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Remarks With Traveling Press

Christopher R. Hill, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Shangri-la Hotel
Singapore
July 23, 2008

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Okay. So the Secretary already briefed. Did you catch that?

QUESTION: Yeah.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Okay. So what am I supposed to do?

QUESTION: Tell us that she’s completely wrong. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, could you give us a little bit more? I mean --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I mean, she really --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: She made it clear there was no timeline for the verification protocol and --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: You told us yesterday that you thought that – that at this meeting, you would – hopefully, you would get some indication about how serious the North Koreans are and --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, I mean --

QUESTION: (Inaudible)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Frankly, it was – I mean, it was a general discussion. I think that’s the first thing to understand. The ministers did not get into the weeds, by any means. But it was a good discussion. The – I would say they talked about a number of issues, but I would say the main issue was about verification and the fact that now that the – that the North Koreans have put forward a declaration, and now it’s time to put together a verification protocol. And we’d like to get that done as soon as possible.

I would say there was a broad understanding about that. The North Korean didn’t bring up the issue of – you know, that everybody has obligations that need to be verified. But there was a consensus around the table that while everybody has obligations that need to be met, the issue right now is to put together a verification protocol for the North Korean declaration.

QUESTION: Could you talk a little bit about the sort of atmosphere among the – did Rice directly engage the North Koreans several times? How did it work?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: There was – they started – they did – the Chinese started. Yang Jiechi gave a kind of long – I won’t say long, but, I mean, you know, an introduction, maybe 10 minutes, something like that. And then he went around the table. Secretary Rice spoke second.

QUESTION: What did she say?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: The – she spoke about the importance of getting a verification protocol. That was her main, main point. She made the point that while a lot of people have obligations, we’re all prepared to fulfill our obligations, but what we’re trying to do now is to get a verification protocol. Then the South Korean spoke and he had a similar theme.

Let’s see, South Korean then – so Chinese, American, South Korean – I think the North Korean spoke next and he read from a prepared statement and made the point that he would – that North Korea would fulfill its obligations and fulfill the terms of the September ’05 statement. He referred specifically to September ’05, which calls for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

The – then the Russian spoke, and again, he wanted to make clear that what we’re really trying to do is verify the declaration, and said as for, you know, making sure that everybody follows their obligations, yes, that’s true, but they’re – the purpose of verification is to address the declaration. And let me see, I think the Japanese spoke sixth --

QUESTION: About the abduction issue?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Japanese raised the abduction issue. Secretary Rice also spoke to that issue.

QUESTION: But apparently, she spoke to that at the end.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yeah.

QUESTION: She pulled – at a pull-aside, right? Not in the open session, is that correct?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I think she spoke to the need to try to – that countries should try to address their outstanding bilateral issues. And I think she referred, in particular, to the DPRK-Japan relationship.

QUESTION: Was there any sort of chemistry between Rice and the North Korean? I mean, did they, you know, engage in –

QUESTION: They’re getting married next week. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- very interactive conversation? I mean – or was it just a formal --

QUESTION: You still think my story was dumb?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: (Inaudible.) No, I take it back, Nick. You’re okay now. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Let’s go –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I take it back. Chemistry. There were six chairs there. They were pretty far apart, if that’s what you are driving at.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No, I mean, it was – there was some interactive discussion. I mean, after these initial, sort of set piece interventions, where people refer to notes but I think only the North Koreans actually read his speech, then there was a – there was a discussion. And, in particular, I think the Chinese raised some issues. Secretary Rice responded. The North Korean actually made a comment as well.

I mean, I’m sorry I can’t get into what everyone said. But it was a perfectly normal and, you know, useful discussion of the issues, with the main issue being the need to get moving on the verification protocol.

QUESTION: So, no friction at all, for example –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No.

QUESTION: -- between the North Korean Foreign Minister and the others?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No friction at all, no, no. It was a congenial atmosphere.

QUESTION: Chris,you said yesterday that some of the verification – part of the process will go alongside phase three, right?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yeah. Now, this – they didn’t get into all that stuff.

QUESTION: Right. No, I know. I wasn’t – I didn’t mean that they did.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yeah.

QUESTION: I just – just as far as the (inaudible) is concerned, have you yet talked about what happens to the plutonium? Have they, in principle, agreed to either destroy it or hand it over? What’s going on with --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No. Their argument is the plutonium already produced, i.e., the so-called weapons, because we don’t even -- we haven’t even verified that these – that the plutonium is actually contained in firing devices at this point. So the issue of what to do with a separated plutonium is a later phase issue. And there is a consensus among the five that the next phase should be the so-called abandonment phase. The North Koreans have not called the next phase the abandonment phase, but they did reiterate their obligations under the September ’05 statement to completely denuclearize.

QUESTION: Komura had talks with Minister Pak bilaterally – shortly, briefly after the plenary session or the ministers --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I’m sure -- you know, there was a lot of milling around and people were talking to each other. But I – I’m sure it happened. I just wasn’t there.

QUESTION: How was Secretary Rice with Minister Pak?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: It was brief, a, you know, friendly enough discussion, but Secretary Rice emphasized the need to get moving on the verification protocol and also the need to address the abduction issue.

QUESTION: And how was Minister Pak’s response?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I would – it was certainly not negative, but I would not call it a substantive response.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) right after the session was over and it (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yeah.

QUESTION: The Secretary’s talked about –

QUESTION: (Inaudible) said yesterday, right?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: What?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: You mean right after the meeting?

QUESTION: Yeah.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yes.

QUESTION: She made the point of –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Let the record show the witness nodded his head affirmatively. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I was looking at something else on my screen

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Okay.

QUESTION: -- so I didn’t see you nod.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: All right.

