State's Hill Upbeat but Urges Patience as Six-Party Talks Resume
14 November 2005
U.S. Envoy says resolution of complex technical issues will take time, effort
The first session of a fifth round of Six-Party Talks aimed at ending nuclear programs on the Korean Peninsula moved forward with "very few acrimonious words" and with all sides demonstrating commitment to the process, according to Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill.
Hill, head of the U.S. delegation to the talks, briefed reporters in Beijing after the close of the session on November 11. He characterized the three-day meeting as "useful" and "very businesslike."
The other parties to the talks are China, Japan, Russia, North Korea and South Korea.
"As I said, as all of us said at the beginning of this session, we were not expecting to make any major breakthroughs," Hill said. The goal of the talks, he stressed, was to follow up on the agreement signed at the conclusion of the fourth round of talks September 19 and to assess what to do next. (See related article.)
Hill said the session was too short to develop detailed implementation plans for the principles set forth in the September 19 agreement, although the participants had considered various ideas. All six participants are committed to returning for a second session to develop a work plan, he said.
"It's a very strong diplomatic process," Hill said. "It continues to enjoy very active support of all its participants. Everyone was there with ideas. Again, the atmosphere was very good and the commitment to progress is considerable."
Asked when the round might resume for a second session, Hill told reporters that it will be difficult to set aside a sufficient block of time before the end of 2005 because the regional calendar is already very full, given the upcoming annual meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, the East Asia Summit scheduled for mid-December in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and a series of holidays.
"[W]e looked at dates earlier in December but our concern is that we don't want to try to squeeze this into another 72-hour period," he said.
Implementing the principles of the September 19 agreement will be a complicated matter that will require lengthy study and discussion, he said.
"We really do need more time because when you get into the implementation … just looking at the types of things that [North Korea] is going to have to do with respect to its nuclear systems, we're going to have to figure out how to make sure there's a complete declaration of their programs. We're going to have to come up with a plan of how to dismantle these programs. We're going to have to come up with a plan on how to verify the dismantlement. This is not your 'three day and out' type job."
Hill said the six participants did consider the possibility of establishing working groups to begin working out the details of the many technical issues that will have to be resolved. But no agreement was reached on a starting date or on how such groups should be organized.
Asked what he considered the main achievement of the session, Hill responded, "Well, to some extent what we achieved is to realize how much work we have ahead of us and how complex this issue is going to be in terms of identifying the work plan for denuclearization."
Hill said the other delegations had good suggestions for how to proceed, and he praised the Chinese government's work as host.
He also said there had been a series of separate bilateral technical discussions in the lead-up to the session. Hill said he expected this would continue because the members of the delegations cannot spend several weeks in plenary meetings as they did in the fourth round of talks.
"I was encouraged to hear the [North Koreans] acknowledge that … the devil is in the details," Hill said. "I was pleased to see their acknowledging the overall elements that need to be worked into a plan."
See also "U.S. Urges North Korea To Stop Nuclear Activities at Yongbyon."
For more information, see U.S. Policy Toward North Korea and Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
Following is the full transcript of the assistant secretary's press briefing:
Assistant Secretary Christopher Hill
Six Party Talks
End of Talks Transit - Traders Hotel
November 11, 2005
A/S Hill: Hi, how are you? We just completed the first session of the fifth round. The Chinese hosts put together a Chairman's statement to describe the round. First of all, I would like to say that the Chinese government did a truly excellent job in doing the preparations for this and making sure that everybody was there and that everyone was there on time. They also played a very important role as the Secretariat in organizing the meetings and in, ultimately, putting together the Chairman's statement.
As I said, as all of us said at the beginning of this session, we were not expecting to make any major breakthroughs. This was essentially a three-day session designed to follow up on the September 19th statement and to assess where we are and where we are going. I think it was a very businesslike three days. There were very few acrimonious words and certainly, I think, a real commitment to the process. In that sense I think it was a very useful three days.
