Press Briefing by Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs Robert Gallucci
The Briefing Room
4:52 P.M. EDT
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: I'm going to begin by first reading a statement.
The United States welcomes indications given to President Carter that North Korea desires to find a constructive solution to the very serious issues between North Korea and the international community.
The United States has always been ready to engage in a third round of talks under the proper circumstances. In this connection, we note North Korea's assurances that IAEA inspectors and IAEA monitoring equipment would be kept in place. We also note North Korea's desire to replace its gas graphite fuel cycle with more proliferation-resistant light water technology, and its willingness to return to full compliance with the Nonproliferation Treaty and IAEA safeguards, including special inspections, as part of an overall settlement of this issue.
That could be a constructive step if it means that North Korea is also committed to freezing the major elements of its nuclear program while new talks took place. That is, not refueling the reactor or reprocessing the spent fuel it has just removed, and permitting the IAEA to maintain the continuity of safeguards.
After confirming this meaning of the message from North Korea in diplomatic channels, we would be prepared to go a third round, acting as we have before, pursuant to U.N. resolutions. Meanwhile, we are continuing to consult on our sanctions resolution at the Security Council.
Q: Secretary Gallucci, why would we go to a third round at this time when we still have not been satisfied about the prior -- violations?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: We have, from the beginning of the effort to engage the North Koreans bilaterally, described a basis for these talks. And the basis for the talks involve a number of elements. Among those elements was an element that described the requirement that the North Koreans not discharge fuel from their reactor without providing for adequate IAEA safeguards.
The reason for that is because when the fuel is discharged from the reactor, it is possible if the IAEA can do what it wants to do, for the agency to figure out what happened in 1989, to get at the cause of this problem in the first place.
The reason we are not talking to the North Koreans today is because, although they met the other bases for our dialogue, at the end of May and through early June, they did discharge fuel without the adequate safeguards. What we said at that point is we would return the matter to the Security Council. We also said that if an adequate basis could be established, we would, of course, always return to talk with the North Koreans.
Our objective in this matter is not to seek sanctions; seeking sanctions is a means. The objective, of course, is to get the North Koreans to the table to discuss this issue and resolve it. And that's what we're aiming to do. The point today, I think for you, is that there may be, in this message, a basis for returning to talks with the North Koreans.
Q: Should we delay the sanctions then? Should we delay the resolution or should we proceed in trying to get support for the resolution since it has its own built-in delay?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: As I indicated, we are at the United Nations in New York today, continuing our consultations on sanctions. At the same time, we plan to explore in diplomatic channels the meaning of the message we received today.
Q: Why do you need further explanation? Don't you think President Carter is able to convey a message? You don't trust his words?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: We listened very carefully to President Carter today, and we understood his message, I think in whatever detail President Carter conveyed it to us. This is a complicated matter. There are elements, as I tried to indicate in the statement, which remain to be clarified.
Our intention is, in fact, through diplomatic channels to try to clarify those elements. If the message conveys the kind of meaning that I indicated, namely that the North Koreans are prepared to take particular steps to reestablish the basis for a dialogue -- and that is the suspension of reprocessing, suspension of refueling of the reactor, and maintaining the continuity of of safeguards -- under those circumstances, we would find the basis adequate to resume a dialogue.
Q: Mr. Gallucci, in the past you've said that the North Koreans should discuss these nuclear issues with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and not with the United States, that if they made progress with the IAEA, that would set the stage for a higher level resumption of discussion with the United States. Is the Clinton administration now backing away from that position and opening up the door to direct technical negotiations with North Korea, skirting the IAEA?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: No. All along, the United States has made it clear that when it gets down to ultimately what is acceptable in terms of international safeguards, it is going to be a matter for the IAEA to set that standard. That's what it does.
What we have been doing is undertaking a dialogue with the North Koreans when the circumstances were right for such a dialogue -- and they have not, I remind you, been right, since last July -- in order to establish a basis for the IAEA to continue its effort of the North Koreans to apply the correct safeguards. That will still be the objective of a dialogue. It'll still be to create circumstances in which the North Koreans can come into compliance with IAEA safeguards.
The determination of when they're in compliance will not be made by the United States, it will be made by the IAEA.
Q: Mr. Carter seemed to think he had the breakthrough today. I take it from what you're saying here today that it might be, but you can't tell.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: I think it's fair to say that we've looked at the message, we see possibly some new elements in the message, we will be exploring the meaning of the message in diplomatic channels, and only after we're able to do that will we be able to characterize it.
