Roundtable With Traveling PressChristopher R. Hill, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Scot Marciel, U.S. Ambassador for ASEAN Affairs and Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
July 22, 2008
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: All right. Do you know Scot Marciel? He is our Ambassador to ASEAN, in addition to being Deputy Assistant Secretary for Southeast Asia.
QUESTION: Hi. Very nice to meet you. Sue Pleming, Reuters.
AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: Hi. Scot.
QUESTION: Lachlan Carmichael, AFP.
AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: Hi.
QUESTION: Matt Lee with AP.
AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: Hi.
QUESTION: Nick Kralev, Washington Times.
AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: Great. I think I’ll be traveling with you guys for a little bit after this.
QUESTION: Oh, good.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Scot’s going to go on to Perth and then to Auckland and then to Apia.
QUESTION: You’re not coming?
QUESTION: So you’re not going to Skopje? Are you going to Skopje?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, I’m going to Vienna to see the IAEA.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: And then I will drop down to Skopje.
AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: I’m hoping to be made an honorary citizen of Apia.
QUESTION: Of Apia. I’m sure that will be a great moment.
AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: Yeah.
AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: (Inaudible) in my father’s footsteps.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: All right. So --
QUESTION: Are you on the record? Who are you today?
AMBASSADOR HILL: I think I’m – I thought I was – I thought they said this was a backgrounder.
STAFF: I said on the record.
QUESTION: Well, will you say – will you tell us more if you go on background?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, then on the record.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, Scot definitely – I mean, Sean said on the record?
STAFF: On the record. He did, yes.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: All right.
QUESTION: So do you have something to open with or do you want us to just start?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No. (Laughter.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No, I mean, this is the 40th – this, you know, ASEAN is probably the sort of marquee multilateral structure in East Asia. It’s been – it’s the oldest. It’s been – it was started, I think, 41 years ago back in ’67. What the Secretary is attending is something called the ASEAN Regional Forum, which has ASEAN and ten other – no --
AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: Yeah, it’s 27.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yeah, 27. So it’s ASEAN plus 17 other countries. Plus, she’s attending the ASEAN Dialogue Partners meeting, which is each ASEAN member has a dialogue partner and our ASEAN member that we’re paired up with is Singapore for this year.
ASEAN, as I said, it’s been around for 41 years. It started off dealing with economic issues and now it’s increasingly dealing with some security issues, grappling with tough issues now like Burma and most recently this Thai-Cambodia border dispute over this Muslim temple called --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: (Off-mike).
QUESTION: Hindu/Buddhist. Early – very early Hindu turning to Buddhist.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: (Off-mike).
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: So ASEAN was grappling with that issue today. As you may have see, the ASEAN – the statement by their – chairman’s statement by George Yeo -- it’s not Italian, it’s just George Yeo, Y-e-o -- (laughter) --
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: So George Yeo had very good chairman’s statement and, you know, deals with some of the issues in Burma and I think it also dealt with this border dispute. So they – you know, this is the meeting that – they really very much value Secretary Rice coming here. She came to the Malaysia meeting two years ago. And that’s all I guess I have for an opener.
QUESTION: What about the Six-Party meeting tomorrow? What are you expecting to come from that and what’s your message going to be?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, we have a – it’s a Six-Party informal. It’s something we did in Manila a year ago when John Negroponte attended. But of course, this is the first time that we’ll get all six ministers around the table. It – there is no formal agenda, but it’s expected that there will be a (inaudible) – I mean, a discussion about completing the verification protocol in phase two, and perhaps an opening discussion of what phase three might look like.
QUESTION: Are you –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: What’s that? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Are you optimistic of meeting the 45-day deadline for the verification protocol? Has that changed?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, we have lengthy discussion about a draft verification protocol that we tabled in Beijing. The North Koreans took it home to study it, and we’ve asked them for some specific comments and we’re looking forward to getting those as soon as possible. I think everyone wants to get this thing completed well before the 45 days.
QUESTION: Can I just say, there seems to be some confusion about when that was presented. Was that presented when you guys were all there for the heads of delegation?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: So where did this ‘last week’ come in?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Oh, was it two weeks ago now?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I’m sorry. It’s --
QUESTION: No, you didn’t say that. That’s what some – I think our story says (inaudible).
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I may have missed – you know, sometimes weeks go by in a blur for me.
