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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Deputy Department Spokesman James B. Foley
Excerpts from Daily Press Briefing: Readout on September 18-19, 1997 Four-Party Talks re. Korean Peninsula
Washington, DC, August 22, 1997
U.S. Department of State

Blue Bar

... QUESTION: The four-party preparatory talks ended on Friday without achieving an agenda. Can you give us an idea of what the problems were between the parties; and if there's another set of talks scheduled in the future?
MR. FOLEY: Well, the answer to your second question is no; although we agreed that discussions on the initiative could continue through working level channels in New York. But if the question is, is the United States prepared to show up for another round of preparatory talks absent a real evidence on the part of North Korea that it's willing to come to New York to negotiate seriously, then I think we're not likely to be scheduling any such talks in the immediate future.
We remain committed to the principle of the talks, and especially to the very important goals we hope to achieve through the talks, leading to a stabilization and hopefully a permanent peaceful settlement on the Korean Peninsula. But our negotiators, while committed to the talks and willing to go the extra mile to make them succeed, are not going to waste their time. So we will await indications on the part of North Korea that they are indeed willing to come and reach agreements.
Now, as to the specifics, what happened in New York last week -- it's pretty simple. The DPRK insisted on a direct linkage between food assistance and negotiations. Secondly, they also remained inflexible in the effort to achieve a mutually agreeable agenda. They demanded, as you know from previous rounds, a specific and concrete agenda for the plenary talks, while the other three sides had agreed during the last round that a more general agenda -- allowing each participant to raise any relevant issue -- was more practical. The DPRK agenda items -- including discussion of the withdrawal of US troops -- would, in our view, prejudge the results of the plenary talks before the negotiations began.
We made a good faith effort in New York over several days. The United States probed for flexibility and found none. We engaged in two days of extensive discussions in an effort to seek common ground. But as I indicated, the North Korean side made no attempt to seek common ground with the other parties. It was clear that they came to New York unable to make progress.
QUESTION: Do you have a sense, then, that there is any flexibility at all in the position? I mean, coming into these talks, these same items were held over from the previous round. At least it's my understanding the North Koreans were demanding that the withdrawal of US troops be on the agenda and for a very specific agenda. Why did the US and the other participants think that this particular round might provide them with a breakthrough, when the first one didn't?
MR. FOLEY: Maybe it will take the next round to determine that. But on the issue of flexibility, I think the important factor is for the North Koreans to understand that on our side, there is no flexibility on these two major points of contention.
On the issue of food aid, the question is not whether or not the United States is willing to provide food aid and respond to the urgent humanitarian crisis that has been unfolding in North Korea. Our record on that is clear. But we refuse linkage -- and they know this -- between the four-party talks and the provision of food aid, which is a humanitarian issue for us. Again, our record has been one that we can be proud of, in terms of reflecting the American people's commitment to helping other people around the world in time of crisis and in time of need.
As for the agenda item problem, we're not saying that these issues of concern to the North Koreans cannot be addressed in the four-party talks. They will be free to raise their concerns and their issues, and that's what the negotiation is all about. What we will not do, though -- and on this, again, the question is the North Korean side understanding the firmness of our position -- but what we will not do is place the specific items as specific agenda items. Rather, under a general rubric, we believe that all sides will be free to raise whatever issues of concern they wish to.
But to place those as discrete agenda items would, in our view, tend to prejudge the outcome of the negotiations. The negotiations are for negotiating, and we want to preserve the integrity of the negotiating process.
QUESTION: What sort of sign are you looking for from the North Koreans that they are ready to be flexible?
MR. FOLEY: Well, I couldn't predict what sign would be helpful and convincing. I think what will be helpful and convincing is when they come back to New York and sit down and agree to move to the plenary talks in Geneva.
I understand your question, what, as we're sitting in Washington and as they are sitting in Pyongyang, we will need in order to agree to send our negotiators back to New York. I couldn't say. But diplomatic channels are open; we will continue to meet at the working level in New York. If we see a sign of a change of heart on their side, then we will be very willing to go back to New York and to complete the preparatory round.