Q: Will you also see, possibly, an attempt here to create an atmosphere in which sanctions are less likely to buy more time?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: Our objective here is not to buy more time.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: Oh, I see. you're talking about the interpretation that the North Koreans -- yes, I don't --
Q: Can we get that answer on camera, please?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: The question was, as I understand it, might this be an effort by the North Koreans to stall and buy more time. Is that correct?
I'm well past myself trying to interpret the motivation of North Korea. And what I will tell you is, we will look at what they say and what they are prepared to do, and we'll act on that basis.
Q: Sir, you sounded rather degrading of Mr. Carter. Why don't you join us? Aren't you happy that he's gotten to some conclusion? He's gone farther along than you all have.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: Our reaction -- the question is, why don't I have more joy, I guess, at what Mr. Carter has accomplished. I think we're going to wait until we can actually determine what the content of that message is before we respond with any more joy than we now have.
Q: There's one thing that President Carter clearly accomplished that you all had not accomplished. Namely, he extracted a commitment from North Korea not to eject the inspectors, and he did so in an interesting way: he did so by speaking directly with the senior leader of North Korea who he said was not well-informed about the likelihood that they were about to be ejected.
It raises questions, does it not, about the American strategy of declining to address these issues with senior North Korean officials in the past? Here, you have a private citizen going, or someone you have described as a private citizen repeatedly, not as an official government emissary, making headway when, and not as part of the government, but really outside of the government's effort. Does that cause you to engage in any self-questioning about the approach that you've taken over the past months?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: Jeff, I always engage in self-questioning, but not on this point. My feeling about this, as I said before, is I don't really know what North Korean motivations are. The proposition, I think, that underlies your question is that somehow or other, because of a failure to communicate up until now. Kim Il Sung did not understand that we wished the inspectors to be there, and with Jimmy Carter in front of him, he was able to discern that objective of ours.
That, to me, appears, with all due respect, ludicrous. I do not know what the purpose of the decision of the North Koreans at this point to make this offer. What is important is that you have, I think, correctly identified an element which is interesting -- namely, a commitment to leave the inspectors in place.
By the way, I would note to you that leaving the inspectors in place is something the Security Council, by presidential statement, required the North Koreans to do, but indeed the commitment is new.
Q: There are two things. The IAEA said earlier this month that they lost continuity on those fuel rods. Is there some way that genie can be put back in the bottle and you can regain them? Secondly, what is the response to Mr. Carter's hope and suggestion that Mr. Clinton speak directly to Kim?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: Okay. The IAEA did not say they lost continuity on the fuel rods. The question of continuity of safeguards is, in fact, not a problem at the moment in North Korea, and has not been now for about a month or so. It was reaffirmed, the continuity of safeguards knowledge, with the last inspection that occurred in May. And it was on the basis of that inspection that we had announced our willingness to go to a third round.
What happened with the discharge of fuel by the North Koreans without proper IAEA safeguards, is that the agency lost the ability to use that methodology, namely the analysis of the fuel, to determine what happened in 1989. That loss is, by the agency's own characterization, irrevocable. And that was an important method of getting at the truth of what happened in 1989. There are some others, including special inspections. Those are still open to the agency when, and if, the North Koreans permit the agency to do such inspections.
Q: What about the other question about the possibility of a direct conversation? Has Mr. Carter suggested that President Clinton speak directly to President Kim?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: There were a number of ideas and suggestions, I think, coming from President Carter, and I think I'll let him speak to that.
Q: Bob, what specifically do you need diplomatically from North Korea in order to engage in a third round of talks? Do you need a written message, or a written pledge or promise? And how will you hold those talks? Will it be Mr. Hubbard and his Korean counterpart in New York?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: What I anticipate without going into overwhelming detail, Lee, is that we will probably use a New York channel as the open diplomatic channel we have to the North Koreans, to get at the meaning of today's message. And beyond that, in terms of what we understand that they are prepared to do, and what we will require to do, I think has to be a matter of consultation within government, which, quite frankly, today we have not had time to do.
Q: Has there been come communication by the administration of your willingness to provide the North Koreans with the light water technology that they're after? Will that be part of the third round, or have you communicated that, or did Carter communicate it in some way?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: In the July round, the second round, the North Koreans raised the subject of giving up graphite moderated reactor technology if they could be provided with a light water reactor. We, at the time, in a joint statement, indicated that we are willing to commit ourselves to helping bring that about as part of an ultimate settlement, and that is still our position.
That does not mean that we would finance a light water reactor. It does not mean that we would provide a light water reactor or even provide any technology. It means that we are prepared to be helpful in having the North Koreans obtain one. And there are many countries that can provide that technology.
Q: In what way would it be helpful?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: Well, I think that would be left to a third round discussion as we find out exactly what's on their mind as well.
