGER: I'm not sure that I used the term "centerpiece" of all policy. I mean, let's back up here. North Korea is not a benign government. We have lots of problems with North Korea. They have had a nuclear weapons program that we have been concerned about, that we have controlled at least to some extent. They have a missile program both with respect to its own development and with respect to exports, which is destabilizing -- destabilizing in Asia, destabilizing to the countries to whom it is selling technology. So we have many problems with North Korea, and we have to deal with North Korea I think on a realistic basis.
What President Kim has said, and I think what President Clinton was agreeing with, is that North Korea now is at a crossroads. On the one hand, it can seize the opportunity afforded by the fact that the President of South Korea, President Kim, is extending a hand to North Korea and is probably more inclined to engagement and reconciliation than any President in South Korea's history. It can choose that path, rejoin the international community, perhaps build an agricultural economy that is not based on starvation. This is an economy that -- an agricultural economy that fails year after year. We're the second largest food donor to North Korea. That's one path. Or it can continue to be a totally isolated, self-contained entity which obviously is failing economically and seeks to preserve its place in the world only through military means.
I think the President was saying, given our security relationship with South Korea, the latter course is not a successful course for North Korea -- because we will come to South Korea's defense. If North Korea believes that it can ever gain military dominance or somehow prevail against South Korea, it is ignoring a bilateral security treaty that South Korea has with North Korea.
So I think the President was saying, here is another option. It's an option that is embodied in that tourist ship going up the coast; it's an option of re-engaging with the world; it's an option of re-engaging with the South; it's an option that has a lot more promise than the other one.
Q Can you explain why President Clinton supports President Kim's sunshine policy of engagement when the White House does not support it for other hostile governments such as Iraq, or even to a lesser extent, Cuba? And secondly, could you also explain what is the special relationship between President Clinton and President Kim that gives President Kim's engagement policy extra cachet? People have talked about a special trust that Clinton has.
MR. BERGER: I don't think it's a question of cachet; I think it's a question of strategic judgment. I mean, President Kim has made a strategic judgment that he is going to pursue an engagement policy, but it's an engagement policy undergirded by strength. It's a policy that basically says, we seek reconciliation with the North, but we are also not going to tolerate provocations from the North, and we're also obviously going to remain strong; we're also obviously going to sustain our security relationship with the United States. It's a very sensible policy.
To try to draw comparisons between this and Iraq or Cuba I think is very difficult. In terms of why does President Kim have moral authority or -- I'm rephrasing your questions, obviously -- President Kim is a remarkable man. I think we're living in a time when you look around the world and you look at Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel and Kim Dae-Jung, three men who spent most of their lives fighting their governments, went to prison over the authoritarian policies of the government, were brutally punished for the stands they took, and now these are three men who are, in fact, the Presidents of their respective countries. I think that's a remarkable set of stories.
And Kim Dae-Jung is someone who I think deserves respect for two reasons: one is because of what he stands for, and the second is because he has been able to make a transition from being a leader of a movement to a leader of a government under the most adverse circumstances. I mean, we all know that one of the hardest transitions for people to make is being leaders of opposition movements suddenly to be thrust into power. History is filled with failed episodes -- with people in that situation that have failed.
Kim Dae-Jung not only has led a life -- a principled life that has been instrumental in his country obtaining of democracy, he has then come into the government, ironically, at the time when the economy collapsed. I'm sure that when he was sitting in jail he did not think that he was going to spend his first two years, if he ever got to be in power, trying to rebuild a collapsed economy. But he's done that. He's taken on some very hard decisions. And Korea, as with Thailand, as with other countries, is beginning now to see the benefits of the very tough decisions that he made. So I think he deserves a lot of respect for both reasons.
Q Sandy, did the issue of the convicted spy Robert Kim in the United States come up at all during the bilateral meeting?
MR. BERGER: It did not come up.
Q Sandy, both you and the President have outlined some of the sticks in the U.S. and the South Korean policy toward the North, but can you outline some of the carrots that would be available if North Korea follows the course that you're talking about?
