Background Briefing on Secretary Kerry's Meetings in Brunei

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
En route to Malaysia
October 10, 2013

MODERATOR: All right. We’re getting started here.

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So let me just power through the bilateral meetings and the multilateral meeting that the Secretary has had in Brunei. He met with the Prime Minister of China yesterday. Today, he met with the Prime Minister of Vietnam, with the President of Burma, with the Sultan of Brunei, and with President Park of South Korea, as well as doing U.S.-ASEAN and East Asia Summit.

On – with the Chinese Prime Minister, they met for about an hour. They discussed bilateral issues, including areas of cooperation and differences, differences including human rights. They discussed some economic issues, both in the construct areas – the constructive areas of cooperation, including bilateral negotiations on the BIT, global economic cooperation, but also some areas of friction and differences. The Secretary probed a bit on the Chinese upcoming party plenum and reforms.

They talked about North Korea. I would say that there was a clear resolve by both leaders that we are each absolutely determined to see the complete end of North Korea’s nuclear program. There was no ambiguity on that goal from either side. And they discussed ways to intensify cooperation and pressure on North Korea to negotiate denuclearization.

They talked about the South China Sea, and the Secretary encouraged the Chinese Prime Minister to move more quickly to make progress in negotiations on a code of conduct, described the principles and the concerns that we have that are shared by countries in the region.

With Vietnam, the Secretary signed – or initialed – with Foreign Minister Minh the so-called 123 civil nuke cooperation agreement that had been in the works. It’s important because of Vietnam’s size as a market. And then had a 30-minute meeting with Prime Minister Dung. They continued the conversation that they had started in New York, talked about bilateral relations, TPP, economic cooperation, related to that labor issues that are important to the TPP but are also important on human rights grounds. And there was an extensive discussion between them on human rights, including specific cases that the Secretary has raised.

The Secretary then met with Burmese President Thein Sein, expressed the U.S. strong support for the ongoing political and economic reform effort. They talked about ways that the United States can help.

The Secretary underscored the concerns we have about inter-communal violence, strongly encouraged continued steps by the Burmese Government to promote inter-communal – he expressed concerns about inter-communal violence and strongly encouraged the Burmese Government to continue to move forward on a process not only of ceasefires – ceasefire, but also of – on dialogue towards national reconciliation. He raised specifically violence and problems in the Rakhine area and the issue of the Rohingyas.

They talked about follow-through on the commitments made by President Thein Sein when he visited – commitments made when President Obama visited Burma last year and when President Thein Sein came to Washington earlier this year, including things like political prisoners. The Secretary noted the recent release of a significant number of political prisoners, asked to receive reaffirmation from President Thein Sein that he intends to live up to his promise to release all political prisoners by the end of the year. The Secretary emphasized that it’s as important not to replenish the jails as it is to empty them.

They also talked about Burma’s upcoming chairmanship of ASEAN and the East Asia Summit and ways in which the U.S., along with others, can continue to assist in capacity building so that next year’s meetings can run smoothly.

The Secretary had a meeting with the Sultan of Brunei as host, provided very positive feedback on the way that Brunei has run ASEAN, and the EAS has chaired it. They talked about a number of bilateral and commercial issues. They discussed the upcoming oceans conference, an oceans conference organized by the Secretary, and the Sultan expressed tremendous interest in the issues related to maritime environmental protection.

The Sultan was also – as were many other leaders – extremely appreciative of Secretary Kerry’s efforts in the Middle East, including the Middle East peace process.

And then the last bilateral meeting was with President Park of South Korea. It was a very, very good, very warm meeting. In the august presence of Matt Lee, I will no longer use the phrase “violent agreement.” But I will say that they were in complete agreement. It was one of those meetings where the two leaders were totally on the same – the two officials were totally on the same wavelength on North Korea, reaffirmed shared principles, a common goal of denuclearization, a common assessment of what North Korea is doing and why, and where North Korea needs to go, which is clear, concrete, irreversible steps to negotiate denuclearization.

President Park briefed a bit on developments in inter-Korean relations and they discussed some of the bilateral relations – bilateral issues between us, both alliance-related issues and economic issues, including civil nuclear cooperation agreements and so on. They also reaffirmed cooperation on a number of global hotspots, like Syria. The Secretary expressed appreciation for South Korea’s activism on the global stage, including through its role as a UN Security Council member. They discussed climate as well.

