Morning Walkthrough on Six-Party TalksChristopher Hill, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
St. Regis Hotel
December 21, 2006
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Good morning
QUESTION: What’s your schedule for today’s events?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I’m seeing the Chinese, I think at 11:30. I have to go over to the Embassy right now; we’ll see them at 11:30. We have a schedule to see the Japanese and ROK in the early afternoon and I assume, although it’s not scheduled yet, that we will also be seeing the DPRK delegation. As I mentioned to you yesterday, I think we are moving into the phase where things will start appearing on paper, and I think we’re going to have a little discussion about that with the Chinese in the next hour.
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, did the US offer a written pledge to the North Koreans not to attack should North Korea allow back IAEA inspections?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: A written pledge? Check your sources. If you look at the September statement, there is a security assurance given by the US to the DPRK. There’s been no further development on that.
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, you said yesterday that you were discussing the sequence of the early [inaudible] with the DPRK. It kind of sounds like an action-to-action deal, but at the same time, you also mentioned that you’re hoping for the first batch of implementation. Secretary Rice also called it the first set. If that’s the case, why is sequencing still important. Are you trying to push both methods at the same time?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: The issue of sequencing is not a question of tit-for-tat or something. It’s a question of what things could we get going on early in this session and what things can the DPRK get going on early in this session. Again, I do hate to repeat myself, but we need to get on with the task of implementing the September agreement, and we do believe that there are some elements of that September agreement that should begin to get implemented even this week. What I don’t want is a situation where we have met this week, we have had numerous discussions and then we have nothing to be implemented. By implementation I mean we are actually affecting the situation on the ground. Things are really beginning to change, and so this is not an easy phase. I don’t want to predict that we’re going to succeed, but I also don’t think it’s very useful for my own morale if I predict failure either, so we’ll see.
QUESTION: Can you describe exactly what you mean by first batch or Secretary Rice meant by first set, a combination of give-and-take?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: There’s no difference between batch and set, if that’s what you mean.
QUESTION: Can you elaborate more on what that means?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: This is day four, and I’ve so far resisted telling you what the specific elements are that are in play that we would like to see get done. I think I’ll continue to resist telling you which are the specific elements. I think a number of them have already been discussed in the media, so I don’t think at the end of the week, if we have success and we mention some of them, I don’t think any would come as a total surprise to you.
QUESTION: Ambassador Hill, up to this point you have always separated the financial issue with the nuclear talks…
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: And I continue to do that, not just up to this point.
QUESTION: Korea has a hard time doing that. In the talks are they able to talk on the nuclear issue without bringing the financial issue into that or are you still having a problem separating that in their minds?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I think they have a great deal of problem separating that, and so it is difficult to engage them on the other subjects when they have come in with a very strong view on the financial issue. Let me just leave it by saying this is a challenge that we face.
QUESTION: Is that the number one obstacle right now?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No, no, you have to write your own story.
QUESTION: To follow up on that question, if that’s the case…
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Wait, someone else gets a chance to ask a question.
QUESTION: Any direct talks with the DPRK today?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: We expect to talk to them today. Often on these bilateral days we don’t schedule things a day in advance, but I would expect that we’ll be talking with them today. We had some discussions with them yesterday as well.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Alright, go ahead. As long as you’re not asking me about a batch and a set.
QUESTION: If that’s the case then on the other side of it, if North Korea is willing to even at least freeze its [inaudible] nuclear reactor …whatever, is the US ready to ease financial penalties?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Yea but I don’t think it’s a good idea to negotiate in front of the media or to talk about specific elements. We have made very clear that we consider the financial issue quite separate from the denuclearization issue, and clearly the urgency of this whole problem is the fact that on October 9, the DPRK exploded a nuclear device. This is a very urgent problem, and I would rather not obscure that urgent problem by talking about finances.
