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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 17, 2006
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Tony Snow
Thang Loi Hotel
9:24 A.M. (Local)
MR. SNOW: All right, let me give you a quick readout of the bilateral between the President and President Roh, and then I'll be happy to take questions. Also, I gather that the feed that you just got had a little shaky audio, so we'll try to make sure that you get an opportunity to take a look, at the very least, at the transcripts, because they're pretty important.
The President had a very constructive meeting with President Roh. They talked about a wide range of topics. They talked about the free trade agreement; they talked about war on terror activities with regard to Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon. But obviously, the most important of the topics, or the one that, at least, people want to hear about most is the situation in North Korea.
The President sees this as a moment of opportunity, with the North Koreans expressing a willingness to return to the six-party talks. And the two leaders discussed the importance of working within the framework of the six-party talks to make it clear to the North Koreans that they should dismantle all their nuclear programs -- I'm sorry, what?
Q You lost the mike for a second.
MR. SNOW: I did. Okay. This is one of those technical days, isn't it? All right. But they reaffirmed the importance of working within the six-party talks to persuade the North Koreans to renounce nuclear weapons -- to dismantle their nuclear weapons programs, renounce nuclear weapons and return to the six-party talks. President Roh reaffirmed his nation's commitment to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, and also his support for PSI, which is important. And again, I'll refer you to his statement because it's worth taking a look at. And I apologize for any balky audio that you may have had a couple of minutes ago. But he said that he supports the principal goals of PSI, which, of course, is to cooperate as far as an weapons of mass destruction from being transferred in Northeast Asia.
They're working actively to work within, again, the six-party talks to reach a kind of accommodation that everybody thinks is absolutely vital and necessary. And President Roh described them as satisfactory and useful talks. And the President thought that was the case, as well.
Maybe -- importantly, in terms of the optics, it was important for the South Koreans to understand that our primary focus here is dealing directly and effectively with the nuclear issue with regard to the North Koreans, and that the United States is willing, if the North Koreans dismantle their nuclear program and renounce any further nuclear ambitions, that we are willing to do a whole series of things, all of which have been discussed publicly before, including a declaration of the end of the Korean War and moving forward on economic cooperation, cultural, educational and other ties, that are going to be good for the North Korean people and for the government of North Korea, certainly in our view.
So, again, it was a very constructive series of talks where the two leaders were able to speak candidly about the positions they hold and to make clear where they stood. And they look forward to talking a little later in the day, as well.
Q Tony, did anything change -- did anybody's position change as a result of this meeting, or is South Korea now more stronger for the PSI?
MR. SNOW: One of the things that President Roh made clear is that, believe it or not, some of his positions have been misrepresented. And he wanted to make it clear that he shares the goal of PSI, and that within their own political system, they're doing what they can to move forward within the framework of PSI and also, again, fully share the goal of trying to make sure that there's no transfer of weapons of mass destruction, and particularly nukes.
Q When he said North Korea is not taking part in the full scope of PSI --
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q -- isn't that less than what the United States wanted them to do?
MR. SNOW: The President understands political constraints; we've just had an election. He also understands the commitment of the government of South Korea, and it's important to work with them to make it possible to move forward.
One of the important things was, for instance, that may not been as well understood, that the United States is willing, upon proper resumption of the six-party talks, with the North Koreans renouncing and dismantling their nuclear program, that there are a whole series of steps that we're willing to take that I think the people of South Korea are going to find reassuring, especially in terms of declaring -- having a ceremony, declare an end to the Korean War, moving forward on matters that are going to make it possible to address concerns about what should happen with North Korea, how do you allay concerns about humanitarian crises or economic crises within North Korea. The President addressed those and President Roh was happy to hear about them.
Q Tony, more on this PSI question. I hate to bring this down to such a small practical issue, but based on what you've heard from the South Koreans now, if the North Korean ship was moving through South Korean waters and you had intelligence suggesting it had illicit materials on it, do you now understand that by their commitment to PSI means that they would intercept the ship?
MR. SNOW: David, you would understand that there was no discussion at that level of detail, and I would refer that to the Koreans.
Q I understand. What the problem is, is that you've created here a gap between what their stated objective is of supporting an overall concept of PSI, and the issue that Terry is raising, which is that they're basically not participating in PSI. I don't understand how you can have it both ways.
MR. SNOW: Well, again, President Roh first took issue with the characterization that they're "not participating" -- I think the term was "not fully participating" -- and within the political constraints he faces, he is trying to do what he can and shares the goals. I'm not in a position to try to talk operationally with you about that. Again, I would refer you to the South Korean government if you want operational details.
Q Well, when you hear them say "not fully participating," what do you think that means?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I'm not going to characterize. I'm telling you what I heard in the meeting.
Q But their position has not moved, basically. They are still not fully participating -- that's the bottom line.
