Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official
4:11 P.M. (L)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Why don't we begin by -- we'll talk about the meeting between the President and the Prime Minister and sort of divide up the main topics the President and the Prime Minister covered, a list of things they talked about.
They first did a meeting that they held together before lunch with just a couple of advisors on each side. And then they extended the conversation over lunch for another 15 minutes or so with just the President and the Prime Minister and their wives. And then they came out and spoke with you.
I guess just a couple of other issues mentioned -- one is to come back to Haiti. The British government was very helpful in helping to kick off the process that led to our now having reached an agreement in principle with the Turks and Caicos to establish a migrant processing center there. We hope within a very short time now to have worked out all of the final details on it.
The local problem there I believe has proved -- so we're all ready to go. We would expect that it would be established by early July. We also, as I told a number of you on the plane, have reached an agreement with Jamaica for such a center and it should be up and well started before early July.
So we think we're making a lot of progress there, and we are grateful to Her Majesty's government for having supported it.
Somebody asked me on the plane how many could be processed through, and in Jamaica, at least, we would expect it would be about 500 a day. We don't know yet in Turks and Caicos. On Jamaica, as you'll recall, it will be on ships. In Turks and Caicos it would be on shore.
Ireland -- the President praised the British government's response to the questions that were put forward by Sinn Fein. The President said it remains our view that the IRA should put an end to violence and we hope that we can see progress towards a political settlement in Ireland.
What else? On Bosnia, just one other detail. The President -- there was a discussion of the role of UNPROFOR and the President expressed how important he thinks the work has been and will be in this continuing very difficult humanitarian as well as political and military crisis --
Q: Is it correct to construe from what the President told us earlier today that the United States government does not take the North Korean claim that sanctions would be deemed an act of war seriously? Is that correct, you do not take it seriously?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I don't think he put it quite that way.
Q: Well, that's what I was asking you to --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. This is not the first time that the North Koreans have made statements like this. And in a situation as potentially serious as Korea, of course, one does not take such statements lightly. At the same time, they have been made before and there is no question that statements like this will not deter, intimidate the international community from proceeding at the Security Council.
And as the President said, sanctions are not an act of war and we do not consider them to be so.
Q: What is the current state of play on consultations that have been going forward? Yeltsin said is that they'll go on, sanctions is a last resort, he'd like an international conference first. Are we amenable to that? And what about the Chinese veto -- do we think that they'll at least abstain from --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, as you know, the President and Yeltsin did speak yesterday afternoon. Yeltsin laid out his ideas on an international meeting. They agreed that Secretary Christopher and Foreign Minister Kozyrev will now be in touch with each other to discuss the issues that are involved in holding such a meeting.
The President said that we believe that such a meeting could be useful at some point, but that the first task before us is to pursue the issue of sanctions at the Security Council. And that is what we are doing.
As I said the other night, the Chinese have been unenthusiastic about sanctions and have said so on a number of occasions. But to our knowledge, they have not said publicly or privately that they would veto sanctions at the Security Council. Last weekend when we consulted among the Permanent Five members on what to do about Korea, the Chinese joined the consensus behind the President's statement. And in that resolution it said that the Security Council -- and these aren't the exact words, but the Security Council would remain engaged on the issue, which implied for the consideration of issues like sanctions. So I think it would be both premature and possibly wrong to assume that the Chinese would veto. We'll simply have to work it through with them, and we'll be doing that.
Q: The President said that this is not a subject - - the President said he didn't want to sabre-rattle on this issue, but the strategic situation in Korea is such that there is no margin for error. Will the United States quietly be doing things to increase the capabilities there in terms of air power --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I always love it when people ask me if we're going to really do something from your side of the house. (Laughter.) No. We have been constantly reviewing what we should do prudently to make sure that we are doing everything necessary both to protect our forces in Korea and to help defend South Korea itself. And we have taken a number of measures, as you know, over the recent months, including the -- most notably, the sending of the Patriots. And what I can tell you is that we will continue to review the issue as we go along.
Q: You were unable to or unwilling to say the other night what you thought might be or ought to be in the sanctions. Are you in anymore of a position now to say what sanctions ought to look like?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not yet. I think we have to do a little in the way of consulting -- or a good bit more, perhaps, in consulting, especially with the Japanese, South Korea -- they're being allies; the Russians and others to see what form the sanctions can most usefully take.
There are two issues here: One is how do you design sanctions that will bring -- convey the maximum amount of leverage with the North Koreans. And the other is that we have to build a consensus behind the sanctions at the Security Council and we've got to negotiate both at once, and we will be.
