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Background Briefing: Senior State Department Official on North Korea
October 20, 2011

Special Briefing

Senior State Department Official

U.S. Embassy Kabul

Kabul, Afghanistan

October 19, 2011


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay, Senior State Department Official. As you know, at the podium today we announced the fact that an interagency team of U.S. officials will have a second meeting with a North Korean delegation led by First Vice Minister Kim of North Korea in Geneva October 24 and 25. And just to say again what Mark said, this is a second meeting in this exploratory phase that we are in with the DPRK.

As you know, when we saw them in New York in July, the United States laid out a list of things that we are looking for from the DPRK to demonstrate their seriousness about engaging on their nuclear program in the categories of moving towards implementation of their obligations under Security Council Resolution 1718, 1874, and their commitments under the 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks.

What I want to say here is that we are making this effort again not because we have any new information from the DPRK but because we think it is important to keep the door open to engagement, to keep putting before them the list of things that we are looking for, and because one of the other pieces that we were looking for, to stay engaged bilaterally, has been going okay, which is that the North Koreans have been engaging with the South Koreans in bilateral talks. And as you remember, we said that a condition of our continuing to have bilateral talks with the DPRK, and to keep trying to work together on these issues, was that they were also working with our ally and their neighbor, the ROK. And as we had said to you when the meetings happened, they did have a constructive meeting with the ROK a few weeks ago, although there were no breakthroughs.

So what we are doing here is meeting again to see how they absorbed what we said in July, and to see whether they have anything new to tell us about their intentions. And as Mark said very clearly, our policy on this hasn’t changed. We will not go back to the Six-Party Talks unless we see a real commitment by them on the denuclearization side, and a continuation of their dialogue with South Korea.

So we will see what they have to say when we see them in Geneva. But we believe that for a variety of reasons, it’s important to keep the door open, keep explaining directly what it will take to get back to the Six-Party Talks, and to have them hear directly from us that without that kind of progress, we’re not prepared to go back to the Six-Party Talks. And our concern is that if we don’t engage, that could result in miscalculations by the North Koreans, as we’ve seen in the past. Sometimes when engagement has been broken off, it causes them to lash out in dangerous and unsettling ways. But again, we are not prepared to reward bad behavior and we are not prepared to move forward to the next stage unless they show a true commitment.

So this is, at this stage, an exploratory phase, and frankly, it’s a management strategy. And it’s being conducted, obviously, in lock-step with the Republic of Korea. We agreed when the presidents met last week that we would move forward with this next meeting and we would see what came of it. And we’ve also been in close coordination with our other partners in the Six-Party process on that.

The other issue is, obviously, Ambassador Bosworth’s decision to go back to private life and the Secretary’s invitation or request of one of the Foreign Service’s finest, Glyn Davies, to take up the baton. Glyn Davies, as you know, has experience in nuclear issues, having been at the IAEA. He’s also very deep on the Asian issues, having served in EAP for some time. So we think that he will be able to pick up the baton seamlessly, but to ensure that that’s the case, he and Ambassador Bosworth will both do this meeting in Geneva together so that we can have a clean – we can have continuity in these discussions.

Any questions on background?

QUESTION: The management strategy aspect of it, this sort of the idea that you’re talking to them so that they don’t bomb another corvette or another island. Is that – I mean why are you bringing that into the discussion now? Are you – is there new information that they are thinking about doing that? Have you received any threat that they’re going to say if you guys walk away, we’re going to slap the South Koreans?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, but we have a pattern of behavior here where when they have not been hearing directly from either the South Koreans or from us and have not had that engagement, sometimes miscalculations have been made in the past. So, I’m not pointing to anything new here. I’m simply saying that we judge that having another meeting, being able to set out our own parameters clearly and unequivocally, is the best way to ensure that they know what it’ll take to get back to the Six-Party Talks, and to give them an opportunity to explore anything that they want to explore.

QUESTION: Well, the North Koreans have been saying for decades now that they want direct talks with the U.S., and you guys keep saying no. And then they go and blow up this South Korean ship and fire rockets on their island, and you say that this meeting is to prevent any similar miscalculations. How is that – but it’s not a reward. That just doesn’t make any sense.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Again, this is not a negotiation. This is —

QUESTION: I know, but it’s a reward. You’re giving them exactly what they want because you’re worried that they’re going to do something stupid.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We are ensuring that they understand clearly from us what it’s going to take to get back to the process that they say they want, which is the Six-Party process, and so that they can’t assert that they don’t – they’re not being heard, that they don’t know what is expected, that the parties are not engaged. That doesn’t change the fact that we have worked out with our partners and we’ve all agreed on what it’s going to take to restart that process. And it’s going to take a serious commitment to denuclearization on the North Koreans’ part, and we haven’t seen that yet. We’ll see what comes in Geneva, but it’ll be up to the North Koreans whether this can advance because they’ll have to make some firm steps.

QUESTION: Was there something that changed with the South Koreans? Because up to now, the State Department mantra really has been they (inaudible). And now they’re (inaudible). So did (inaudible) really switch? I know it didn’t solve it, obviously, but what happened?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, one thing that the South Koreans were very firm on, and that we were very supportive of, was that we needed to get back to North-South dialogue, which had been suspended and going not well for some time. And they have restarted that dialogue, and we wanted to ensure that the South Koreans were comfortable, that that concern of theirs was in a place where we could support also having a parallel U.S.-North Korean exploratory meeting. So they have to go in tandem, and I think our sense is that, from the South Koreans that their meeting again was constructive, although there were no breakthroughs, but that was something that had not been happening for a lot —

QUESTION: You said that – you said —

QUESTION: You’re saying that the July meeting didn’t actually give you any new messages from the North Koreans that would lead you to think that that they are actually getting the message. It sounds —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Again, in July, we laid out in detail the kinds of things we’d like to see to demonstrate seriousness. So they’ve had some time to think about that.

QUESTION: So they didn’t say anything new at that meeting.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They needed to absorb the message. They’ve had some time to think about it. I think we’ll see if they come with anything new in Geneva, and that will be a factor in whether we can move forward.

QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], the fact that Glyn is going to be the new ambassador, I mean, Bosworth went through this hard time. I think by many accounts he wasn’t that engaged, maybe because the process wasn’t at the place where you could have someone full time engaging with North Korea. Do you anticipate because he is a career service officer, (inaudible) in Washington full time, do you anticipate him kind of deepening the role and expanding the role and perhaps engaging more regularly with North Korea, not on a negotiation phase but just on dealing with them on the panoply of issues, not just nuclear but, I mean, Bosworth was doing a lot of other things, food aid, that kind of stuff. Does this signal, I guess, greater – a plan for greater engagement with North Korea?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think, as I said, we’re only in an exploratory phase and we won’t be able to go any further with North Korea unless they begin to show movement on the nuclear docket. But one thing that I think Glyn will be able to do is to be in intense regular contact with all of our Six-Party counterparts on a regular basis. But again, if – this is a second meeting to see how they absorb the message of the first meeting, and we haven’t committed to any further engagement, and we won’t unless we see how this one goes, until we see —

QUESTION: Well, like I said, you’re going from a part time job to a full time job with a senior career foreign service officer who presumably is going to be working full time. So where is the extra —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Again, I think in the first instance the extra is going to be in deepening our – and being able to be regularly engaged with the other parties in the Six-Party talks with the Chinese, with the Russians, with the South Koreans–

QUESTION: Isn’t that what Cliff Hart does —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And the Japanese. Well, this will obviously be at that more senior level.

PRN: 2011/T54-09