On the East Asia Summit, which was for the centerpiece event of the visit, it lasted some two and a half hours. Speaking personally, I’m a veteran now of three of these. And I thought that – to characterize it, I thought it was very constructive, very serious, very substantive, a meeting with a good dynamic and a good atmosphere. This was not a meeting where leaders took potshots at each other. It was also not a – it did not have any of the fireworks that we had seen in other meetings, including in July at the ASEAN Regional Forum, the ministerial level, or last year in Cambodia, where a number of countries were seriously at odds.

There was repeated mention of the U.S. efforts and Secretary Kerry’s personal efforts in the Middle East and on Syria that were very, very positive by a number of the leaders. It was – I got the sense that all of the leaders were very comfortable dealing with Secretary Kerry. I’m not presuming to say that they weren’t disappointed that President Obama, with whom they have each forged very close relations, wasn’t there. But nobody expressed any unhappiness. It wasn’t really – it wasn’t a topic at all.

The way I would characterize the issues in sort of four baskets on the sort of economic and social issues that they discussed – energy, environment, global health, food security, disaster relief, people-to-people, education, what I would call sort of the institutional issues about ASEAN connectivity, some of the very – the many specific EAS development programs. Many leaders talked about regional architecture and how to de-conflict or integrate the work of different fora in the region.

They talked about nonproliferation. And as I pre-briefed, and as you saw from the readouts of what – of the Secretary’s intervention, there was a significant discussion of nonproliferation. That included regional efforts to protect Asia against – the Asia Pacific region against proliferation, as well as specifics such as North Korea and Syria and efforts to prevent the use of WMD, or Iran, the efforts to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons there.

And then, of course, the big issue: maritime security and the South China Sea. So beginning with the opening statement by the chair, all the way through to the last national intervention, the great preponderance of leaders spoke directly – but I would say constructively – about the issue of maritime security and the South China Sea with reference to the code of conduct. There was certainly a sense expressed by the majority of countries in the room that there had been some progress over the last year and that developments between China and ASEAN on consultations towards a code of conduct as well as negotiations to further implement the existing declaration on conduct. We’re in a better place now than they were when the leaders previously met in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

I would say also that there was a sense that – of hope and expectation that more will be done and done more quickly. Several leaders were specific about expressing a desire to see the process accelerated. Many of them also raised, in addition to the work on the code, the framework, their support for practical steps that can be taken by the parties concerned to prevent incidents or to manage incidents when they occur, be they confidence-building measures or training exercises or hotlines or other ad hoc arrangements among various countries.

So I will just stop there and ask my colleague to make his comments and then take questions.

MODERATOR: And just to verify – obviously everybody knows – this is background, Senior State Department Official, Senior Administration Official. Just to get it out there. Do you want to add anything, Senior Administration Official?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. Okay. Thanks. Let me add two points.

First, on the U.S.-ASEAN meeting yesterday, I think we heard very consistent signals from all of the participants in the room for continued U.S. presence in the region, in particular for continued involvement in the region’s economic evolution. They appreciated the new efforts that we rolled out regarding our enhanced economic engagement, and in particular they welcomed the U.S. continued role as a provider of security. So there was strong – very strong signals from all of the ASEAN countries about the U.S. contributions to ASEAN as a key actor in both regional economic architecture and the regional security architecture.

We saw that developed even further today at the East Asia Summit. [Senior State Department Official] is absolutely right about how constructive and productive the discussions were. I think the discussions today reflected the fact that the East Asia Summit has really arrived at a point of a strategic dialogue among all of the member states in which they can address a variety of economic and security challenges facing the region in a very constructive way, in a way that facilitates practical cooperation, but in a way that also creates – allows a conversation that facilitates development of rules and norms on maritime security but also on nonproliferation, also on challenges like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, in a way that further confirms that the East Asia Summit has really arrived as the principal political and security --

QUESTION: I’m sorry. What?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- political and security institution in the region. And this is important to us because that’s part and parcel of our core strategy for East Asia, going back to 2009. We’re looking to modernize regional institutions; we’re looking to engage emerging powers, including through these institutions, and we’re looking to modernize our alliances in the region.

