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19 October 2003

Security Assurances Must Come Through Multilateral Talks

Background briefing to pool on Bush-Hu meeting October 19

In a meeting with President Hu Jintao of China, President Bush shared ideas for providing North Korea with security assurances within the framework of the six-party multilateral negotiations in which China is playing a leading role. Senior administration officials summarized President Bush's views in a background briefing in Bangkok on October 19.

"The President wanted to indicate to President Hu we're still committed to dialogue, a diplomatic solution in the six-party framework, and only in the six-party framework," said a one senior administration official, speaking on background. "And we have some ideas as to the nature of the security assurances that are not a treaty, not a non-aggression pact, but move in the direction of giving the kind of assurances the North Koreans have been looking for, in return for which they would stop their nuclear programs in a verifiable way and bring us to our common goal which is the denuclearization of the peninsula."

The U.S. has rejected bilateral talks or a formal treaty with North Korea, the official said, because they have not worked in the past. "There were all sorts of letters that went back and forth," the official commented, "and even with those letters in hand, the North Koreans, nevertheless, violated those agreements. And so we want something that is not going to be violated this time."

A second senior U.S. official added, "Any arrangement is going to be more stable and more successful if all of the stakeholders actually are involved."

Following is the White House transcript of the background briefing:

(begin transcript)

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(Bangkok, Thailand)
October 19, 2003

BRIEFING TO THE TRAVEL POOL BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS

Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok
Bangkok, Thailand

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're here to talk about the meeting that just happened. And so let's have your questions. We've only got a few minutes.

Q: What is the United States prepared to do then, short of a non-aggression pact, to address North Korea's security concerns?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President spoke rather candidly to President Hu about the need for us to have a denuclearized peninsula. It is something that, frankly, all six parties at the last Beijing talks agreed to. And the President understands that North Koreans are asking for security assurances; he's made it clear, we all have over time, that it will not be a treaty or a non-aggression pact, but he shared with President Hu some ideas that we will be coming up with in the near future that will be within the six-party multilateral framework that might provide the kind of assurances that the North Koreans would find as a basis to move forward.

And President Bush wanted to make the presentation directly to President Hu because President Hu has been playing a leading role in the six-party -- more than just the convening of the six-party talks, but participating in that dialogue. So the President wanted to indicate to President Hu we're still committed to dialogue, political solution, diplomatic solution in the six-party framework, and only in the six-party framework. And we have some ideas as to the nature of the security assurances that are not a treaty, not a non-aggression pact, but move in the direction of giving the kind of assurances the North Koreans have been looking for, in return for which they would stop their nuclear programs in a verifiable way and bring us to our common goal which is the denuclearization of the peninsula.

You might want to add --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I just want to add something, that the President has been thinking about this a good deal and it was really this past weekend at Camp David he decided it was time to bring this forward to the Chinese because he's very committed to the six-party talks as the best basis on which to bring this to resolution.

As you know, there was a lot of pressure early on to think about bilateral talks with the North Koreans. That hasn't worked in the past, ended up in the past with the North Koreans cheating on agreements that they had made. And the President is very focused on the importance of this particular forum -- these six-party talks with all of the affected parties. And so, in large part, this is to make certain that we keep moving forward within the six-party framework.

Q: Let me just ask one follow-up on this. I understand that with a treaty, that requires Senate ratification -- that's A. There's also been a history of treaties that, in your estimation, have not worked --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Agreements.

Q: -- agreements, rather. So what's the -- for lay people, what's the distinction here? Why are we not doing what we said we would never do, which is assure them that we won't invade in exchange for something?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, first of all, the President, as early as when he was in South Korea, said he had no intention of invading North Korea. So there's nothing new in that language. He said he'd look for a peaceful resolution.

But the importance here is, again, within the six-party framework, is you need to put all the pieces together. You need a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula; you need a commitment and action by the North Koreans to freeze and dismantle verifiably their program; and the North Koreans have said that they need assurances about their security. The six-party talks give you an opportunity to bring all that together within this framework, with all of the important players at the table. And that's how it's moving forward.

Q: Can you tell us what the response was from the Chinese?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that President Hu was very pleased to know that President Bush is still committed to the six-party talks, and the two Presidents decided to refer it to the foreign ministers for us to work out how to make the approach not only with the North Koreans, but with our other friends in the six-party framework, and what various forms such a security assurance is going to take.