On the other hand, three days does not provide very much time during which to set out the way forward, to set out a roadmap or a detailed plan of how we are going to go from here. I think there was agreement among all the parties that we will meet again. We do have a lot of work to do. It's something that we are going to have to take three days to do because we really have to design an implementation plan from these principles. We had a pretty full discussion of various ideas for how we could implement the principles. I think I mentioned to you before that there were some very good ideas on how to do this. But, we need now to sit down in the second session to hammer out a work plan and then get on with the task.
The purpose of this whole endeavor is the de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula, namely that the DPRK should get rid of these nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons programs, all nuclear programs, actually. We clearly have to measure our success against achieving that goal so we still have a way to go here. I think it really shows the six-party process is alive and well. I know I look forward to reporting directly to Secretary Rice and, indeed, to President Bush when both of them are in the region next week, to discuss the way forward. It's a very strong diplomatic process. It continues to enjoy very active support of all its participants. Everyone was there with ideas. Again, the atmosphere was very good and the commitment to progress is considerable. So, I'll take a couple of questions.
Question: Why couldn't you set a time for the next session of this round?
A/S Hill: We had some discussions about the timetable and we were looking at the possibility of what we could do in December. But, the calendar just gets very full. First of all, five of the six delegations are involved with the APEC summit meeting coming up next week. The U.S. has a Thanksgiving holiday the following week. The Christmas holidays start toward the end of December. Right in the middle of December is the East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur. So, we looked at dates earlier in December but our concern is that we don't want to try to squeeze this in to another 72-hour period.
We really do need more time because when you get into the implementation -- for example, I had a discussion today with my DPRK counterpart. Just looking at the types of things that the DPRK is going to have to do with respect to its nuclear systems, we're going to have to figure out how to make sure there's a complete declaration of their programs. We're going to have to come up with a plan of how to dismantle these programs. We're going to have to come up with a plan on how to verify the dismantlement. This is not your "three day and out" type job.
We did discuss the possibility, and we might do this, actually, of having some working groups meet in the meantime because there's so many technical issues involved. So, we might have some working groups go ahead and have some discussions on some of these issues so that some of this sort of technical underbrush can be worked on. Basically, in terms of naming dates, we are not able to do that today because we all thought that there's just a lot of work ahead of us.
Question: Did you broadly agree on forming working groups?
A/S Hill: We discussed it and there was some consideration of putting that into the Chairman's statement. The concern was, if we put working groups into the Chairman's statement the next question would be what working groups are those going to be? Since we were not able at that point to name the working groups we decided not to go ahead and put them in the actual statement. But, we did have a discussion of the utility of working groups.
Question: So what would you say you have achieved for the last 72 hours?
A/S Hill: Well, to some extent what we achieved is to realize how much work we have ahead of us and how complex this issue is going to be in terms of identifying the work plan for de-nuclearization. It was clear that 72 hours was not enough time to have a full solution to any of this. I thought it was useful to meet now. Certainly, we were concerned about this problem even before the 72-hour session began. We were concerned about the problem that it would take more time but we didn't want to put it off until after APEC because that would be still another two weeks. You recall on September 19 we agreed that we would meet in early November. So, we would have missed this 72-hour window to have a discussion and then that would have been another 72 hours lost in the beginning of December or whenever we would have met again.
Question: Mr. Secretary, would it be accurate to say that there was a stalemate over Yongbyon? That basically North Korea said that there would be no suspension until there was a full implementation (inaudible)?
A/S Hill: I think what the DPRK is saying is that stopping their programs is part of the overall obligations and if they're going to take a step to stop programs then they expect corresponding steps on our part. Our view is that stopping their programs is simply something they have to do if they are going to start dismantling the programs. We don't want to get into a situation where they stop the programs, in short freeze the programs, and then expect us to compensate them for a freeze. Our view is that they should be stopping their programs immediately with the understanding that anything they're producing, any type of plutonium, is, in fact, making the problem worse and, in fact, will have to be returned and destroyed at the end of the day. We'd like them to do it but we are not prepared to make a separate agreement for them to freeze programs.
Question: So if we make this breakthrough for next time... it seems like this is the same problem as last time.