MR. BERGER: We have a wide range of sanctions against the North Koreans, the easing of which, I suppose, become carrots. But those require, obviously -- some of those relate to their support of terrorism, some of them relate to their human rights record. In some cases, these derive from particular elements of the North Korean regime. But I think, clearly, if North Korea chose a different path -- chose a path of reconciliation with the South, chose to deal with its missile development program and export program in a responsible way, chose to forgo clearly and unequivocally a nuclear weapons program, obviously that would make it possible for us to improve our relationship with North Korea.
Q Sandy, North Korea's record for the last four years is not to choose A or B, but to have a little bit -- sort of salami tactics of giving a little bit but not as much as you want. What makes you think that they're going to make this choice?
MR. BERGER: I think there is -- I suppose saying a fork in the road is a bit, perhaps, too dramatic. But there are some basic paths here that they can choose. They can choose a path, essentially, of reconciliation or a path of confrontation. At the time that they decided to enter into the agreed framework and give up the programs at Yongbyon, that was obviously a step towards accommodation with the rest of the world.
But again, this is a very impenetrable government, a very impenetrable leadership. I think we know less about what really takes place in Pyongyang than almost any other capital in the world.
Q What happens next, in terms of our policy to North Korea? President Clinton has made this kind of public comments on it, but do we have a diplomatic initiative that's going there? How do you get off the dime when it comes to North Korea?
MR. BERGER: There are at least three venues here, three avenues to pursue. Number one are the four-party talks which President Clinton and President Kim Young Sam launched about three years ago, which include China, North Korea, South Korea, and us. We have met several times. At this last meeting there has been a modest agreement to set up subcommittees to deal with various issues involved with improvement in relations, confidence-building measures. So that's one path we want to pursue.
Second, we've had now, I believe, two rounds of discussions with the North Koreans with respect to this suspect site. Ambassador Kartman just completed his last discussions. They were not -- certainly were not conclusive in terms of progress, but they will lead to further discussions.
And, finally, there are the missile talks with North Korea in which we've raised a range of issues relating to their missile programs.
Q Will the U.S. ever be willing to give millions of dollars to the North Koreans to allow for the inspection of the hole in the ground?
MR. BERGER: No, I think we certainly would not pay for the right to inspect these sites.
Q Sandy, North Korean -- to allow inspections of these sites. How are you going to selling the agreed framework to Congress?
MR. BERGER: Well, let me not jump ahead. We've insisted upon access. We hope and expect the North Koreans to give us access. And I'm not going to speculate beyond that.
Q Sandy, can you talk a little bit about the difference in the atmosphere now versus when President Kim was in the United States this summer? At that point there was lots of talk about the Korean President pressing the United States to lift sanctions. Now the talk seems a lot less advanced, or a lot less about progress and more about pushing back.
MR. BERGER: Well, there was, I think, too much made when he was in Washington of him pressing us to lift sanctions. But putting that aside, there was no disagreement whatsoever between President Clinton and President Kim with respect to the two elements, essentially, of the policy that President Kim is pursuing, that we support -- that is consistent with our policy with respect to North Korea.
Q You described it as a complex, suspicious hole in the ground in North Korea. What is it about this hole that makes it suspicious? What is it about this hole that makes it complex?
MR. BERGER: Well, those again are intelligence matters which I'm not going to get into.
Q Can you give us any guidance as to what it is that raises your antenna about this stuff?
MR. BERGER: No, I will simply say that there is information that we have that raised questions that we believe require answers.
Q Sandy, how much time did the two Presidents spend relatively on economic issues and on the security -- North Korea matter?
MR. BERGER: I would say a little more than half the time on security issues, the rest of the time on economic -- maybe 60/40 security/economics.
Q Why was the President so tentative this morning or this afternoon in his remarks? Isn't this the kind -- the Air Force document and the other things the Iraqis are balking at, isn't this the kind of defiance that we have said would be met with action on short or no notice?
MR. BERGER: Well, first of all, I don't think the President was tentative. The state of play is as follows. UNSCOM is now back in the country. They are beginning to restore their cameras; they're beginning to do inspections. Now, at the same time, they sent, I believe, three letters to the iraqis requesting certain documents.