QUESTION: It was Tuesday, I believe.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yeah, so it would have been ten days ago, I think. I think we presented it, like, Friday a week ago --
QUESTION: And it went – and the meeting went to Saturday, right?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: It was –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yeah. And what’s today? Tuesday?
QUESTION: Yeah. So nine or ten days.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: So nine or –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yeah, do the math.
QUESTION: Okay. So anyway, it was in the same meeting?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Same – the same --
QUESTION: There wasn’t in a separate transmittal of this stuff?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yeah, right, right. The trouble with talking about Six-Party stuff here is you have people here who cover ASEAN and so they start thinking there’s some new element and they put it on the wires, and you’re supposed to have editors who catch things like that. But in the summer, a lot of them are on vacation. And so ‘lo and behold.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) everything on the news cycle, then. Hey, Chris, you said you’re going to go to Vienna and to the IAEA. In the – in what you agreed on in Beijing last time, it was not very clear that the IAEA would have a very specific role in verification.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Not clear yet.
QUESTION: Okay. So, what are you going to do in Vienna when you talk to them and what do you expect to get the North Koreans to agree in terms of IAEA involvement?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, I don’t want to – I mean, our view is that there should be IAEA involvement. And this is laid out in the Chinese statement, Chinese press statement that was issued at the end of the Six-Party head-of-delegation meeting. But it’s also envisioned in our – the draft protocol that was circulated. So our view is there should be an IAEA role. The precise role needs to be worked out through negotiation, but we would expect IAEA to have a continuing role.
QUESTION: And you’re going when to Vienna?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I’ll be there Friday. I think I leave here Thursday at midnight or something.
QUESTION: When is it –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: And the purpose of going to the IAEA is not so much to discuss the specific protocol, as to give them an overall briefing of where we stand in the process.
QUESTION: Does this involvement mean people on the ground in North Korea?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Does the involvement mean IAEA people on the ground in North Korea?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I would say the involvement would mean their continued being on the ground, because they are on the ground now.
QUESTION: No. Yeah, but they’re not involved with the verification. They’re just observing.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Right. Yeah. Well, right now, they are observing the shutdown of the facilities. So we have laid out a draft protocol that envisions a role for them and I’m not prepared at this point to say how much or precisely what they’re supposed to be – what they’re going to do. That’ll come out in the negotiation. But we want them to have a role, but we also want the Six Parties to have a role.
QUESTION: So is it just you that’s going to Vienna or is – are all the – are all six or all five?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No. It’s just me going to Vienna.
QUESTION: Can you give us just – I know you don’t want to get into the negotiations of – but the draft protocol you presented, like, how many pages is it? What kind of points does it have in it and what --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I think it was a four-page draft protocol, which envisions a verification based on the six parties and on a role for the IAEA.
QUESTION: Okay. And it’s been –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: But my purpose in going to the IAEA is a broader purpose, to brief them overall on where we stand in the Six Parties, because the actual verification negotiations are being done by the verification office in the State Department.
QUESTION: Was the draft agreed to by all five or is it just your draft?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Oh, it was our draft. Some other members of the – it was a U.S. draft. There was – there were a lot of discussions about it. And so all the capitals are taking it back for comment, not just North Korea. So it is not agreed by five.
QUESTION: But it’s the basis of what will become?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: We think it’ll be the basis, yeah, depending on how – what the comments look like when they come back.
QUESTION: And do we – did you circulate it back in Beijing or was it afterwards?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: In Beijing.
QUESTION: So no one has rejected it yet, out of hand?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No.
QUESTION: And it hasn’t come back with red “no’s” written across it?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Not yet, but we anticipate everyone will have some comments.
QUESTION: And --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I mean, when you have these multilateral negotiations, someone’s got to table a draft.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: And so we’ll see what the other five think.
QUESTION: So in terms of the draft and the minister – I mean, the kind of negotiation of this is not really something the ministers are going to do, is it?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No, no, no.
QUESTION: So what are they – so what – are they going to look at the draft? I mean, are you expecting the North Koreans --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Oh, the ministers have all seen it, but that’s not what they’re discussing at this informal meeting. This is going to be a much more general discussion about the – completing phase two and getting on to phase three.
QUESTION: Okay, because I thought I saw it coming from you that it would be discussed --
QUESTION: You said --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Oh, no.