QUESTION: The Secretary made a point that the North Korean – the response to the draft should be given – and she said first the U.S., but then she said, actually, the six – the other five parties, because the Chinese are the chair. But what they have in front of them, is that a draft that is agreed upon by the other five parties, or is –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Now you’re asking questions that are separate from the six --

QUESTION: Separate from. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Because she referred to --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yeah, you know, several countries put together some notes, some pieces of paper during the denuclearization working group. The U.S. tried to put together a comprehensive protocol based on the principles, written principles that were discussed with other parties. So in putting a piece of paper on the table in Beijing, we were trying to focus, especially the North Koreans, on agreeing on what a verification protocol would like. And since this had been shared with parties already, our idea was not to have any surprises, but to simply show them what we would expect of a international standard of a protocol that would meet international standards, which, by the way, is a term that Lavrov used, as well as the Secretary and others. So --

QUESTION: So (inaudible) a compromise of everything that you wrote and then notes that the others have, you wrote another version of it (inaudible)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, we had discussions with the other parties about what verification was, and we actually tabled a piece of paper which listed several principles. Some parties felt that while everyone agreed these are principles of verification, there was discussion over the last few weeks in bilateral channels that some parties felt some of the principles were, you know, too specific or too vague. But based on that piece of paper and based on feedback, we put together something that was a draft protocol. And the issue --

STAFF: This will be the last question.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: The issue was for the North Koreans to respond to the draft protocol. Based on the discussions that were – that took place in the chief of – in the head-of-del meeting, head-of-delegation meeting, where there was a list of principles which the Chinese put out in a statement, we also reformatted the protocol to look like the list of principles that came out of the head-of-del meeting, suggesting that we are flexible on how – on what the format might look like, but a lot less flexible on what the elements would look like.

QUESTION: Could you tell us what you have discussed with the North Koreans today, (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: With whom?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: With what?

QUESTION: The North Koreans. Yeah, bilat.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Oh, oh, with – well, we didn’t have a bilateral meeting. There was no bilateral meeting. There was just, at the end, a handshake and the Secretary asking him --

QUESTION: You and Ri-- Ambassador Ri in the –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Oh, oh, my – oh, my discussion. My discussion.

QUESTION: Yes.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Oh, you know, it was along the same lines, the need to respond to the verification protocol.

QUESTION: You said last night that you hoped (inaudible) –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Oh, my discussion with former Ambassador Ri from London, not –

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Oh, I thought you said Pak. No, Ri is the --

QUESTION: Former ambassador --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: He is the ambassador-at-large. Yeah. I had a discussion with him to – asking him to convey messages to Kim Kye Gwan about our need to get some specific comments on the verification protocol.

QUESTION: You said last night that you hoped that you’d have something by mid August. Are you any closer now to getting (Inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: It’s hard to say because the Foreign Minister is obviously not in the position to deal with these issues specifically. I’d like to think that there was a – because there was such a strong view around the table on the need to engage on a verification protocol that we have moved the ball, but we don’t know yet.

QUESTION: And any time for a Six-Party ministerial? The Chinese said they wanted it soon.

QUESTION: The formal one?

QUESTION: The formal one.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I think we – that would probably come a little later.

QUESTION: So what happens next?

QUESTION: A little later? That’s --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I don’t know. I don’t want to predict it. But, you know, it’s up to the Chinese. I would say this informal went pretty well.

QUESTION: Well, what happens – so what’s next?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I think the next is the Korean Foreign Minister – South -- North Korean Foreign Minister is obviously taking back a lot of comments on the view that we need a protocol, and we need to hear back from them, and we would expect to hear back from them soon.

QUESTION: Yeah, but didn’t (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Didn’t they already go back with that after you gave them – after you gave them the protocol?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yeah, we haven’t gotten an answer and it’s been about 12 days. And we had another discussion today and it was raised at the foreign minister, so let’s see if they come back. But, I mean, we’ve made very clear that we need –in order to go forward, we’re going to need this protocol.

QUESTION: I understand that, but I guess I just don’t understand what happened and why was it important or significant and why anyone thinks that it’s contributed to the momentum if actually nothing has-- I mean, is it just the fact that the meeting was held at all?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: What? Are you talking about the --

QUESTION: What happened? I mean, why is what happened today any different than what happened --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I just told you what happened today.

QUESTION: Well --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I didn’t characterize it. You did.

QUESTION: Well, others have. I mean, the Secretary – she said it was a good meeting. She said --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: It was a good meeting.

QUESTION: So why was it a good meeting?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: It was a good meeting because they were --

QUESTION: Because everyone sat around the table and said that they’ve recommitted themselves to something that they committed to long time ago?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I’ll bet you have meetings at AP that fall well below that standard – (laughter) – and you still call them good meetings.

QUESTION: I don’t, actually. I don’t go to them because I think they’re a waste of time. Why was --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I mean, it was the first time --

QUESTION: Convince me this wasn’t a waste of time.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I’m not going to try to convince you of that. I’m simply going to tell you that the six ministers gathered around a table, or gathered around a circle --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: -- for the first time together (inaudible) and they discussed--

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: --and they discussed the need to get moving on verification. I would say there was unanimity among the participants. I think it was useful for the DPRK Foreign Minister to see the importance that is attached to the verification protocol. And I think, as I said yesterday, and I’m sure as the Secretary has said, the real importance of it can’t be determined at this time.

QUESTION: Do you think they felt the love by the Secretary being there? I mean, do you think that they felt that this is a turning point in relations?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Take it back. (Laughter.) I think it was useful for the North Koreans to hear directly from the Secretary of State of the importance we attach to a verification protocol. I’m not sure that quite sings in the way you want it to, but --

QUESTION: Not as sexy as you wanted.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yeah.

STAFF: Okay, thank you, guys.

QUESTION: Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: All right.

2008/T21-5


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