QUESTION: Mr. Hill, among the elements on the table under discussion, does that also include elements of reporting and verification? What’s the scope of these elements?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Again, I don’t want to discuss specific elements, but I’ve long maintained that we cannot have a situation where there’s any kind of ambiguity in what is decided. We cannot have a situation where they pretend to do something, and we pretend to believe them. These have to be very real and there has to be means to ensure that there is no misunderstanding, let me put it that way.
QUESTION: Could you tell us more about your discussions with Mr. Kim, how long did those talks go for? Did you have the sense that he had the authority to negotiate on behalf of his country or is he just reporting back to Pyongyang?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: He is a veteran negotiator. He has a lot of experience; he has a lot of experience in this issue. I’m very inexperienced compared to Mr. Kim. My understanding, and you have to ask him this because he will know better than I, is that he has the ability to reach a deal along the lines with the kinds of elements that we’ve been talking about for the last six weeks. I have mentioned to you before, I’ll tell you again, we have really tried to prepare this round with the understanding that this was going to be a very difficult round. Implementation is always much more difficult than a discussion of principles. Implementation is something where ambiguities -- where one side is allowed to believe one thing while the other side can believe that the same words mean another – that doesn’t work in implementation. Implementation means real things. That is why we spent a lot of time preparing this. It’s why I’ve been in Beijing five times, including to see Mr. Kim just a few weeks ago. I think he well knows what the Six-Party Talks need to accomplish. I believe he’s got the instructions he needs.
QUESTION: Ambassador Hill, have you had an opportunity to brief your counterparts, particularly Japan and South Korea, on these bilateral discussions?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Any bilateral discussions we’ve had with the DPRK we do share with our allies. We think it’s very important as we go forward that the Six-Party Talks not only accomplish the primary mission of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula but also reinforce our alliance relationships. For example, I do believe that not only is the US working very closely with Japan and working very closely with the ROK, but Japan and the ROK work well together in the Six-Party Talks. Indeed we’re looking forward to the three of us getting together in the next night or two to have a trilateral. But I’ve also said that I think the Six-Party Talks has been a major opportunity for the United States and China to work together on, frankly, a central issue of concern and one that absolutely has to be solved. This is not some optional element in our U.S.-China relationship. This is a very essential element, and if the United States and China are able to be successful and work together on this, I think that we’re going to be successful for years to come in various other issues in the world. Because the United States and China need to have a very strong, a very engaged relationship. We are doing that, and I think the six party process is very much a part of that.
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador…
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I really have to get to work now.
QUESTION: Are you meeting the North Koreans?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I already said I’m meeting with the DPRK.
QUESTION: Is it going to be a full-fledged meeting?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I don’t know, you mean how many people are going to be there? I’ll count and let you know tonight, okay?
QUESTION: Will you have something on paper tomorrow, by tomorrow?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I think there are a number of papers going around. You know, whenever things are in paper you get a little worried because it’s difficult to erase things. I think we’ll start looking at things on paper; I think we’re at that phase. I also know that you all want to know when you’re going home. I want to know that as well. Let me know.
QUESTION: Ambassador Hill, do you think that China has moved closer to the US decision after the 9th of October?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: You know I don’t want to characterize how the Chinese view the situation, but I think China’s active engagement at the United Nations – its support for the resolutions – speaks volumes about how China views the situation. It was obviously not an easy decision for China. As for whether they’re closer to us or not closer to us, why don’t you ask them?
QUESTION: When do you expect to drop by again? So we can go do Christmas shopping, are you coming back today?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I’m worried about your Christmas shopping – you probably haven’t done enough. I would be happy to make sure you get something like a, what can you do, a 30-minute, where’s the Embassy press section…
QUESTION: An hour would be good.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: You need an hour? Yeah, we could do that. Robert, how much warning can we give them?
IO Robert Ogburn: However much warning you want.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: That’s not an answer. [Laughter] I think an hour would be helpful. Why don’t we do that, then. I can promise you that I won’t go to my hotel room without giving you one hour’s notice, alright? I’ll do that. I’ll probably have a dinner of some kind, so I don’t want to keep you all past your bedtime. It’ll probably be something like after dinner as we did last night. Okay, see you later.
Released on December 21, 2006