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Remarks to the Press Before Departure

Christopher R. Hill, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Dulles Airport
March 31, 2008


QUESTION: Good Morning.

QUESTION: Ambassador Hill, on Friday KCNA came out with a statement chastising the United States, today chastising South Korea. What’s the point they’re trying to prove, and have you heard from them what the message is?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I have no idea what KCNA is doing. It was kind of a sample of their customary charm, that they sort of attack everyone around them. I’m not sure what they’re trying to do. I must say, in our discussions with the MFA people we’re continuing to make progress on this declaration issue. But, as I’ve said before, I can’t tell you how much progress until we actually resolve it. But as for KCNA, you just have to ask them.

QUESTION: Is it a sign that they’re starting lose patience?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Again, I don’t understand. I lost patience with KCNA a long time ago. I, frankly, don’t pay a lot of attention to it. But you know, as I’ve said before, we’re really at the point where we need to finish this. So let’s see if we can get this done in the next – during this trip at some point.

QUESTION: So the attitude of your interlocutors and what has been reported out KCNA is a very different attitude?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yes. I mean, no one’s threatened me with turning me into ashes from the MFA. I haven’t had that kind of threat against me, unlike what KCNA said publicly about, I guess, the ROK Chief of the General Staff.

Look, we’ve had a very difficult problem of how to get through this declaration. We continue to be in touch. We made progress in Geneva – not as much as I expected. We’ve made a little progress since Geneva. But when we get it done, I’ll tell you when we actually do get it done. I think now is the time for people to be a little calm, and I suggest that maybe KCNA should go back on vacation or do whatever they do when they’re trying to collect their thoughts. But I think we have potential for figuring out a way through this and then getting on to the very difficult next step.

QUESTION: As you just mentioned, you have made some progress after Geneva rather than to say the difference is getting bigger.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yes, the differences are not getting bigger; they’re getting smaller. But, certainly -- The differences are getting smaller. I think the tempers are getting shorter. Patience is certainly getting frayed. And so it’s obviously been a very difficult process. But I think for now we have no choice but to try to see if we can get through this, and that’s what I’m trying to do.

And those comments by KCNA about incinerating the Republic of Korea I don’t think are particularly helpful to this process.

QUESTION: Things that you’ve heard since Geneva that have moved this along. Is that going to be enough to let you meet the North Koreans on this trip? Is there any chance of that happening?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Again, I don’t want to rule anything in or out at this point. But when and if we meet, whenever that comes, it has to be a meeting in which we really can finally resolve it. I don’t think we can keep meeting and keep trying to deal with it. I think we have to finish it.

QUESTION: Is there some dialogue moving towards a meeting over the next –


QUESTION: Don’t you set a deadline, even though the timing is right now?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, the time is – I said very seriously that we need to get through this in March, and here it is the end of March. So I don’t think we have a lot more time.

So let’s see if some of the things I’ve mentioned are going to work for us.

QUESTION: Do you think the North Koreans are still engaged (inaudible) dialogue with the United States?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I think they’re still very interested in trying to get through the declaration. All signs, albeit not from KCNA, but all signs point to a willingness to try to get through this. But we have some disagreements, because we want some elements included that they don’t want to address.

So it’s not been an easy process -- very difficult. But I think we continue to narrow our differences, and let’s see if we can really get through this.

QUESTION: In Tokyo it was reported that while Olmert was in Tokyo, Prime Minister Olmert while he was in Tokyo, he told Prime Minister Fukuda that the site in Syria was a nuclear site and that North Korea was assisting them to build it. Do you have any comment on that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Again, I’m not going to make comments here on that. I think, certainly, Syria has been a concern of ours, and the North Koreans are very aware of that.

All right? I’ve got to get on the airplane. All right? See you later.

Released on April 1, 2008

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