A/S Hill: The problem last time was to hammer out the principles of what it was that we were doing, which elements we were putting into this overall agreement. So, it wasn't the same problem. The DPRK has rather kept to their position that they will keep their programs going until there is a final implementation plan on how to take them apart. We would argue that it does not keep the status quo, that, in fact, it makes it worse because there is more plutonium material today than there was on September 19. But, we are not prepared to launch a separate negotiation to have a freeze because freezing programs does not solve this problem. We've got to get rid of these things.
Question: How was the so-called Macao bank issue today?
A/S Hill: Well, this came up this week and the DPRK officials expressed their concern about the fact that U.S. regulators had issued a so-called section 311 which prohibits U.S. financial institutions from dealing, in this case, with a bank based in Macao. By the way, there are other such section 311's against banks in other parts of the world having nothing to do with North Korea. From what I understand when that decision was made that put that bank in Macao into some trouble, and the Chinese banking authorities had to freeze the assets of that.
What we tried to do with the DPRK delegation is to first of all explain that banking sector issues like that are not in the purview of the six party talks. I am not a banking sector expert. We got them some material and we are prepared to give them some other material on this. These are issues relating to criminal activities. These are money-laundering questions that come up all over the world. I think it also fair to say that if you're a country that's going to be engaged in producing weapons of mass destruction, if you're a country that going to pull out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, on your own with no, from our point of view, legal basis for doing that and then to be producing weapons of mass destruction you should not be surprised if your financial transactions are going to get carefully looked at. It's not directly related but I think it is, in a broader sense, related to an overall pattern of behavior. I think the best thing that the DPRK can do to avoid these issues involving illegal activities is to stop committing illegal activities. It was a discussion point but I would not argue that it was the main discussion point.
Question: Mr. Secretary, just to follow up on that, did they essentially confirm then that they have money in that bank?
A/S Hill: In the Banco Delta Asia? I think you have to ask them but they were certainly concerned enough about that bank that I would assume that is a fact.
Question: I wonder if the so-called bank issue was an obstacle to you in setting a date for the next round?
A/S Hill: I don't believe that was an obstacle to setting a date. I had issues about how to set a date. I know my counterparts did. Everyone started looking a their calendars and looking at very full calendars in December. I can't say that was an obstacle. The DPRK delegation is often referring to the overall atmosphere of the talks and whether they see a good atmosphere or a not so good atmosphere and always urging that there be a good atmosphere in order to make progress. My point is, if you make progress there will be a good atmosphere. They are kind of looking at it from the wrong end in that the best way to have a good atmosphere is to make progress.
Question: Mr. Ambassador, you say that the expectation wasn't so high this time but I think you must have envisioned a kind of a benchmark to accomplish before you came here. Did you achieve any of the benchmarks that you envisioned before you came here?
A/S Hill: Well, yes we did. Our expectations were not high for 72 hours because we knew what was involved in this and I think, in fact, that you and I had that discussion. Earlier on you asked the question three days ago and I made very clear that I thought we should keep our expectations very low.
Did I achieve our benchmarks? I did in the sense that we were able to have a meeting together, all six sides, and we were able to discuss the way forward and we were able to discuss various ideas for how to go forward. I know the Japanese delegation put forward a very good approach in terms of laying out several tracks. The ROK delegation also put together a very positive type of approach where they essentially created a matrix and took item from the principle and turned it into an implementation item: that is, how you could take a principle and turn it into an implementation. And, a number of other delegations, including my own, had some thoughts on this but we're going to have a lot of homework ahead of us. I suspect we are going to have to have some technical meetings to have some fuller discussion. We had some of these bilateral meetings in the course of the last few weeks but, based on this 72-hour meeting here, I think we are going to have to have more of these technical discussions to really lay out a very clear roadmap in the specific areas that we are talking about such as de-nuclearization.
Question: You say the technical discussion, that means before the next plenary?
A/S Hill: Yes, I think we need a lot of technical discussions before the next plenary because, if we are going to make progress in the next plenary -- you know, those of us working on this don't have three weeks to set aside just to do this. We have other responsibilities. So, I think we are going to have to have a number of technical discussions. We have to figure out how to schedule that and how to organize that.
Question: About six party (inaudible)
A/S Hill: Again we don't have a specific idea about that but certainly as we were daunted by the amount of detail that has to go on we probably have to do more than just have these bilateral discussions.
