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US Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher R. Hill on North Korean activities at Yongbyon, 6 September 2008

Evening Walkthrough at Six-Party Talks Christopher R. Hill, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs China World Hotel Beijing, China 6 September 2008.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Hello, good to see you all. I had good meetings today with the Chinese. I met with Deputy Minister Wu Dawei to discuss the six parties. I also met with Assistant Minister Liu Jieyi to discuss our bilateral relations and some of the other security issues that we're facing in the world today.

With Mr. Wu Dawei, I discussed with him the current difficulties that we're having in getting through this declaration and verification phase. I discussed with him our concerns of how North Korea is currently handling this.

I felt that the Chinese have really done an excellent job as chair of the Six-Party process. They have worked very hard. They've been very active. And I think that this is an issue right now that China needs to continue to be very active to help resolve. I was reassured that China is doing all it can and working very hard to address these problems and to get North Korea on track in terms of providing a verification protocol. Now, I pointed out that we're not asking for the declaration to be verified now. We're simply asking for the rules of how it will be verified - that is to put together a protocol - and that we will remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism as soon as we know that we will be able to proceed with verification.

So, I think it is a very good opportunity to review this situation with the Chinese. And I was very reassured to see that China is working very hard to address this. And as you know, China has won a lot of gold medals in the last few weeks and I hope they are going to win one more in terms of resolving this issue. I also, in the last 24 hours, had the opportunity to discuss this with the South Korean delegation, also with my South Korean counterpart, and also with my Japanese counterpart. I briefed the Russian Ambassador today.

So I will be going back to Washington tomorrow. I'll be reporting to Secretary Rice, who is returning from her trip to Libya. And we'll see how we do in the next few days.

QUESTION: Sir, are you asking the Chinese to continue to do the work they are doing, and to do more possibly?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, simply that I was reassured that China is working very hard. You know, China is the chair of the process. The chair of the process has many responsibilities. I think China understands the importance of the phase that we're in and the importance that - in giving us the declaration - the North Koreans also have to give us the means to verify the declaration. Not to say that the declaration has to be already verified; it simply means that it has to be verifiable. This was always what the issue was.

Now, I wanted to make clear to the Chinese that we are not, as the North Koreans suggest, looking to do "house-to-house" searches and this other type of activity. That is not what is in the protocol. That's not what we're trying to do at all. But we need to be able to say that the declaration that we've received from them is verifiable. And the way to make it verifiable is to have this verification protocol. So the declaration without a protocol is really like just having one chopstick. You need two chopsticks if you're going to pick up anything. So I think China is very reassuring in the sense of what they're working very hard to do to try to address this.

QUESTION: Ambassador, can you confirm the report that the North Koreans are now breaking the seals at Yongbyon?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No, I really can't confirm that report. I know they've taken some equipment out of storage. Whether some of the doors of the storage facility had a piece of wire on it, I'm just not in a position to confirm that. I know that they've moved some equipment around.

But, I would say they are trying to register their concern about where we are in the process. And I think we have to be very clear with them. And I think we have been - and other Six Party members have been - that we need a verifiable declaration. Meaning that the declaration they provided - I think a very good piece of work - needs to be accompanied with a verification protocol. So we're trying to get that done and we'll continue to try to get that done in the next few days.

QUESTION: So you don't think the situation right now is that they are reassembling?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No. They have taken some equipment out. As I understand, the equipment is still in its wrapping paper. But they've taken some equipment out. And I think what we need to do is to get on with the negotiations - which is to put together a workable verification protocol. And we're going to keep our focus on that. And I think the Chinese, again, have been very reassuring in the fact that they understand their responsibility as chair is to be active and try to address this issue.

QUESTION: Sir, have you planned meetings with the North Koreans?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I don't have any planned meetings. I assured the Chinese that we're prepared to meet with them. We've met with them in the past. We'll certainly meet with them again. I've met with just about everyone else. We have to wait and see what they'd like to do.

QUESTION: And what steps for the North Koreans to do? What steps would you like them to do?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: All they need to do is to agree to how we're going to verify this thing - that is, agree to a verification protocol. To say that we're looking to make house-to-house searches in North Korea is simply not an accurate characterization of what we need.

I want to stress too that we're not looking to verify their declaration now. We're looking to come up with rules with how we will verify it in the future. So if we can get that, we'll take them off the terrorism list. We've done our 45-day notice period to the Congress. So we're prepared to move very quickly on that - really instantaneously - provided we get what we need in terms of the verification.