So our participation in the meetings yesterday, today, all of the bilateral meetings, allow us to develop our work on all three of the central pillars of our strategy for the Asia Pacific.

MODERATOR: Great. All right. Indira.

QUESTION: We had been told a bit about the one small part of the conversation between Kerry and Prime Minister Li, where Prime Minister Li asked about the debt ceiling, and the Secretary reassured him about that. Can you expand? I know it was a short part of the conversation, but can you tell us a little bit more about what was discussed about concerns about the debt ceiling, considering that China’s our biggest creditor?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I mean, I would describe the conversation as having covered the range of economic issues, bilateral and global. The Prime Minister of China described and briefed his goals and challenges, and Secretary Kerry gave an assessment of the U.S. economy, described where we stand in terms of economic growth, energy capacity, fiscal issues, and the resurgence of manufacturing and services in an increasingly innovative society.

So the way – I would characterize it as Secretary Kerry describing the economic situation in the United States, what we’re doing and how; Prime Minister Li describing his own challenges and goals for reform; and then the two leaders discussing both areas of cooperation on the economic side and some of the specific issues of concern that they want to work.

QUESTION: Right. But did you mean the general thing, though, on – the one very specific point Xinhua reported that Prime Minister Li brought up the issue of the U.S. debt fight, and it was confirmed to us officially that, yes, it came up in passing, it was a short exchange. So I’d like you to just detail that particular short exchange if you can.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I mean, I think “it came up in passing and was a short exchange” kind of nails it.

QUESTION: And as short as – this was momentary?

MODERATOR: It was one sentence.


MODERATOR: It was one sentence.

QUESTION: All right. Good. Thank you.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the Philippines. I mean, obviously, you can’t control the weather, but, I mean, isn’t this just about the worst thing that could have happened as far – from the Philippines perspective? I mean, they really, really wanted this visit, and – I mean, how do you, basically, like – I mean, how do you make it up to them? Is there any policy thing that you can do? Is there any way to sort of make sure that they know – I don’t know.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, there’s a lot more to the relation --

QUESTION: What’s the question? I’m sorry. I didn’t hear.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The question is the cancellation of or the postponement of Secretary Kerry’s visit to the Philippines – is this the worst thing that could happen and how do we make it up to them?

So, first of all --

MODERATOR: Is that a good paraphrase?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- it’s a big, old, solid, healthy, and good relationship. Two, if you unpack it, there are two different – at least two different issues. One issue is that the Philippines were very much looking forward to the visit to Manila by President Obama, which has been postponed, as you know.

The second issue is that the Philippines were also looking forward to the visit by Secretary Kerry, in the first instance, in the same timeframe and with the same set of events as had been structured for the President. But because of weather and the uncertainty about flights into Manila in light of the rapid approach of Typhoon Nari – I think it’s called – that visit will occur and it will occur later in the year.

So I don’t think this represents a traumatic experience for the Filipinos. It is a delay. The Secretary had a very warm conversation with President Aquino. President Aquino was extremely understanding; he knows a thing or two about typhoons. The Philippines has recently gone through several of them. For all we know, it’s a load off their mind not to be juggling a plane full of American officials during a tropical storm.

The Foreign Secretary also was very cooperative, was delighted to get assurance that the visit would be rescheduled in short order, and they agreed that we would continue working in the meantime on a number of the bilateral issues that are on – that are pending and the effort to bring them to fruition by the time that Secretary Kerry arrives.

QUESTION: Does it in any way set back or damage your arguments that they should continue their forceful stance with China not to have this current, in-person backup?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The question is: Will Philippines surrender to China now that Secretary Kerry postponed his trip by a few months? No. The Philippines, at the risk of speaking for a sovereign country, has full faith in our alliance, and I cannot imagine a scenario in which this scheduling matter alters their strategic view.

MODERATOR: Mother Nature.

