Briefing on Recent Travel to North Korea

Special Briefing
Stephen W. Bosworth
Special Representative for North Korea Policy 
Washington, DC
December 16, 2009

MR. WOOD: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome. As you can see, we have with us Ambassador Bosworth who is here to talk about his recent visit to the East Asian region with regard to North Korea. So without any further ado, I’ll turn it over to Ambassador Bosworth.

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: Thank you, Robert. Good afternoon, good to see you.

I think before I comment specifically on the trip to Pyongyang, I might try to put some of this into a longer, broader context. As we’re all aware, when the Obama Administration came into office, it was prepared to engage comprehensively with North Korea. Unfortunately, that did not occur. The North Koreans took a different route and they fired a missile in defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 1718, and then they conducted a second nuclear test, which, of course, was met by a further action on the part of the international community with the passage in the Security Council of Resolution 1874.

So, in effect, this trip to Pyongyang was the first senior-level encounter between the Obama Administration and the DPRK. As I said in Seoul and elsewhere on the road, I found that the talks were quite positive. The atmosphere, in particular, was very matter-of-fact, very businesslike. There was not a lot of heated rhetoric. The differences that exist were clear, but it also was important that we establish some areas of convergence where our views were quite similar. In particular, they accepted the importance of the Six-Party process and they accepted the critical role of the joint statement of principles of September 2005. So in that area, there was very substantial progress. And as I say, the attitude, the mood, the atmosphere was very businesslike, very matter-of-fact, and very much looking to the present and to the future.

We didn’t spend a lot of time examining the past, and I felt that probably was appropriate since I don’t think that we would have been able to reconcile our respective views of the past. So we’ve been trying to be very forward-looking. As to where we go next, that is the subject for ongoing consultation with our partners in the Six-Party process. The Chinese, of course, as the chair of the Six-Party Talks, will be taking the initiative to coordinate all of this over the next few weeks, and I would expect that this process will move forward.

I think with that, I would take some questions, to the extent that there are questions.

MR. WOOD: Okay. Before asking your questions, if you could just identify yourself and your news organization. Jill.

QUESTION: Thank you. Jill Dougherty from CNN. Thank you, Ambassador Bosworth. There are reports that have been confirmed that you carried a letter from President Obama to Kim Jong-il. Could you confirm that or give us any details on what it might have been about?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: No. I’m going to take the position I took when I was asked this question in Seoul, which is I am the message, or I was the message. What others have said is up to others. So --

QUESTION: The same question.

MR. WOOD: Okay.

QUESTION: I have a related question, a follow-on. Charlie Wolfson from CBS. Did you bring back a letter from –

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: I can confirm I did not bring back a letter. (Laughter.)

MR. WOOD: Please.

QUESTION: Yes, Ambassador. Bill Jones, EIR News. The U.S. position has always been, of course, that – to return to the Six-Party Talks, and the North Koreans have been very interested in getting some kind of discussions with the U.S. and wanting to negotiate with the U.S. specifically on a bilateral basis. How do they – you say they accept now the Six-Party idea. How will this play out? What kind of meeting will there be with the U.S. in the context of the Six-Party? What will the North Koreans accept?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: Well, they did not challenge our assertion that this meeting, in fact, took place within the framework of the Six-Party process. We had consulted and coordinated extensively with the other members of the process over the last few months, and everyone understood that this was not a negotiating session. We were going there to have exploratory discussions aimed at restarting the Six-Party process. And I think that’s – the basis of that – that is, a basis of the meeting, was accepted by the DPRK.

MR. WOOD: Elise.

QUESTION: Ambassador Bosworth, Elise Labott with CNN. Thank you for doing this today. I’d like to ask you something that we’ve asked, kind of, previous envoys. And based on your assessments and your talks so far, given everything that’s happened, do you sense a strategic decision on the part of North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons? Even as you were talking to the North Koreans, in the last few days we’ve heard about a ship that was coming from North Korea, possibly bound for Iran, with weapons, shows they are still proliferating – a good chance anyway – and that doesn’t really indicate a strategic importance.

