THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SPECIAL ENVOY TO THE PRESIDENT AND POLICY COORDINATOR ON NORTH KOREA WENDY SHERMAN The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
10:55 A.M. EDT
MR. CROWLEY: Good morning, everyone. We've had a very important visitor here at the White House this morning, Vice Marshal Cho Myong Rok, the first Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission of North Korea. And here to give you a readout of the meeting with the President and to also amplify on his visit to Washington as a whole, we have Wendy Sherman, who is Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State, our North Korea Policy Coordinator, and Counselor to the Secretary of State. We also have Ambassador Chuck Kartman of the State Department who handles missile issues for us; and the new Senior Director for Asian Affairs of the National Security Council Jack Pritchard.
Starting off will be Ambassador Wendy Sherman.
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: Good morning. As you know, this is the beginning of the visit. The North Korean delegation, led by Vice Marshal Cho Myong Rok, came to Washington last night, staying at the Mayflower Hotel. We greeted him there. He is the Special Envoy of Chairman Kim Chong-il and comes here as his personal representative. He began his day with his delegation including First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju, with a courtesy call on the Secretary of State.
I should note that he came to that meeting in a business suit and came to the meeting with the President of the United States, which just ended, lasting about 40-45 minutes, in full military uniform. We think this is very important for the United States, for American citizens to know that all segments of North Korea society, obviously led by Chairman Kim Chong-il in sending this Special Envoy, are working to improve the relationship between the United States and North Korea and this is obviously an important message to the citizens of North Korea as well.
The President and Vice Marshal Cho had a very positive, direct and warm meeting this morning. They both agreed that the Inter-Korean Summit has created an opportunity for this historic meeting here today, and spent some time talking about the importance of that inter-Korean dialogue. Vice Marshal Cho did bring a letter from Chairman Kim Chong-il with him to the President to describe the important point we are in, in our relationship with each other, and the hope that we would improve it further.
The Vice Marshal conveyed, on behalf of Chairman Kim Chong-il to the President some ideas on how to build on the progress that we have made in our bilateral relationship. As I said, we are in the early stages of this visit. The Vice Marshal and his delegation will have further meetings and discussions today. They will see some of Washington, D.C., as Dr. Perry and I saw some of Pyongyang when we were there in May of 1999.
The Secretary will host a dinner on the 8th floor of the State Department today, then she will hold a bilateral meeting tomorrow morning to discuss the progress that we have made today and to begin to reflect on some of the ideas that the Vice Marshal brought with him today.
I think this was an excellent start to this meeting, and we look forward to continued very positive, frank and warm discussions as we try to improve the relationship between our two countries. I would be glad to take a few questions.
Oh, I should note one other thing. The Vice Marshal noted that he had spent his life in uniform. By the end of the visit with the President, after having made a very forceful and warm presentation to the President, the President noted that he thought he would be a pretty good politician.
Q What message do you think he was trying to send by changing uniforms?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: Well, he is the Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission, which is the key body in North Korea, not only that's part of governance, but also the senior military official. He is Vice Chairman to Chairman Kim Chong-il. And so I think he was coming as he is, the Vice Marshal, and he was also, I think, conveying a very important message to us and to the citizens of North Korea and of the region, that this effort to improve relations is one that is shared not only by the civilian side, by the foreign ministry, but by the military as well, and we think that is very important and look forward to the meeting with Secretary Cohen, which will take place on Wednesday afternoon.
Q Could you shed a little bit of light on the letter which Mr. Cho conveyed from Kim Chong-il to President Clinton? That was personal or businesslike, what -- could you -- how could you characterize it?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: To be perfectly frank, I only looked at it very quickly before I came into this room. So my impression is that it is, of course, the kind of letter one would expect from the head of one country to the head of another country. And it is exactly what you would expect in that regard.
Q Could you tell us how far the North Koreans have actually come in meeting the requirements of the U.S. for being taken off the terrorist list, and do you expect that during the course of the visit here, that the gap would be filled through your discussions with Marshal Cho?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: We have taken together, working with North Koreans, I believe they have taken some very positive steps forward. Ambassador Michael Sheehan, who is our coordinator for counterterrorism, has met with the North Koreans on more than one occasion, along with Ambassador Kartman who is our special envoy and senior negotiator.