QUESTION: Could I ask about the political prisoners? Thein said he would release all remaining political prisoners by the end of the year. Was that an understanding he had in order for Myanmar to get the chairmanship of ASEAN? Did he have to say informally or formally that he would release all political prisoners by the end of 2013? And how many are left, and what’s the nature of them? I mean, there must be a reason that these last several hundred haven’t been released until now.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: All right. Three questions, two of which are not answerable, at least not by me. The first question is: Was – do I believe that Burma made some deal --

QUESTION: I’m just saying, do you – I mean, the other people asked them to release all prisoners, the other --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m not aware of nor do I believe that the Burmese made specific commitments to anyone in return for the ASEAN chairmanship of 2014. The question of exactly how many political prisoners are left in jails in Burma is a subject of considerable debate because the question of what exactly constitutes a political prisoner is a subject of debate. But what the Burmese authorities have said is that they have a process to review cases with the – with transparency to the international community that will, in their view, adjudicate and separate political prisoners, i.e., incarcerated citizens who are in jail for political acts and behavior that are now within the scope of a democratic society, which Burma was not, certainly, two years ago.

QUESTION: Well, they even accept the (inaudible) --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: From – so, from people who are charged with what is commonly judged to be a criminal offense. So I can’t, again, I can’t speak to precise numbers or characterize who these people are.

QUESTION: Was this international standards or committee or – you mentioned that they review cases --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Burmese are in ongoing discussions at diplomatic levels with highly interested countries like the United States about the cases. They’re also in discussions with and frankly subject to a considerable amount of scrutiny by NGOs, ranging from specialized agencies of the UN to organizations like Human Rights Watch, for example.

QUESTION: Can I ask you on this, in the meeting with President Park, who said they were in complete agreement – avoid violent – did they have a completely the same common goals and common assessment of what North Korea is doing and why? What is North – what is the common assessment? What is North Korea doing and why, in the assessment of the U.S. and South Korea?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think the – based on the discussion today, one element of that assessment is that North Korea is trying to have its cake and eat it too, in the sense that it would like to get economic assistance and sanctions relief from the world without having to truly abandon its nuclear program – that North Korea’s efforts and its so-called charm offensive are aimed at starting talks that don’t put its entire nuclear program squarely on the table. They also recognize in North Korea’s behavior a syndrome of broken promises and cited a number of examples in which North Korea had agreed to do something and quickly reneged.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And that, in their view, reinforces the importance of establishing a framework for negotiations that makes clear from the get-go that the outcome of the negotiations will be, must be, the complete elimination of North Korea’s nuclear program.

QUESTION: So they don’t even get to – they don’t even get a civilian energy program? They have to get rid of the whole thing?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Under the UN Security Council resolutions, North Korea is prohibited from all nuclear activities.

QUESTION: Yeah. There’s no way they can negotiate a – get the same deal? I mean, why is their charm offensive no good and the Iranians’ is okay? That’s out of your area, so – I mean, it just seems a bit odd to use virtually the same words that Netanyahu used at the UN: have their yellow cake, he said, and eat it too. And so it just seems to me (inaudible). Why --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Why? Fifteen members of the UN Security Council --


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- have three times adopted resolutions – this includes China, this includes Russia --


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- that expressly forbids North Korea from all nuclear and ballistic missile activities. And I would hazard a guess that one reason is because of their experience with North Korea repudiating its promises --


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- breaking its commitments, and violating international law.

QUESTION: Well, I mean the problem --

MODERATOR: (Inaudible) this on Tuesday.

QUESTION: Well, yeah. (Laughter.) If you can get the Secretary back here. But I don’t understand – the Iranians have done exactly the same thing. There are UN Security Council resolution after UN Security Council resolution telling them they can’t enrich; they still do it. And somehow the North Koreans get “Well, screw you pal, you’re” – and the Iranians, it’s all like, “Oh, yeah, let’s go talk at Geneva.”

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It’s not that difficult to understand. The history and the evolution of these two security problems and their actual nuclear programs is very different, and as a result, different standards are going to be applied in addressing them.

QUESTION: Fair enough, but North Korea already has the bomb. It would seem to me that they should be – (inaudible) – anyway.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Is that a question or a statement?

QUESTION: I think it’s a statement of fact, isn’t it? They have the – they have exploded nuclear devices. So – but what it was that – when you said they have a common agreement on what exactly the North Koreans are doing, does that include things like, they are doing X, like restarting Yongbyon. Like, is that what that means?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They did discuss both what the North Koreans are doing in a literal sense, as well as what the North Korean strategy and approach is.