Question: Could these meetings be interpreted as a working group?
A/S Hill: As a what?
Question: As a working group?
A/S Hill: We are interested in making progress. We are interested in meeting in whatever fora necessary to make progress. I hate to call it a working group yet but it will be a group that's working.
Question: On what issues do you think technical discussions will be necessary?
A/S Hill: I think we all have to have clarity on what precisely is involved in the declaration of nuclear activity, how this is going to be monitored, how this is going to be verified. If we had had more time we would have done that in this particular session. If there is one area which I wish we had more time to discuss in fact going through the various steps in how they would abandon these weapons. We did not have enough time to do that. So, I suspect we'll have more technical people in the room and we can come up with a plan.
I was encouraged to hear the DPRK acknowledge that these elements -- and, of course, in nuclear weapons as in many things in life -- the devil is in the details. I was pleased to see their acknowledging the overall elements that need to be worked into a plan.
Question: How are you going to make a decision on the framework of those difficult sessions?
A/S Hill: I think we need to see the results. The U.S. has worked out some proposals or approaches and we have had some discussions bilaterally with our other partners. Maybe what we need to do is to sit down and have multilateral discussions based on some of these ideas. Again, it's complex stuff and people really need time to do it.
Question: Mr. Secretary, you said that a freeze is unacceptable to the U.S. Did the North Koreans explicitly make an offer to freeze their weapons systems?
A/S Hill: I did not say that a freeze was unacceptable I said that to get into a negotiation for the purpose only of freezing was not something that we are interested in doing. We have been there. We have done that. What we need to have is dismantlement or abandonment of these programs -- not to substitute a freeze. At various times, the DPRK has suggested that they are prepared to stop their programs depending on the level on compensation, essentially inviting us into a negotiation to freeze the programs. The existence of these programs is the problem, not whether they are working or not. It is their mere existence that is the problem and therefore we don't want to be pushed on to the sidetrack of dealing with a freeze. I would prefer that they stop this stuff, stop these programs immediately, no question. But, I am not going to allow us to lose our focus and let us get involved with some sidetrack issue which will solve absolutely nothing for the long run because anything frozen can become unfrozen. So, we're just not interested in that type of reversible step. We are looking for irreversible steps.
Question: And did North Korea's uranium enrichment sector come up in this session? Did North Korea have anything to say?
A/S Hill: Well, the HEU kind of lingers over the talks and I think everyone understands that we are not going to get out of this process without going through the HEU issue. No one is forgetting about that. We certainly remind our interlocutors that this is an important issue to get through. We are just not going to pretend the issue doesn't exist. It does exist. We just need a full accounting of what this activity has been. We need to be assured that it is no longer there. We all know that that's another issue that probably is going to take more than 72 hours to get through.
Question: Do we know if they are producing plutonium anywhere else beside Yongbyon?
A/S Hill: No, right now the plutonium comes from this working reactor, the five megawatt reactor in Yongbyon. They have indicated on several occasions that they have a fifty-megawatt reactor that will come on line in a few years absent an agreement. Obviously, a fifty-megawatt reactor coming on line in a few years would be capable of producing even more plutonium and this too would be an extremely unwelcome development but that's a few years away.
Question: What do you expect out of this APEC meeting? Will you talk about North Korean issues?
A/S Hill: Well, the APEC meeting is a meeting of economies. There are people doing far more extensive briefings than I can give you on this. There will be discussions about a lot of different issues. There will be discussion of the next WTO round. There will be discussions of avian influenza. There will be discussions on a lot of things. I'm sure there will be some discussions of the Six Party Talks but the Six Party Talks has its own mechanism and I think we will probably keep it in the six parties rather than take it to APEC.
Question: What is your assessment that the light water reactor issue will continue to be a problem?
A/S Hill: Well, interestingly, the light water reactor didn't seem to play that major a role. I can tell you all five countries have a very clear view that there's not going to be any discussion of a light water reactor until an appropriate time and that appropriate time is not now. That appropriate time is when the DPRK has given up its nuclear weapons, has abandoned all its nuclear programs, has returned to the NPT, has returned to IAEA safeguards. After all that, there will be a decision about having the discussion about the subject of the provision of the light water reactor. All five countries were pretty clear about that. No one is jumping the gun on that. I would say that's another value in having this meeting because that was one issue we were able to make clear in less than 72 hours.