Q: Why is the U.S. not as enthusiastic about a conference as Yeltsin seems to be?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Clearly, the first focus has to be on the Security Council and the issue of sanctions. And it could well be that a meeting at some point can make a useful contribution there in pushing the North Koreans back towards the international community. But whether it's a meeting like this or anything else, we want the focus to be right now on the Security Council and the pursuit of the issues.
Q: As a strategic matter or because of some principle having to do with not being willing to meet with them at this point?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As a practical matter, seeking every -- seeking the maximum leverage with the North Koreans that we can find to try to resolve the nuclear issue.
Q: So then you'd lose leverage through a conference? I mean, there's the President stressing he wants to work this out, he wants diplomacy; and Yeltsin says there should be a conference -- if that's a good forum for that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the diplomacy could take many forms. But the first issue -- and we've been pursuing the diplomacy for some weeks now. We think we pursued it consistently and with some skill even, but it hasn't produced the results; yes, the North Koreans have made their decision. And what clearly is need now is to convey to the North Koreans the seriousness of the choice that they have made and the importance in terms of their interests to their moving away from the path of confrontation with the international community and back towards trying to work with them.
Q: How can the Security Council and the United States government be sure that it doesn't provoke North Korea into doing something that nobody bargained for with sanctions?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We will devise sanctions that we think are both effective and -- well, that are effective.
Q: Let me ask the question another way.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, try again. (Laughter.)
Q: Since the President began to convey the seriousness of the situation, have you seen anything in the last 48 or 72 hours to come from the North Koreans to suggest they're getting the message?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think we've seen from the North Koreans either that they're getting the message or that they're not. So we'll have to see.
Q: The other question is, short of sanctions is there anything that can be done in terms of bilateral action among any of these countries?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we have been talking to the Chinese, for example, both over recent weeks and even over the past week, urging them to convey to the North Koreans the seriousness of the situation and the choice the North Koreans need to be making. We hope that other governments are doing the same thing.
And the President and other American officials have been finding opportunities to speak on the public record on the issue to convey exactly the same message to the North Koreans.
Q: The Chinese haven't come back to you and said I'm getting the message, or no response from the Chinese about whether they're --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Chinese are very careful to -- not to tell us exactly what it is that they say to the North Koreans. They do tell us that they have been in touch with the North Koreans. If you look at recent Chinese public statements, there is no question that they are very unhappy with the position that the North Koreans are taking.
If I can go now just off the record, because I don't want to speak for the Chinese -- but I would assume that the reason the Chinese won't tell us what exactly they're saying to the North Koreans is that once they tell us that then we can keep going back to them and saying, no, adjust your message this way, that way, and they lose a lot of their flexibility.
But we, to come back on to background, we are quite confident that the Chinese have been urging the North Koreans to adopt a more constructive attitude.
Q: But if that's true, how come they're so resistant or seem so resistant to sanctions? I mean, what is it that I'm missing here? Why are they reluctant to take the step that you're willing to take?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, because China -- I think probably for two reasons: One, China is North Korea's greatest trading power; and secondly, China has an historic relationship with North Korea that they probably find constrain them.
I think the Chinese see here two basic interests. One is I am convinced that they do not want to see a nuclear North Korea; that they would prefer to see a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. And I think that is not only because North Korea is close to China, but also because if North Korea becomes an overt nuclear power, then the pressures in the region for other states to adopt nuclear weapons would increase. I am not -- I repeat, not -- saying the Japanese or others necessarily would develop nuclear weapons, but there would be that pressure. And that's not in the interests of the Chinese.
And the second major Chinese interest here is that they don't want to see sanctions for the reasons I just stated.
Therefore, it is and has been in the interest of the Chinese to try to persuade the North Koreans to abandon their nuclear program, thus avoiding sanctions and, thus, serving both of the Chinese interests at the same time.
Q: Quick one. How insistent was Yeltsin on this conference in his conversation with Clinton? Was it something that's going to screw up his vote in the Security Council? I mean, is he looking at this as a diplomatic --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, he made the --I mean, clearly, he is very interested in the idea, but at the same time, if you look at the public statement he made three or four days ago, he has also been saying that in the end he believes sanctions are justified.
Q: Does it have to come after a conference like this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They would have to work out that timing. I don't necessarily -- I can't speak for the Russian government.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
Q: Does your government (the British government) favor sanctions?
BRITISH ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We believe that you can't design an -- to sanctions that would be effective in this case. And as my colleague says, it's important to get the design right and consult on it. But we are very supportive; we're working together with the United Nations on precisely that.
You raised the question about provoking. If you're worried about not provoking people, then you'd never do anything. But you've got to construct a path that gives them the maximum opportunity to move away from the policies and approach that they're doing now. And we think that can be done, using all the -- and we're just available to the United Nations Security Council.
THE PRESS: Thank you both.
END 4:38 P.M. (L)
William J. Clinton, Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269378