QUESTION: Okay. So they – does that mean that they agreed on the intelligence assessments of what is going on on the ground at places like Yongbyon and at other sites that they have? Is that --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They discussed some of the specific actions that North Korea is taking.

QUESTION: And they’re agreed on what the – what they believe the North is doing?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes. In this conversation there was no disagreement.

QUESTION: I have a question. A follow-up on North Korea. What did you ask of or what did China say that it would move forward over the next several months to try to resolve this issue of North Korea? I mean, you obviously asked them what their plans are, and you’ve been praising their efforts lately on how they’re dealing with this. How did they explain they were going to move forward?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, the Chinese will have to speak for themselves. But what Secretary Kerry discussed with them are practical steps that will bring the leadership in North Korea to the realization that there’s no viable alternative but to engage in bona fide negotiations over its nuclear program with a view to reaching a settlement in which they would give up the program and any nuclear material that they have.

That is the outcome that the Chinese say clearly they want to achieve. And the discussion – which is, by the way, part of an ongoing series of high level conversations between the U.S. and China, as well as among U.S., China, Korea, Russia, and Japan – they discussed what some of the additional and practical measures might be.

QUESTION: Like what?

QUESTION: Like what?

QUESTION: Whole sanction of this – like what?


QUESTION: Like, what steps?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They talked about what each of us can do respectively to bring pressure to bear on the leadership in North Korea to accept that its current path is a dead end.

QUESTION: So the Chinese just released this long list of stuff that cannot be – dual-use stuff that can’t be exported to North Korea. So what’s the next thing the Chinese should do?


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I mean, the conversation that we’re in with them right now is precisely about that. As my colleague said, it’s about steps that China can take and the United States can take to bring pressure to bear, to encourage North Korea to make that great strategic choice.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. We’re not prepared to go into detail on that right now. There – it’s an issue of discussion between us and the Chinese.

QUESTION: The Chinese released this long list of stuff that they say can’t be – that can’t be exported. How well are they doing at actually enforcing this? Because you can have a list but you don’t enforce it. So are they 30 percent enforcement? 50 percent? Doing better? Up to 70 percent? Have they really trained the border guards in the northern provinces to look for this stuff?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That question sounds like a job for an investigative reporter.

QUESTION: One that’s got some nuclear expertise. So you’ve got the nuclear expertise, so you do – you give us a little bit of – a little bit more.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’ve got the diplomatic expertise.

QUESTION: That would wash.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’d put it this way. The list was just released about a week – a little over a week ago.

QUESTION: It’s all being translated. The State Department told me it’s all being translated so you have a chance to read it.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That’s encouraging. (Laughter.) So we actively encourage the Chinese to be as vigilant as possible in enforcing their unilateral sanctions as well as all UN Security Council sanctions. And so --

QUESTION: Excuse me. Was there anything on that list though that was beyond the – on the list of the UNSC?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I haven’t looked at the list in that great detail, so I can’t answer that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Do you expect progress over the next few months in any way on the issue of North Korea? Progress as in steps that the Chinese are going to take and – I mean, is there any chance you could go back to the table soon? That’s one way to put it.

MODERATOR: We’re 10 minutes away from landing.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. So here’s the way to look at that question. This is not a process that aims at getting to the table. This is a process that aims in removing the North Korean nuclear program and any fissile material that they have. Tables are a means to an end. And what we are working with the Chinese and other partners on right now is bringing North Korea to the realization that the only acceptable end, the only viable end, is the end in which they are nuclear-free, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

We take the view that negotiations are the best way to get there. Merely coming to the table does nothing. We don’t – we have no objection to or problem with talking to the North Koreans, but talk is not the solution; negotiations are, and negotiations over how the North Korean nuclear program is ended, and how that termination is verified. That’s what negotiations need to be about.

The purpose of the pressure – the purpose of sanctions and the purpose, frankly, of the export ban list that the Chinese have issued, in addition, of course, to impeding the North Korean’s program and blocking proliferation – is to bring about the realization on the part of the North Koreans that their current strategy just isn’t working, and the sooner they engage in a negotiated end to the program, the better for them.

MODERATOR: All right. We’ve got to sit down.

PRN: 2013/T15-18