On the other hand, we’ve just heard about some business executives that are in North Korea. They do seem to want to bring – you know, open themselves up. But in the idea of giving up their nuclear weapons, they just don’t seem to have made that strategic decision. I was just wondering what you think about that. Thank you.

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: Well, I think it will require a strategic decision, and I’m not party to their strategic decision-making process. I think our task, as we move forward, is to try to inform that process in such a way that they come to conclude that they are able to give up their nuclear weapons, and to guide them through discussions, through dialogue, guide them to the right kind of decision. But I am unable to say whether they’ve made that strategic decision or they’ve not made that strategic decision.

QUESTION: But if I could just quickly follow up. If they haven’t made that decision, then are the talks in good faith? And do you really think that they could – I mean, the talks have been going on for several years in previous administrations. And there was some progress at some point. But do you think, do you reasonably believe that the talks will – if they were to continue – will lead to a denuclearization of North Korea?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: Well, I think there is that prospect. Whether that actually happens or not depends upon the content and the results of the talks. And we can’t predetermine before we begin these as to what the result is going to be. We can have a very clear goal, which we have done. And we’ve made it very clear that we are not prepared to negotiate now with North Korea as a state with – as a nuclear weapons state, for example.

But the point of engagement, in my judgment, is to try to change the other side’s view of its own self-interest. And here, we spent a good deal of time during the discussions in Pyongyang elaborating and sketching out to them the ideas of this Administration, including quoting from both President Obama and Secretary Clinton as to the kind of bilateral relationship that we could have, always provided that North Korea proceeds down this road to denuclearization.

QUESTION: Ambassador Bosworth, I’m Viola Gienger from Bloomberg News. Do you have any sense that – when you mentioned that the Chinese are going to try to organize you and your partners in the coming weeks, what is there to organize? I mean, is there an agreement for all six parties to sit down and talk? Or is that what you’re discussing among the five of you now, whether to go ahead – whether to accept – did North Korea set any sort of conditions for resuming the Six-Party Talks?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: Well, I think I won’t – I’ll stay where I was. They have agreed on the – as to the importance of the Six-Party process. They’ve indicated they would like to resume the Six-Party process. They have agreed on the essential nature of the joint statement of 2005. The other participants in the process see the situation in the same way. We all want to get back to the negotiating table. But when and how that might come about is something I just can’t answer right now. And it will be the subject of ongoing consultations led, in this case, by the Chinese as the chair.

QUESTION: Ambassador Bosworth, David Alexander from Reuters. Do you anticipate that you will have to have another meeting with the North Koreans before the start of Six-Party Talks? And can you address the issue of the plane, you know, that was in Thailand and how that has an effect on it?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: First, we have not agreed on a subject – on the second meeting. In fact, we didn’t really discuss it. I mean, I would not rule it out, but I wouldn’t rule it in either. On the other hand, we have specified that this meeting that we did have took place under the umbrella, in effect, of the Six-Party Talks. As to the plane, as you know, the facts are still being developed. We think this is a good example of why sanctions are effective and the importance of sanctions. And this process will play out within the procedures of the United Nations. It will go to the sanctions committee, et cetera. And the U.S. obviously will follow this with interest.

MR. WOOD: Michele.

QUESTION: Yeah, Michele Kelemen with National Public Radio. I’m wondering if you can elaborate. What does it mean when you say, “I was the message?” And the fact that you apparently did not meet with Kim Jong-il, were they sending you a message by not meeting with you?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: In my experience, Kim Jong-il has met with two American officials, both of whom were somewhat above my status. One was the Secretary of State Madeleine Albright when she met with him. And the other was former President Bill Clinton. He does not meet with a lot of people. He meets with non-North Koreans very rarely. So we did not – I did not ask to meet with him, and I did not meet with him.

What it means when I say, “I am the message” or “I was the message,” I was conveying very directly to the North Korean leadership a vision for the future, which would be a lot different than the one that we – than the present or the past and ways in which we could improve both our bilateral relationship and improve North Korea’s overall relationships within Northeast Asia, always provided that we’re – that they are prepared to move toward the goal of denuclearization.