Question: What about the DPRK? Did they say anything?
A/S Hill: Well, it didn't really figure prominently in the discussions. It was mentioned a couple of times but it was not an issue that we had to devote much time to. So, maybe that's encouraging. But, if I tell you that, then tomorrow they'll have a big light water reactor announcement from Pyongyong so I would rather not chalk that up.
Question: Regarding the HEU, did you find the slightest indication that they are backing down or showing more flexibility on this issue during the three-day talks?
A/S Hill: I can't say they did. I think they know our position. They know our position and they know that we are not going to have a nuclear deal without a resolution of that question. I have talked to my DPRK counterpart about that and he acknowledges that that issue needs to be satisfied. Everybody needs to be satisfied on that point. They fully understand that and I'm expecting that to be a major issue when we really get to the question of the DPRK declaration of what their programs are because we know what they have imported from other countries. We know what their intentions were. We know that they made purchase entirely consistent with an HEU program. This is one issue that we just can't back away from. They know that.
Question: Also, the fifty-megawatt reactor, is this a statement that the construction would be done in the near future?
A/S Hill: We did not discuss the fifty-megawatt reactor. I have heard in various other discussions that they are trying to get it completed but it is a matter of a few years away. It's also based on this graphite technology that, in our agreement, would be abandoned by the DPRK. So, I hope they are not working too hard on it because it is something they are going to have to give up.
Question: Mr. Secretary, am I right in saying that they get reactors instead of the whole programs?
A/S Hill: They have to give us a declaration and let us know what the programs are. We have a lot of technical people who have a pretty good idea of what they have so there has to be some reconciliation of what we know and what they say they have. We have to go through all of that. Then they have to start dismantling these things. I think it's easier to dismantle a reactor when it's not working than one that's operating so they do have to shut it off first. I think they ought to shut it off now and save themselves some aggravation for the future. But, we are not going to have a separate agreement on something that is an entirely logical step, that is, shutting it off before they start taking it apart.
Question: Do you plan to conduct the next session with your own proposal the de-nuclearization plan?
A/S Hill: Yes. I did a lot of listening. I know most of you think Americans don't listen but this one does. I did a lot listening and based on some of this listening and based on some of the work we are doing, yes, we will be coming back with some collaborative ideas on this. It was 72 hours. It wasn't enough time to do everything but we really do have a sense of urgency about this. We really do want to see progress made on this. So, we will come back with some very specific ideas.
Question: Mr. Secretary, when do you think you will be coming back for the second phase of this?
A/S Hill: You're trying to book a hotel and get a good rate at the hotel, aren't you? We ran into that problem ourselves.
Question: Would it be January or February? Do you think you might go to Pyongyang before then?
A/S Hill: As I have said before, I don't have travel plans right now except to get myself to APEC next week. I'd rather not say. I'd sort of like it to be earlier but I need to get consensus from the other five on that. I really think we need to make more progress than we did in this time. In order to do that we need to clear our calendars and really find some more days that are available. I don't have to be at the East Asia Summit but a lot of the others do so that kind of wiped out the second week in December which would have been a good week for me. Then there was some talk about the third week and Sunday or Saturday is Christmas and that's sort of problematic for a number of us. We'll work this out and we will let you know so you can book a hotel.
Question: So, unlikely to be in February?
A/S Hill: I don't know. I would hope the sooner the better. I don't want to say January because you will say "you men it's not going to be in December?" I can't say it's not going to be in December. You mention February. That strikes me as a long way away, February. I would like definitely to see it before that.
Question: When do you leave for Pusan and are you going straight to Pusan?
A/S Hill: Actually, I'm going to do some traveling around China. This is a great country, big country, a lot of things going on outside of these hotels here in Beijing so I'm going to spend the next couple of days seeing a little of China. Then, I am going to get to Pusan in the beginning of the week. Thank you very much. Good to see you all and see you next time.
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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