QUESTION: They've got to do more than just agree to another round of high-level talks?
MR. FOLEY: Well, I'd hesitate to speak on behalf of our Korea experts and to prejudge our negotiating position. But I would be surprised if we agreed to go back to New York absent a firm indication on the North Korean party's side that they are willing to come to agreement at a next round to permit the four-party plenary talks to begin six weeks hence in Geneva.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: I know this may have been said from this podium before, but could you just say again how specific is the US willing to be on this agenda for the talks in Geneva?
MR. FOLEY: Well, it has been stated, I think, a number of times from the podium that we and the other two parties to the talks, the Chinese and the South Koreans, are in agreement that it should be a general agenda without enumerating specific components thereof.
QUESTION: Are there any categories that you can say that you are willing to discuss?
MR. FOLEY: Again, each side in the plenary talks, under a general agenda item, would be able to raise any issue that it wished to raise.
QUESTION: You're saying that the talks are going to begin in six weeks?
MR. FOLEY: Well, the agreement reached at the last round of the preparatory talks was that once the preparatory phase was completed -- and we failed to complete it last week -- but once it was completed, that the plenary talks would begin six weeks from that date in Geneva. They agreed on a number of sort of modalities surrounding the talks -- logistics issues and things of that nature.
Yes. I'm sorry, Jim, yeah.
QUESTION: On the food linkage problem, I may be missing something here, but I would think it would be to the advantage of the North Koreans not to link food aid and political considerations. In other words, they get the food aid on its merits, without any encumbering linkage. Do you have any insight as to why they insist on a linkage, apparently against their own interests?
MR. FOLEY: I couldn't put it better myself, Jim. It is a curious position they've taken because, at the same time, they've indicated, I think, openly that they oppose the notion of food aid being used as a political weapon or a vehicle of leverage over the negotiations themselves. To make that point and yet, on the other hand, to insist on food aid, themselves, directly linked to progress in the four-party talks is a contradiction. You're absolutely right.
QUESTION: And you don't understand what their --
QUESTION: Do you have any trilateral meetings planned, as you did last week?
MR. FOLEY: Well, we met trilaterally because the negotiators were all present in New York at that level. Of course, they've all gone home on their respective sides.
Our delegations in New York can continue to meet -- that channel remains open. Whether they would meet in a three-way manner, I couldn't tell you.
QUESTION: You had mentioned that you're waiting for the North Koreans to make some type of gesture before you go back to the table. Today the North Koreans said that they're expecting the United States to make some type of gesture before this progress can move on. With that, it obviously appears we're at a stalemate. Is there any chance of reassessing? Are you looking to reassessing this policy? And if not, how long do you plan on going on before reassessment of the policy takes place?
MR. FOLEY: Well, I wouldn't want to get ahead of ourselves, but I'm certainly not aware of any reassessment taking place on our part. I think I was fairly clear on that, in answer to a similar question a few minutes ago.
What we maintain in these talks is not really very demanding or onerous. Again, on the issue of food aid, we have always been there when the World Food Program for example, has launched an appeal to us to provide food aid. Our record is clear. Again, we look forward in Geneva, if and when we get there, to discussing the broad range of issues of concern to all parties, including North Korea.
So I think the question has to be directed to them. If they are serious about moving forward in the relationship, about moving forward towards peace on the Korean Peninsula, and towards making the four-party talks happen, then they're going to have to realize that we are firm in our positions and that we want to sit down and negotiate. They are going to have to make a decision as to whether they're willing to participate in that process and to carry it forward.
We think that it is in their interest to make this process succeed. We think they believe that it's in their interest to make the process succeed. Therefore, we are not pessimistic that we will get to successful completion of the preparatory talks and get to Geneva for the plenary talks.
So I think that we're talking here about negotiating tactics. Certainly, that's the assumption that we would like to hold -- that these are negotiating tactics and that the North Koreans will realize that it's important to move beyond this stage and to get to Geneva. ...
Link to complete September 22, 1997 briefing.
[end of document]

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