Remember that in the previous administration there were all sorts of letters that went back and forth, and even with those letters in hand, the North Koreans, nevertheless, violated those agreements. And so we want something that is not going to be violated this time, and that's why we think all six parties who have an interest in this should be involved, and at the same time, the North Koreans are making it clear that they want -- they would like something that's going to be ratified and in the form of permanent law -- ratified by our Senate.

We're not going to go in that direction. We've made that clear. And we believe that there are models that can be looked at that might be appropriate to the situation, and we're going to look at them together, altogether, in this six-party format.

Q: -- an agreement in some form?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Some form of assurance, and it might be -- I don't want to give it a proper noun descriptor yet, but if you use agreement with a small "a," some form of agreement.

Q: Again, why is there not some value in addressing North Korea directly with the United States? I know you made the argument -- but why, at this point, since they've escalated now and it's not just enough to have talks, but there has to be some kind of direct -- what is there that is just unacceptable about addressing the North Koreans directly?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It doesn't work.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We've seen this movie.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They were addressed directly from, roughly, 1992 on. They had a one-on-one agreement with the South Koreans for a denuclearized peninsula. They violated that. They violated the agreed framework. They violated the various assurances that they entered into with the previous administration. The previous administration didn't know it; neither did we until we came in and got a look at the intelligence. And what we have determined is that this is not just a problem between the United States and the DPRK, it is a problem between the DPRK and the whole international community.

That's why we took the case to the IAEA. They were violating their international obligations to the IAEA, and they were violating their obligations to South Korea. And therefore, we felt it was important this time that all of North Korea's neighbors should be involved. They are the ones at greatest risk. And all of them have individually said they want a denuclearized peninsula. So why not work in a multilateral -- if I may use that charming word -- a multilateral forum to bring this pressure to bear and persuade North Korea.

Q: What is it about that the North Koreans don't understand?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I will not begin to -- I'll stick with my position. But the other part of this is that in the last six-party agreement, we said that it would be a multilateral, a six-party discussion. We said it would be all six parties together, and there was an opportunity in the six-party framework for any party to talk to any other party. And there was some conversation with the DPRK. But it has to be within the six-party framework. They are desirous -- had been desirous previously in not doing that way, and having persuaded them to do it that way, principally through the good offices of the Chinese who want to keep moving in that direction with that framework.

Q: So you said it would not be an agreement, with a small "a," one-on-one between the United States and North Korea. But would it involve a security assurance that other countries would also agree not to attack North Korea?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is what will be the result of the negotiations that will be taking place, what should be the nature of such agreement, who the parties should be to it, but it is not going to be a bilateral agreement --

Q: China is the key, right? China has to be the kind of guarantor to go to the North Koreans and say, look, you can trust us, we'll deal with you -- I mean, is that how you approach --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We didn't pitch it that way. And there are other sovereign nations involved that had more than a passing equity -- South Korea, Japan, and Russia. And we want all of them to be involved.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Any arrangement is going to be more stable and more successful if all of the stakeholders actually are involved. And you have, as was just said -- but the important thing is that when you have all the stakeholders able to be at the table, it's bound to be more enduring. The fact is these are countries that have a stake in a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula, well and beyond what the international community has, because they're in the neighborhood. And they know what effect the nuclearization of North Korea could have on the peninsula in general.

Similarly, the North Koreans have a lot at stake with the different parties, and so in both ways -- the North Korean stake with the parties, the parties' stake with North Korea -- you're more likely to get an enduring arrangement.

Q: It's a new paradigm -- I mean, it wouldn't just be breaking something with the U.S., it would be breaking something with --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You're likely to get an arrangement that's going to endure, that's right.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's right.

Q: Is there any sort of timetable for talks, or do you have to work this out first before you even think about that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We'll have to work with our partners, all four of the other partners and the United States, and then broach it with the North Koreans, so I'm reluctant to say that within the next few weeks or months. But I know the Chinese are anxious to do something before the end of the year. And it was a North Korean statement a week or two ago that they were looking toward something at the end of the year, but their statements you have to take with a grain of salt.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you very much.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you.

(end transcript)