QUESTION: Ambassador, what happens from here? Is now simply a matter of waiting for the North Koreans?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I think the Chinese are going to be working very hard on this. I think they're going to try to be reaching out to the North Koreans. I assured the Chinese that we're prepared to do the same. We're prepared to talk to them. I also assured the other partners that we're prepared to do that.

But, you know, we need a verification protocol. We can't have a declaration without a means to verify the declaration. The declaration must be verifiable. To be verifiable you need to know how you're going to do the verification. There is absolutely nothing new in this issue. So, I think we just need to see how this develops in the next few days.

QUESTION: When you said "China is reaching out" do you mean China may be sending officials to Pyongyang?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I am not aware of how they will do it. But I think that they understand the urgency. But I am not saying that they are prepared to send people or make phone calls or whatever. That is up to them.

QUESTION: If it is true that the seals have been broken, what would it mean for the whole process?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Look, I can't get into hypotheticals. I do know that they've been moving equipment around there, and they've been taking equipment out of storage sheds that are also there. You know, actually reconstituting Yongbyon is not an easy piece of work. It doesn't happen in a matter of weeks or even months. It would really take more than a year.

But obviously our focus is on trying to get through this verification protocol. And then we'll take them off the terrorism list immediately. And then we'll move on and get into phase three and see what we can get done. At least we'd be able to hand over phase three in the U.S. case to a new administration -- but most importantly to have a very up-and-running and successful Six-Party process.

QUESTION: Regarding the Chinese, do you have a better idea of how to move forward?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I think I feel very reassured that China is being very active and understands their responsibilities as the chair of the process. China has done a really superb job as chairman of the process. And I think that they understand that they have to continue to do a superb job and work on this issue.

QUESTION: Has China suggested any specific ideas?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Again I don't want to get into specifics. You'll have to ask them.

QUESTION: Can this setback be resolved before the next U.S. President takes office?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: We have to get this verification protocol done very soon. So yes it can be. And I think that it will be.

QUESTION: Do you think China now has to play a crucial role in this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, I think China has always played a crucial role as chair. And I think that this week is no different than previous weeks.

QUESTION: Did you have a chance to raise the discussions on the Indian Nuclear deal with the Chinese side?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I did. I have been discussing that issue. I don't want to go into details of the discussions. But I have had discussions here in Beijing. And there have been a lot of trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific and trans-Asian telephone calls on it. But I'm not in any position to make any announcements here on where we stand with that.

QUESTION: Any impressions with where China stands on this issue?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Again, I don't want to be the spokesman for China. You should check with China, or stay tuned to what your colleagues in Vienna come up with.

QUESTION: Do you have any meetings tomorrow?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I don't have any meetings tomorrow. But I'm leaving tomorrow afternoon to get back to Washington.

QUESTION: Who did you meet with just now?


QUESTION: (inaudible)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: As I understand, they've moved around some equipment; it's still been in its wrapping paper. I'm not sure what is meant by this "seals." I think maybe they're referring to the fact that the doors on the sheds - on the storage facilities - have a piece of wire between the two handles. I think that's what they're talking about, but I'm not sure. I'll look into it, but I just don't know any more than that. Our problem is that they've taken stuff out of these storage facilities and put them elsewhere. But nothing has been done yet in terms of reattaching them. But what I want to emphasize is to try to reverse the disablement is a process that would take many, many months.

So, in the meantime, I think what we're trying to deal with is a problem of trying to get a verification part to the declaration. And I hope that we can do that together working closely with all the other parties.

QUESTION: Why are you optimistic that this can be resolved before the next president takes office?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I never used the word "optimistic." I didn't use the word "pessimistic" either. I just tried to explain where we are. I'm not characterizing what I'm saying. I'm just saying that I know that China is working very hard on it. I didn't see any daylight between any of the parties. We had complete understanding with the ROK delegation and complete understanding with the Japanese. The Russian Ambassador assured me that we have no daylight between us. And China is also very much working along the same lines. So I'm pleased that we have a lot of unanimity. But I don't want to characterize whether I am optimistic, pessimistic, or whatever. I'm optimistic about very few things in the world except for the Boston Red Sox and beyond that we'll just let the facts lie where they are.

QUESTION: Have you had any contacts at all with any Iranian officials while Ahmadinejad has been in town.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: (laughs) No, I have not. Not at all. Ok. See you later.

Source: US Department of State, www.state.gov.

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