QUESTION: Well, you said there would be a discussion on finishing the verification protocol.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yeah. I didn’t mean to imply they’re negotiating the verification protocol --
QUESTION: No, butdo you expect --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: -- finishing the verification phase – let me – or but – well, no, finishing the – I mean, there’ll be a discussion about the need to complete a verification protocol, but they’re not going to be discussing the elements of the verification protocol.
QUESTION: Okay, because that’s gone back to capitals to pick at and then you’ll discuss it at a later stage?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yeah. Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you think the North Koreans could bring you back or the others would bring it --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Here?
QUESTION: -- to this meeting with their comments?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No, no.
QUESTION: No. So that wasn’t part of the deal?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No.
QUESTION: Is there a timeline for it, when it should come?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, we’re trying to get this all done by the 45 days, which is mid-August. So we would – we want to – I think what we’ll do is pretty soon ask for comments and talk to the Chinese about when they can schedule a denuclearization working group again.
QUESTION: When is the 45 days up?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, depending on how you count it, it’s about August -- let me say the week of August 10th. And the reason I’m giving some fudge is is we haven’t worked out whether it should be workdays or not.
QUESTION: Isn’t it in the state sponsors thing?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I think it’s just 45 days. Does it say --
QUESTION: It doesn’t say working --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: All right. Well, if it doesn’t say – I mean --
QUESTION: 45 straight days (inaudible) --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: 45 straight days --
QUESTION: -- so we can never have it.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: 45 straight days would be, I think, August 10th. But I personally am not sure whether that’s the precise date. I’m just trying to be accurate with you.
QUESTION: Are the North Koreans issuing any kind of red lines for inspections or any sign of --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, I mean, we had – you know, again, we were in the middle of discussing it. I don’t want to, you know, give what their position is, because their position may change. They made some preliminary comments, indicated some problems with it. But we have to see what their considered comments back from capital are and we have not received those yet.
QUESTION: You said you’d also look at what the next phase might look like. Could you be a bit more specific?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yeah, because when we go to third phase, several of the delegations, including the U.S. delegation, would like to see this be the abandonment phase, when they abandon weapons. And so we need to see if that’s – if we can work out – well, they will have a discussion at the ministers, and then those of us – heads of delegation – we would meet at some point subsequently and see if we can work out some kind of roadmap or work schedule for the third phase.
QUESTION: Is the mid-August – when you’re talking about – I mean, the 45 days, and your wanting to get – you’re talking about getting the verification protocol completed in the 45 days?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yes.
QUESTION: So why was this – oh, jeez, I’ve got to go talk to our people who are here – something about early September?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I don’t know what they’re talking about.
QUESTION: Did you see this as well?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No, I didn’t. Early September? There’s nothing going on in early September. I mean, school opens again, but I –
QUESTION: Labor Day.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No, I don’t know.
QUESTION: Okay. So you want to get the protocol signed, sealed, delivered by --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yeah, so they can begin --
QUESTION: -- in 45 days.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: -- and begin verification, which could take months.
QUESTION: And what happens if you don’t? Does – do they go back on the --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, again, I don’t want to speculate on it.
QUESTION: Oh, I know. But I mean --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: But I’d call your attention --
QUESTION: -- does everything collapse?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I mean --
QUESTION: I mean, it didn’t matter (inaudible).
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: We’re going to get this done. I mean, we’re going to get this done.
QUESTION: At this point deadlines have been broken so far. And so (inaudible) likely that --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, I mean, I think it’s too early to make that statement, frankly. I mean, we’ve got a specific draft. We address all the issues. And let’s see what they come back with.
QUESTION: You said it will -- it’s going to take months in the draft. Do you have a timeline?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: For the actual verification?
QUESTION: Verification, yeah.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No, we don’t. Because the actual verification, which would go alongside phase three, will involve things like sampling. We envision sampling. But in order to sample, you need to complete some actions, for example, of disablement. So what you’re trying to do is verify things that they’ve said, verify commitments, verify statements. And so you might be able to verify them quicker than you think or it might take you longer. So I don’t think you can commit yourself to a timeframe for verification.
QUESTION: But it’s very likely that verification will go on into the next administration, right?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Actual verification – some aspects – well, again, I don’t want to get into a big headline of saying, “verification to go into the next administration.” So, let me just say, I don’t know. I don’t know.
QUESTION: Have the North Koreans mentioned, you know, President Obama’s going to be nicer to us than you guys are?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No, and I don’t think there’s anything in the U.S. campaign that would lead them to believe that they’re going to get a better deal later on.