And in those meetings, we have made clear the steps that we believe North Korea must take in order for the President to say to Congress that he believes we should begin the process of removing them from the terrorism list. The statement that was released on Friday, which was a joint public statement, of noting the importance of foreswearing terrorism, harboring of terrorist groups, individual and collective acts, was something that all states of the international community, of the United Nations, ought to follow through on. We think this was an important public statement about the intentions of North Korea in how they will proceed into the future.
There are still a couple of other things that they must do, and I'm hopeful that those steps will be taken in the near future. I can't give you a specific timetable; that's really a decision for them to make.
Q What are those couple of other steps?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: Our law is very clear about the kinds of things that need to take place, and I would refer you to it.
Q Can you talk about the North Korean missile program? There had been some talk back in July about the possibility of a deal whereby they would reduce their missile program or put off their missile program entirely in exchange for some sort of international agreement to give them launch capacity for satellites. Any further discussion of that idea? Is that still on the table? Did that come up in this meeting?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: We certainly expect that during this visit we will discuss the idea that, purportedly Chairman Kim Chong-il presented to President Putin in their meetings. I think there is no question, based on the discussions this morning, that our concerns about missiles, not only that specific idea, but many other ideas and concerns, will be discussed during this visit.
Q What was discussed specifically about missiles today between the President and Marshal Cho?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: We're at the very beginning of the meeting. We were putting the concerns on the table, but this was not a negotiating session, this was not a substantive bilateral. This was meant to be an introductory and very historic meeting between the President of the United States and a personal, special envoy of Chairman Kim Chong-il, and I think this was a very good beginning to our visit.
Q Can I ask, then, at one venue that might be addressed during Mr. Cho's visit?
AMBASSADOR HERMAN: As I said, we will have discussions that will take place at several different levels, including with the Secretary of State, with me, with my colleagues during these two days.
Q And you said they're putting those concerns on the table. Did President Clinton specifically mention those concerns, or those questions in the meeting this morning?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: Of course. President Clinton reviewed the range of concerns that the United States has in a very appropriate, summary fashion for this kind of an introductory meeting, and urged that we work hard over the next two days to continue to build on the progress that we have made in previous negotiations and meetings.
Q What was their reply? What was their reply to that?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: I think that we all expect there to be continued discussions while they are here.
Q Do you have set up a schedule to visit Madam Secretary Albright with North Korea?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: We are going to take this process one step at a time, and we're beginning with these very important talks here over the next two days.
Q You stressed in the weeks since the South Korean-North Korean summit that you need to see concrete results from North Korea before you believe it's changed. And before this meeting, you said it was historic in itself. But have you got any inkling after this visit there was anything substantive and concrete that the Vice Chairman has brought which can convince you now that something is indeed happening?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: I think it would be premature to define the results of the meeting before the meetings have taken place. So I'm sure you will hear from us again. But as I did say earlier last week, the very fact that Chairman Kim Chong-il would send a special envoy of such high rank to the United States to convey his ideas and his personal message is an important and historic step in a process for improving the relationship and supporting President Kim Dae Jung in reaching peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
Q Did they ever shake hands in their meeting? They didn't before the cameras.
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: Yes, they did. When he walked in the door, and when he left.
Q Usually, North Korea does not have diplomat relationship. So how would you treat the North Korean delegation here? And there still are terrorist organizations in --
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: When Dr. Perry and I traveled to Pyongyang in May of 1999, we were received with great hospitality, with respect and with great cordiality, and we hope that we will do the same and are doing the same for the North Korean delegation visiting here.
Q The President said on Friday last week that any reconciliation with North Korea also has to be good for South Korea and Japan. Will the President specifically deal with Japan's concern about the Japanese Red Army hijackers and the alleged kidnapping of Japanese nationals?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: As I said, the President and the Vice Marshal agreed that the Inter-Korean Summit made the opportunity for this historic visit possible. And the President spoke to the broad concerns of the international community, obviously including Japan, that need to be addressed in order to improve our bilateral relationship.
Q Did the President or the Vice Marshal bring up --
Q How specific was the President about the Japanese concerns?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: As I said, this was a beginning meeting, and we will have ongoing meetings over the next two days, and I don't think it would be appropriate to get into a line-by-line detail.
