Interview With the Associated PressChristopher R. Hill, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
April 4, 2008
QUESTION: Perhaps, if you don’t mind, we can talk not about Korea first of all but Indonesia and East Timor. They’re moving to sort out the issues surrounding the 1999 Truth and Friendship Commission. How does the U.S. see that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: First of all, I think it’s a very positive development that they are going to forward with this Truth and Friendship Commission. This is the way to go. I think both sides are ready to make progress on this. So I find it very encouraging, and we really look forward to the results.
QUESTION: Would that be the end of the issue, if that report is accepted by both countries?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No, well you know, I think it’s important. I mean, what we want to see is this reconciliation between Indonesia and East Timor. I think if it’s good enough for East Timor and Indonesia, it should be good enough for us.
QUESTION: So, it’s not a concern of the UN or other country is not their business anymore?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, again, I don’t want to put in those stark terms. But I think what everybody is engaged here, everyone has been hoping is there can be this reconciliation – because, you know, if you look at East Timor’s future, it needs that future needs to include a good relationship with Indonesia. And I think this the way to go. I read some articles about it recently in Jakarta Post -- there was an editorial about, I think it’s yesterday in the Jakarta Post -- and I am kind of encouraged with the direction it’s going.
QUESTION: Would it be pressing East Timor (inaudible) to really try and punish the people involved both in the 2006 violence and in the attack on Ramos Horta?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, again, it’s not the rule to tell them how their justice system works. So my first issue here is to find out from them how they assess the situation, what exactly happened, what is the significance of it, what is the meaning of it, and how they’re handling it. So, again, I don’t think it’s a question of me going there and waging my finger and telling them what to do. I am trying to figure out what is going on and get the sense of how they’re handling it.
QUESTION: Are you satisfied that the 2006 violence was investigated well enough?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, you know, that 2006 violence caused a lot of concerns about how East Timor is doing and, particularly, how the police force was being handled. I would love to see from the East Timor authorities how they see situation. Again, the nature of a trip like this is not to go and presume that I know more what’s going on in Dili than the people who live in Dili. What I’m trying to do is understand it and understand, get the sense of whether they are coping with that, because -- when you look at the problems that East Timor faces, the problems they face in term of their economy, in term of their political development -- they have a lot to get done in the future.
QUESTION: So, just back to the first question. Would the United States ever support some form of international tribunal for military officers accused of violence in 1999 or even before that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, my sense is that there is a process that’s going forward and a process that enjoyed a lot of support, and I think we would like to add our voice to that support.
QUESTION: You spoke briefly with journalists earlier today about a possible meeting [with DPRK officials]. Would that be in Indonesia, do you think?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No, we would not be in Indonesia. There is some thought of a possible meeting. There is nothing that has been confirmed. Therefore, I can’t make any announcements. But I can tell you that we really need to get moving on this declaration, and this held us up now for over three months. We don’t have three months to spare anymore. So we’ve really got to see if we can make some progress on this.
QUESTION: Is there thinking to have [the meeting] in a neutral country?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, yes. And it won’t be in the U.S., and it won’t be in North Korea.
QUESTION: Would it be somewhere in Asia?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I would say somewhere in Asia, because that’s where I am right now -- in Asia.
QUESTION: What sort of cities do you look at?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Different cities, but we’ll make an announcement when we make an announcement.
QUESTION: About the increased rhetoric in recent days -- do you think that might affect the process?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, I think it’s very interesting to see whether that increased rhetoric is going to affect the process. So far it hasn’t. So far, North Korea has continued to work with us through the New York channel to try to narrow differences on the declaration. So far, so good in that regard. But (inaudible), I mean some of that rhetoric was very strong, and all of it was very unhelpful.
QUESTION: Do you think any meeting could wrap up the declaration issue? Are you looking at that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: You know, it’s really hard to make these predictions when you’re sitting down with North Koreans. But, ideally, when you put it in those terms, we would come to an understanding on some of the issues the U.S. has been particularly concerned about -- which is (inaudible) nuclear cooperation with other countries, namely Syria, but also with their uranium enrichment efforts over the years. Now, I think, there is the possibility that we can come to an understanding on this. We have certainly done some preliminary work on it. And if we can, we would be interested in making sure that the declaration that they are going to submit to the Chinese, who are the chair of the process, is a declaration that is complete and correct. And then I think we can really make some progress and move on to the next stage, because we didn’t get to any Six Party Talks just for purpose of the declaration. We got into (inaudible) the purpose of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.