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. Ai Awaji from Jiji Press. Mr. Ambassador, how much did you discuss about the peace treaty issue with them? Did they demand that that issue has to be resolved before they decide to return to the Six-Party Talks? And how are you going to handle the issue?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: Well, the commitment to move toward a new arrangement, a peace treaty on the Korean Peninsula, is a commitment that all six parties accepted in the joint statement of September 2005. So when they say that they view that as an important element, I can say with great sincerity so do we.

Now clearly, all of the – when we do come back to the Six-Party Talks, one of the first challenges is going to be to agree on an overall sequencing of the denuclearization, the move toward a new peace regime, a peace treaty, the provision of energy and economic assistance, normalization of relations, the establishment of some sort of a structure for Northeast Asian security. All of these things are in play. Not all of them are going to be the subject of discussion among all six. But all these things are important. We’ve all said that we want to move ahead on those.

So yes, we talked about all of these issues. We talked specifically about what kind of conditions would be necessary to move into a peace treaty negotiation, et cetera.

QUESTION: So you’re not going to negotiate on that issue before the resumption of the Six-Party Talks?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: No, no, no, no, no. We’re not going to negotiate on any of these issues until we’re back at the table in the Six-Party framework. And then, as I explained to the North Koreans, there is ample opportunity for continued bilateral engagement and dialogue under the framework of the Six-Party process.

QUESTION: Sam Kim* from Voice of America. A follow-up on that question. Has the U.S. and North Korea agreed to dealing with the peace treaty matter with four country platform, including China and North Korea – China and South Korea, sorry?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: To dealing with what?

QUESTION: This peace treaty.

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: Oh. Well, obviously, only four of the countries would be directly involved in a peace treaty negotiation, and that’s well understood by all parties.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) with The Washington Post. Did you discuss with the North Koreans their uranium enrichment program or the prospect of a third nuclear test?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: Well, we – they agreed that we would – the subject of a uranium enrichment program is now on the agenda – for when we resume talks about denuclearization, since they put it on the agenda.

QUESTION: And the third nuclear test, the potential for that?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: I urged them not to do any more of that sort of thing.

QUESTION: Thank you. (Inaudible) working for South Korean news agency Yonhap. Do you have a plan to get additional meeting with North Korea official like (inaudible), Six-Party Talks resumption?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: We have no plans to do that at the moment, no.

MR. WOOD: Okay. We’re going to take two more questions. The gentleman back here.

QUESTION: Yeah, I’m (inaudible) with Korea Economic Daily. There was a report that North Korea did ask for lifting the sanctions by UN, and could you confirm that?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: Well, I think the North Koreans are always asking for a lifting of the sanctions from the UN, but that’s a decision that was taken by the international community specifically by the Security Council. And I think that’s where I will leave the – leave my answer, other than to say that in the language of 1874, the formula for revision of the sanctions is quite clear. The North Koreans come back to the Six-Party process, we resume significant progress on denuclearization, and then the Security Council will evaluate the status of the sanctions.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m (inaudible) from Radio Free Asia. At this trip, did you come from about – culpability of North Korea’s uranium enrichment program or a nuclear facility?

AMBASSADOR BOSWORTH: Well, I think I just mentioned – I just responded to the question of the uranium enrichment program. It clearly will be on the agenda when the talks resume. They put it there by making a public announcement that they had concluded the first experimental phase of the uranium enrichment program.

Let me just –as we finish, let me stress again that in my swing through the region, from Seoul to Beijing to Tokyo to Moscow, I found very strong agreement that the unity of the five is very important in trying to deal with North Korea. And I found that there is strong support for continuing to enforce the sanctions, and there was also a strong view that it had been useful for the United States to take on this direct contact with the North Koreans in the context of the Six-Party framework.

So I think it’s been useful and it moves things forward. I would like to be able to be more precise about a timetable for the future, but at this point, I’m just not able to be. So anyway, thank you.

MR. WOOD: Thank you, Ambassador Bosworth.

PRN: 2009/1290