Q Did the President or Vice Marshal bring up the subject of U.S. troops in South Korea and their continued presence there?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: As I said once again, we discussed a range of issues in this meeting, but it was in a summary introductory fashion to really start off the meetings and the discussions we're going to have over the next two days in a very positive way.
Q When you went out of your way to say at the end, if I heard you correctly, that the President mentioned that the Vice Marshal might also make a good politician, that suggests at least a degree of camaraderie in the meeting. Can you describe in any sort of way the atmospherics, how they talked and dealt with one another. And was there sort of any warmth or -- just give us an atmospheric reading, if you could.
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: Sure. I think that the beginning of the meeting started off with everyone with the talking points that they had brought with them, as most meetings like this do, I think rather quickly began an exchange of views and a true discussion back and forth between the President and the Vice Marshal. The Vice Marshal spoke on his own in response, without prompting or the need for talking points. He clearly had come with a very strong message from Chairman Kim Chong-il. They had met just before he left for the United States. He knew his brief exceedingly well, and made a very forceful and very strong statement of the set of ideas that he was bringing with him.
The President, as you know, the President is a very engaged leader, and he was in this instance as well. There was some humor in the meeting. There was some back and forth, and I think both came away with a sense of wanting to work harder, even harder to work to improve the relationship.
Q Can you tell us what they're going to be seeing this afternoon? Have they expressed any interest in going to any particular sights, and how will they go around Washington this afternoon?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: We, between Protocol and Diplomatic Security, and the East Asia Pacific Bureau will host them in any touring they do. I expect that they'll see some of the very critical monuments here in Washington, as we did in Pyongyang, and they may see some signs of everybody's daily life as well. I think they're working through with them exactly what they want to see.
Q Did they say what they want to see? Do you have any idea what they want to see?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: Oh, I think they want to see Washington. They want to get a sense of the lives of people here in the United States.
Q Can you tell us something about the ideas that were included in that letter, some of the suggestions that President Kim sent along?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: I think it would be premature to do so. Among other things, I really haven't had a chance to study the letter. We wanted to come right out of the meeting with the President and come in and see you.
Q Well, once you've read the letter, could you release a copy to us?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: I think that's really a decision for the White House to make.
Q Do you believe that North Korea has the intention to hand over Japanese Red Army?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: As I said earlier, we have had very frank discussions with North Korea about what we believe is required under our law. They're very well aware of the steps that need to be taken, and we will continue discussions while they are here about those steps.
Q Do you expect the President to meet with the Vice Marshal again before he leaves?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: There is nothing scheduled at this time in that regard. We expect that he will be meeting with the Secretary of State again, and with the Secretary of Defense, and we will, of course, make a progress report to the President.
Q Was the issue of recovering remains of casualties of U.S. service personnel from the Korean War discussed? And are there any other things that may come out of these meetings dealing with that unresolved chapter in U.S.-Korean history?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: I'm very glad that you brought that up. This is a very important part of our relationship with North Korea. It is an area in which, of late, they have been trying to cooperate to help us recover remains. This was very much on the mind of the President. He spoke to it urged that we continue the work together to try to resolve this very critical issue that means so much to so many American families.
Q So that we don't mischaracterize what you said today, could you just, without going into detail, summarize the range of concerns? Everything from the remains of soldiers in Korea to missiles?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: Right. I would say from soldiers to missiles to terrorism to what we have built on in the past in terms of our bilateral relationship, our presence, our nuclear concerns -- the whole range. And I wouldn't say that he detailed each one of them in this meeting, but he certainly referred to the range of issues that we have worked on that Ambassador Kartman and my colleagues have also worked on over the months and years.
Q Any discussion about the liaison office in Washington D.C.?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: I think we will discuss a whole range of issues over the next two days, including issues of normalization and diplomatic representation.
Q How long was the meeting, again?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: About 45 minutes.
Q A large part of the administration's missile defense program has focused on the threat posed by North Korea. How does this meeting affect the future of the missile defense program?
AMBASSADOR SHERMAN: We really did not reflect on that in the context of this meeting. Clearly, in the President's consideration of national missile defense, threat was one of the concerns. North Korea was part of that concern. We have made that very clear to them. That concern remains and it is why it is such an important subject of our discussions with them.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 11:10 A.M. EDT