QUESTION: Talk to us more generally. The United States also has nuclear weapons. Has that been ever brought up in your talks? Does it make it hard for you to argue that North Korea and Iran can’t have nuclear weapons while the United States has so many?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, I mean -- Frankly, you cannot begin to talk about the differences in the history and the country. So, no, in answer to you, it does not come up. What does come up from time as the North Koreans say, “Well, country X has nuclear weapons, why can’t we?” Well, the fact is, if you look at you look at Northeast Asia, if you look at the Korean Peninsula, you can pretty quickly -- I think within a few seconds, frankly -- understand why it’s very dangerous, very destabilizing for North Korea to be holding on the nuclear weapons. So, what of the thinking that country X or country Y or country Z has nuclear weapons, and why can’t they? The fact of the matter is, it’s very destabilizing, and frankly it is hurting North Korea profoundly. And I hope that they will come to understand that and give this thing up and get on with life.
QUESTION: But the United States would never give up theirs. Why is that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, I think it’s a broad question. But the whole issue of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the role of a nuclear states under Article VI to begin a process of reducing arsenals, this is something we actually worked on with the Soviet Union and then with the Russians. So, you know, there has been some build-down in arsenals, and I am sure in the future as we continue to work with other nuclear states, there’ll also be build-down.
But I would really caution you in thinking this is somehow related to the fact that we have a country, North Korea, that has a myriad of problems and yet here they are trying to develop nuclear weapons.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about rising rice prices here in East Asia. Some people suggested this could cause social unrest in Korea, maybe Indonesia, the Philippines, and in other countries. Do you share that worry?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, first of all, as everybody knows, the concern about the world economy is very great right now. This is part of the number one topic of attention in the U.S. Certainly, anyone who has spent some time in Asia is seeing some of these rice prices. And commodity prices are going up in a way that is worrisome, especially to the many millions of people on fixed incomes and people who are not able to handle the price increases. So I think it’s something that very much bears watching. That’s why some of the countries in the region, governments in the regions, are watching this and then trying to deal with it.
QUESTION: Is there anything the United States can do?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: We, along with every other country, need to work on ways to get the world economy moving. Obviously, energy prices have been a big problem, a big reason why we’ve gotten in this situation – obviously, the financial sector, foreign regulations, and other issues. I can assure you that people are working very hard on that. We want to keep our market open. We want to get the U.S. economy growing again. I think for many countries in the world depending on our, who depend on our market, it would be very important that we get our own house in order. And I can assure you we’re doing just that.
QUESTION: About Myanmar. Is there anything more that can be done in the region?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, I hope so. I hope there is more that can be done in Myanmar, because first of all, the current situation is intolerable. We have a country there which has some 60-65 million people, a country that has less foreign trade than any other country in entire region, a country that really ought to be doing a lot more. And here it has a very tough and, indeed, a military government that has behaved in a very brutal way. So we have to figure out a way to deal with this.
Obviously, it is not easy for any one country or even one set of countries. The United States has some leverage, but it is limited. ASEAN has some leverage for this, but it is limited. We need to work together with a lot of different countries. We need to support the UN mission, and we need to have a situation where the UN Special Representative is able get into Burma without having to wait several weeks. You know, we need the Burmese to understand that this problem they have now with the international community is not going to go away. They need to start responding. So this is something where I think Indonesia can have a role to play, especially as a strong member of ASEAN. Indeed, we believe the stronger ASEAN is, the better it can deal with Burma. For that reason, we continue to support a strong and robust ASEAN.
QUESTION: There seems to be differences in approaches with the ASEAN bloc and the U.S.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, multilateral diplomacy is always an exercise, and it’s time to take different approaches and vector them in one direction
QUESTION: Do you think the softly-softly approach is viable?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: What we’re looking for is an approach that works. And if people have a better idea than what is being done, we’re very much interested in that better idea. So we’ll see if we’re able to get going on this.
But one thing I can assure you here. In Burma, I know, the junta there thinks they can hunker down and wait for things to get better. They are not going to get better. People are pretty disgusted with their behavior, and I think they understand that.
QUESTION: At the moment, things aren’t working. Can you accept that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, I can tell you that nothing positive is coming out of Burma. The international efforts are few months old, and they haven’t moved at all yet. That’s why we need to do more things together. We’d be very interested in ideas that come out of ASEAN -- with great interest. We talked to the Chinese about this issue quite often as well, and I think we need to continue to do that until we can find an approach that will work and then will convince this junta that this is not a way to organize a country’s future.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Thank you
Released on April 4, 2008