MR. SNOW: Well, David, what he is saying is -- and it may even have been in your paper -- that some of the ways that have been characterized were not -- he did, in fact, indicate that there was some forward movement on the part of his government. He did not specify.
Q Tony, the series of incentives that you laid out are all from the September '05 deal?
MR. SNOW: Correct.
Q What would happen to the subsequent sanctions that choked off North Korea's access to national financial institutions?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, if the North Koreans make the proper moves -- and the President has said this before -- we'll certainly be willing to revisit what's going on on the financial side. As you know, a lot of these financial transactions are as a result of enforcing U.S. laws regarding counterfeiting.
Q Does that mean they're not linked to the -- if they're a result of enforcing U.S. laws under another issue, they're not linked to the nuclear --
MR. SNOW: Well, again, we'll see what happens. The first thing, as you know, if you get to a point where you have an opportunity -- where the North Koreans not only renounce but dismantle nuclear capabilities, we've indicated a willingness to talk about a lot of things, and I don't want to prejudge from here what they might be.
Q You mentioned twice the idea of declaring a formal end to the Korean War. Do you get a sense that that is still a big deal for both sides, after 60 years of this stalemate cease-fire?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q On that same point, this offer was made explicitly to the North Koreans in the spring and they never responded to it. What makes you think that it's different now?
MR. SNOW: Well, what I was describing to you, David, was the importance of having the South Koreans understand fully what our policies are, because -- there seems to have been some garbling in terms of the translation about how the President intends to proceed on this. And the first and most important piece of business is getting the North Koreans to dismantle or renounce their nuclear program. And that was an important nuance for the South Koreans to hear.
Q Just to follow on your phrase, "dismantle and renounce," did the two Presidents get into any discussion about what would be a good, symbolic first dismantlement?
MR. SNOW: No, they didn't.
Q On the ending of the war point, you said it's a big deal to both sides. Why is that a big deal to us?
MR. SNOW: Because it is important for them. You understand that in diplomacy it is important to do things that also are important with the people with whom you're negotiating, and if this is something that allows us to -- if this serves as an incentive to spur the North Koreans back to the table, or also provides the proper kind of reassurance to the South Koreans, within the context of the six-party talks, you want to do it.
Q But just as for the American side of this -- as you said, it's a big deal for us because it's a big deal for them.
MR. SNOW: The American side of it is it provides an incentive to both sides to be working toward a settlement under the six-party framework that allows us not only to achieve the goal of a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula, but also, for them, something that's important to them, which is to have a formal end to the war.
Q Tony, just to try to clarify here, so what you're telling us is, on the interception of ships, that on paper, South Korea is behind this program, but physically it is not going to intercept --
MR. SNOW: Peter, I'm not trying to characterize at all. I'm telling you that President Roh made some comments about the way they approach and they think about it. And there was no detailed conversation about the mechanics of PSI, but again, he fully shares the goal of trying to make sure that there is no transmission of weapons of mass destruction.
Q The conversation today aside, Tony, to the best of your knowledge, has South Korea tried to interdict any North Korean ship since this deal started?
MR. SNOW: That is assuming that the North Koreans have been trying to do shipments during that period of time. I don't think that's a --
Q Tony, if South Korea is not fully participating because of political concerns in their country, is the White House still concerned that the U.N. sanctions will not be fully realized against North Korea?
MR. SNOW: I'll direct you to the statement that President Roh made, which is important, because, again, he was talking about the full commitment to the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718. And it's a pretty forward leaning statement. I refer you to that, take a good look at that, because he was unequivocal about it.
In addition, he was unequivocal also about not only his commitments to the goal of a non-nuclear North Korea, but also how absolutely important that is for the government of South Korea.
Q What did the President say to President Roh -- did he say, look, we want you to be on board with this as much as possible, or was he leaning on him?
MR. SNOW: No, as a matter of fact, President Roh addressed these issues pretty straightforwardly and brought them up.
Q Because yesterday President Bush left the impression that he was going to talk to him about implementation and make sure he's --
MR. SNOW: Well, again, as I said, President Roh raised these. And I think a lot of times -- it's important, when you get two leaders to sit down, because they have an opportunity to hear each other talk about these issues, rather than having them filtered. And in this particular case, it was a very constructive conversation between the two.
Q The Russians say that the mid-December resumption of the six-party talks could be expected. Is that your understanding, as well? Is December --
MR. SNOW: I have no understanding about the timing. A lot of it depends on the North Koreans.
Q Tony, the last time the two leaders met, I think it was in Washington, was before the North Korean test --
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q -- and President Roh said that if they did test, everything would change in the nature of the relationship between South Korea and North Korea. Can you tell us what you think has changed?