They received back a letter from the Iraqis -- probably 9:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m. last night our time. That letter is -- that answer is insufficient in the judgment of UNSCOM. UNSCOM has outlined its insufficiencies in a communication to the Security Council and intends to seek further production and further clarification from the Iraqis.
We have been consulting -- either today or yesterday, depending on where you are -- with other members of the Security Council. We obviously back UNSCOM in this request and its inspections. We believe that there is an affirmative obligation, as the President said, on the Iraqis to comply with their obligations under the resolutions.
But we just received the letter. Butler has just analyzed the letter. He's gone back to the Security Council. But clearly, in our judgment, Iraq has an obligation to produce the documents that UNSCOM is seeking and we will support UNSCOM in that effort.
Q Does the same warnings of military action apply now as applied before?
MR. BERGER: We've said all along that the issue here is whether Iraq will meet its obligations under the Security Council resolutions and whether UNSCOM is able to do its work. If we reach the conclusion that the answer to those questions is negative, we obviously are prepared to act.
Q Sandy, did the North Koreans really just try a blunt shakedown with relation to this inspection, or was there something more complicated than that? It almost boggles the mind that a country would say, give us X million dollars to inspect this site. Was there some other, more complex system they wanted to set up, or was it just a blunt shakedown?
MR. BERGER: Can I say "yes"? I'm looking at Ken here to see whether I start a war if I say "yes." I would not choose that phrase. (Laughter.) But I don't think there was much more to it than that.
Q The reported figure of $300 million that North Korea has demanded coincidentally is similar to the reported figure that North Korea had been demanding to stop its missile export program. Is there any relationship --
MR. BERGER: Let me say, having now been engaged for almost six years in negotiations with the North Koreans, this is not untypical of North Korean negotiating tactics, but it is not -- there is nothing much more to it than, you know, we'll let you see the site if you give us $300 million.
Q Sandy, the basic choice that the administration has presented to North Korea, either gradual steps towards engagement or continued isolation and the United States pursuing a containment policy -- that basic choice has been laid out for at least four years, since '94, right? Wouldn't we know if the experiment was working?
MR. BERGER: Look what President Kim said. Basically he said there is a mixed picture here. Again, this is a very complicated regime with a very complicated leadership picture, and you see conflicting signals. On the one hand, you see North allowing South Koreans to travel up to visit North Korea. You see a greater degree of cultural exchanges. You see the other things that President King indicated.
On the other hand, recently, in particular, since the launch of the Taepodong missile and with questions that have been raised about this site, you see the other side as well. I don't think you're going to see for some time perhaps a clear picture of which way North Korea goes.
But ultimately -- listen, ultimately North Korea is a society, is a country in trouble, a country in internal -- certainly with serious internal problems -- is a country that can't feed itself, is a country that is isolated from the world. It is a country whose economy is in miserable shape. It's a country where tens of thousands of people are hungry, if not starving, depending on what reports you listen to.
And it's also a country that has roughly a million forces posed along the DMZ 17 miles from where we're sitting, and that makes it rather dangerous. And we have to bear that in mind.
We have 37,000 troops in this country. We have a security relationship with this country. I think this is a problem that we have to deal with in a very steadfast, deliberate, steady, firm way.
Q I'm confused by your reticence about talking about the site that you call suspect. Large elements of your own intelligence community say that it's not suspect, but that it is in fact intended to help produce nuclear weapons. The people who have seen some of this evidence on the Hill -- not just Republicans -- basically agree with that assessment.
The North knows, itself, what it is doing. Why shouldn't we conclude that your reluctance to talk about it is essentially intended to cover up your own embarrassment at what's happening?
MR. BERGER: The fact that there is not conclusive evidence here is a judgment not only that I have made but is a judgment that the intelligence community would also concur in.
Q Why can't you share a little bit of this discussion with us?
MR. BERGER: Because these involve sources and methods, in terms of how we know what we know. And there's no particular advantage -- I'm sorry, with all due respect -- to sharing that information with you.
That's not you, personally. (Laughter.). You I would share it with, but nobody else.
END 6:13 P.M. (L)