Q: How long ago did you speak to President Carter and how long did the conversation last?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: Hours. More than five hours ago is the last time I spoke with him.
Q: How many times?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: I spoke to him, myself, once.
Q: Did he tell you -- did he talk to the President?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: I'm going to go this far: He did not talk to the President of the United States, and I would rather not go into who else he talked to. I'm certainly prepared to tell you I talked to him, though.
Q: Did he tell you he was going to do an interview with CNN right after he spoke with you?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: Yes, he did.
Q: Did you have any problem with his going public like that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: I did not express a view.
Q: There were some critical words from Moscow today about the way the U.S. is going about pursuing sanctions. Has there been a kind of breach with Moscow, and to get any contact with Russian officials today?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: I think as you know, the Russians have had a view, particularly, about the role a conference might play in sanctions resolution, and ultimately a resolution of the issue. Since we have, I believe as of yesterday, began to consult in detail with the Permanent Five members of the Security Council over our sanctions resolution. Those consultations are ongoing and certainly they're ongoing with the Russians. I really can't go into the detail of those consultations.
Q: A new problem with Russia?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: What I think is that Russia and other states both the permanent and non-permanent members are going to have their own views about what ought to be in that resolution. And that is normal and usual at the United Nations when there is a resolution on the table, particularly of this type.
Q: What is your understanding about what the North Koreans said about the idea of freezing their nuclear activities, the ones in dispute -- the refueling. In a way that is something they can do on an interim basis because it's not really an issue yet? The rods are in a cooling pool for the next period of weeks or months, so it is a no-cost give-up for them? What is their position on that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: It's indeed, as I think I indicated in my opening statement, exactly what their position is, is of real interest to us. If, as I indicated, for example, we can understand by that, and they are prepared to confirm that they will not engage in reprocessing, that is, the separation of plutonium from the fuel rods that are not in the pond, and they will not refuel the reactor and they will continue to accept IAEA continuity of safeguards inspections, then that's an interpretation that would provide a basis for a third round. But it is precisely that, that we need -- is one of the issues we need to discern.
Q: You're not -- the President -- that that is specifically what President Carter was told, or were you essentially coming back to them with an additional request for --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: We took -- we understood from the message that President Carter passed to us that they were prepared to take certain steps, such as leaving the inspectors in place, allowing them to stay, and they also described their willingness in the course of a third round to address other issues that we are very interested in.
We do not yet know, cannot at this point, confirm that the elements I described to you they also meant to convey or are prepared to convey at some point in the future. It is that point, among others, that we still need to clarify.
Q: In effect, you will come back with an additional condition for a third round -- the additional condition that they explicitly agree to freeze these activities?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: I would discourage you from that interpretation. What I would say is that we have, all along for a year, had a basis for a dialogue, that very recently, they undercut that basis in such a way that we were forced to return the issue to the Security Council, while telling them that it was always possible, and it must always be possible to reestablish a basis for a dialogue.
What I was doing at this point was describing to you a way in which the dialogue could be reconvened, in which we could restart it, a way that draws from, possibly, the message we received today, but not in such a way that I could say that it was part of the message, and therefore something we wished to follow up through further diplomatic contacts.
Q: You were asked earlier whether you thought they were stalling, and you said you couldn't tell what their motivations were. At what point in time, though, does continuing this dialogue or this debate become hazardous in terms of their nuclear program? At what point in time are you concerned that they change the status quo?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GALLUCCI: That's a very important question. Because as we engage in a dialogue with North Korea, that is bound to come up as we have passed the one year mark in our effort to do that. But I would draw your attention to the bases for the dialogue once again. And that is that there be no separation of plutonium, that they maintain the continuity of safeguards, and as I indicated, they not refuel the reactor.
What I'm telling you is, over the last year, as this administration has tried to pursue a dialogue with the North Koreans, we have had a basis for the dialogue which assured that not a single additional gram of plutonium would be separated. It is our intent, if we resume that dialogue now, that there not be a single additional gram of plutonium produced. That's what happens when you don't refuel the reactor.
So I'm -- at this moment, depending upon, again, what the meaning of the message is today, I'm not concerned about a stalling tactic that disadvantages us. I think over the longer term, certainly we do insist, as we said last year, on achieving some progress, because they are right now in violation of IAEA safeguards commitments, they're in violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty commitments. The Security Council can expect to take up that issue unless there is an ongoing diplomatic effort aimed at its resolution. We are moving to the Security Council now because that diplomatic effort was put aside because of what the North Koreans did.
What may be happening now is there may be a basis to reengage. That's what we'll have to explore. Thank you very much.
END 5:05 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs Robert Gallucci Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269495