MR. SNOW: Well, for instance, what you've seen for the first time, David, are some sanctions being imposed by the government of South Korea against the North Koreans. And the South Koreans understand that at this juncture, the status quo is simply unacceptable. And therefore, I think you see that they are very eager to get back to the six-party talks with the same goal in mind as all of us, which is to find a diplomatic way to create a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula, which is going to be very important for the stability of the region for the general cause of peace.
Q Could you give us a sense of what you think the declaration of the end of the war would resolve for South Korea, based on what you've been hearing?
MR. SNOW: I really don't know. I mean, I think that has to -- that is something that for me to try -- let me flip it around and just give you an analogy, which is not an answer. We have found, for instance, many of us came to Vietnam thinking that there were going to be all sorts of raw emotions about Vietnam. It turns out that the Vietnam War apparently is, in many ways, a more emotional issue for America, generally, than it is for the people of Vietnam who, as you have noticed, are very eager to engage and build deeper ties with the United States.
For me to try to be able to place myself in a position of the South Koreans and, for that matter, the North Koreans, when it comes to an issue as emotional as a war that severed a people, I just -- I really can't.
Q What do you base that on, Tony, your assessment of the Vietnamese emotions on this?
MR. SNOW: Well, among other things, the characterizations of the Vietnamese -- members of the Vietnamese government itself, as well as the -- we've been hearing from our diplomats, and frankly, we've heard from the people here.
Q How do they convey that?
MR. SNOW: Well, they convey it by -- if you go back and listen to the comments that were made, and maybe not all -- well, the readout I gave you last night where it was said on a number of occasions by leaders of this government -- the President, the Prime Minister, and the Secretary General of the Communist Party -- that for them, they did not want to look backward, they wanted to move forward together. And there is a real desire in Vietnam for closer commercial ties, for closer cultural ties -- the President talking last night about getting more Vietnamese students to the United States. There is a real desire in this economy, which is -- you can see there's a vibrancy here because the Vietnamese people have been working on reform projects that are allowing them to begin to get a glimpse of their entrepreneurial potential, and they want more of it. And they want to engage and they want close ties.
And so you see that the focal point here for the Vietnamese people, again, is not looking back at what happened three decades ago, but really try to project forward about what they could do in the decades to come. And that was a point made explicitly by all three of the leaders, all of whom are Vietnam generation in the Communist Party leadership here in Vietnam.
Q What do you get out of the joint meeting between the President and the new leader of Japan and South Korea that you don't get from separate talks? Is there going to be a joint statement of the three of them?
MR. SNOW: We'll find out. I think it's important to get
-- to the extent that you can, that you're working with key allies in the six-party process, it's good to be able to sit down with them. And obviously, we will have had separate meetings with the President and Prime Minister. And it's important to go back, I think, and to reset and make sure everybody understands we're -- not only where you stand, but how you work together on this.
The President feels that there are a number of important conditions in play right now. You've got the North Koreans expressing, at least publicly -- expressing publicly a desire to return to the six-party talks. And that framework gives us the opportunity now to move forward in a way that could be very important for this region, and also very important for the people of North Korea in the long run.
Q You said a lot -- when the talks restart, by the date, you said a lot depends on what North Korea does. Secretary Rice said a couple of days ago in Hanoi that North Korea has to take concrete steps to prove their willingness to move forward. And the President, also in his speech in Singapore, talked about concrete steps --
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q -- is this now a precondition for the U.S. and its allies that North Korea show something in terms of a concrete step before you're willing to go back to sit down at the table with them?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, you've heard the statements that have been made by the United States and its allies. You want the North Koreans to return in good faith to the talks. I don't want to get into trying to specify whether things are preconditions, nor do I want to talk about any specifics, but what we want to make sure is that you've got the conditions under which the North Koreans return to the table and are prepared to make the choices that can move their country forward.
Q Are you looking for some physical action by North Korea?
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not going to characterize. I'll leave that to diplomats to do privately.
Q Was there any discussion of what kind of concrete steps you might want to see between the two Presidents?
MR. SNOW: Which two Presidents and --
Q Between President Roh and President Bush this morning, was there any discussion about what kinds of concrete steps you might want to see the North Koreans take?
MR. SNOW: No. I will refer to my prior answer. The most important -- let me stress, again, President Roh made it absolutely clear that he not only shares the goal of a non-nuclear North Korea, but he considers it a matter of upmost importance. And there have, sometimes, been an implication that he was being passive in the face of this. And he wanted to make it clear to the President that that is not the case.
Q One clarification on the concrete steps thing. I mean, is it clear at this point that the United States and its partners are waiting for something from the North Koreans, or might you say, these are the things on our side of the ledger, on the incentive side, that we're willing to do --
MR. SNOW: As you know, we are not negotiating directly with the North Koreans. Conversations with the North Koreans would resume in the framework of the six-party talks. I don't want to -- as I said, I know it's frustrating, but I'm just not in a position to characterize what may be said diplomatically to the North Koreans from the parties to the talks.
END 9:44 A.M. (Local)
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