QUESTION: What about the issue – Secretary Rice, on the leg to Shannon, referred to the highly enriched uranium and that there needed to be a full, you know, accounting of all their nuclear programs. Are you making any headway on that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, only in the sense that they made a commitment to us that they do not have an ongoing program. And so that’s a statement that needs to be monitored. And we certainly have a commitment that it should be monitored and we have that commitment from all parties.
QUESTION: Is what they gave you in that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: But wait, guys, guys. The Secretary of State is here and we’re talking entirely about my work. I mean, it’s just not where I want to be, okay. I mean, I understand what you want.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) When the Secretary goes into that meeting with the foreign ministers, she’ll be hoping to get some kind of commitment on timelines and that things will move fast and --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I --
QUESTION: This is high level and --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: This is an informal meeting.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: So I don’t want to say what kind of commitments we would get out of the meeting. This is an informal meeting, the first time we’ve been able to bring all ministers together to discuss the issues. So I think she would look forward to an in-depth discussion of verification. And I think she would look forward to some preliminary discussion of phase three. But beyond that, I don’t want to talk about what kind of outcomes there would be until we see what there might be.
But I mean, the fact that we’re having the discussion, meeting with the parties, you know, is obviously part of the overall process. We would like to see a formal ministerial at some point in Beijing, but that will be up to the Chinese to call.
QUESTION: But she’ll get a sense of how serious he is on this whole process and that’s what she’ll be looking for, right?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: It should give some indications of the serious – or it will give some indications of the amount of effort the North Koreans have put into completing this verification protocol.
QUESTION: I mean, the fact that they are meeting for the first time, could you talk a little bit about that, on the historic value of that? I mean, Secretary Powell met four years ago. Prior to that, Madeleine Albright met in the, sort of, last gasp of the Clinton Administration.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Secretary’s (inaudible) value?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I think the Secretary spoke to that issue a couple of days ago, and I think spoke directly to you on that issue if I recall correctly --
QUESTION: Yes, she did.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: -- to the effect that it’s a meeting and --
QUESTION: I think she went overboard on trying to downplay it.
QUESTION: Downplay it, yes.
QUESTION: I mean, it is --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: And so you would expect me to contradict that and go in the other direction?
QUESTION: No, I just think you might want to --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: You can’t fool me. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: But this is an important – is this an important turning point in the relations between the U.S. and North Korea or is it just, you know, part of the ongoing Six-Party process?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I think – I mean, again, I don’t – I think this is part of the ongoing process. We have talked about having a ministerial for some time now, so I see it as part of the process. Whether it’s a turning point or whether anything is a turning point in this is far too early to tell.
QUESTION: Thank you, Chris. Anything on Myanmar, actually? Do you think anything – or Burma – sorry, Burma – anything --
AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: Well, the ASEAN Chair issued a statement, I think yesterday – it must have been yesterday if I get my days right, reiterating, I think, their – I can’t remember the exact term, regret or unhappiness that the Burmese had not freed Aung San Suu Kyi and urging them once again to do that, and to take other steps on the political front. So we would expect it’ll be discussed further.
QUESTION: Right, okay. And on Thailand and Cambodia – again will go to war? It’s pretty hard to put – the Thais have the advantage there. Have you ever been there? I mean, it is a cliff.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I haven’t been to the – yeah, I haven’t gone to the site.
QUESTION: The Thais decided to start shooting down, (inaudible) --
QUESTION: Oh really, is that the --
QUESTION: Of course, you have to remember that the Thais have lost – they lost a war to Laos. You know, you don’t loose a war to Laos.
QUESTION: Those Cambodians are pretty tough. I mean --
QUESTION: Yeah, but most of those guys are – most of the guys who were the brutal ones are gone.
AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: You know, it’s not true exactly, unsatisfied (inaudible).
AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: I think it’s fair to say that, you know, the ASEANs are pretty engaged in trying to help find a --
QUESTION: Is there still – maybe we can talk about this later, as of – this is just final right – are the Philippines and the Thais still – or has the Thais changed? I mean, I remember back in the coup in Cambodia in ’97 and all this stuff, it was the Thais and the Filipinos who were really kind of pushing for ASEAN to go beyond its traditional “Don’t do anything” mandate to get involved. Is that still the case or have the Thais --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: You mean on this specific issue or in general?
QUESTION: No, in general; Burma and --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I think it depends on the issue.
Released on July 22, 2008