US State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack on North Korea, April 10, 2007
Daily Press Briefing, Sean McCormack, Spokesman, Washington, DC April 10, 2007.
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. No opening
statements other than to note the fact today is opening day at
Fenway. Dice-K will face off against Ichiro. We'll see which of the
Japanese national treasures will prevail. (Laughter.)
Opening to -- ready for questions.
QUESTION: Could you clarify where we stand on the
unblocking of the North Korea assets -- the Macau?
MR. MCCORMACK: The Macanese authorities have put out a
written statement and the Macanese Monetary Authority spokeswoman
has also made some statements as well about this. The bottom line
is authorized account holders as of now will be able to access the
funds in those accounts. Now the Department of Treasury has also
put out a statement with our views about this action by the
Macanese authorities. And in our view, it conforms with
international banking regulations as well as the February 13th
understanding that these funds would be used by the North Korean
Government on behalf of the North Korean people to better their
situation and for humanitarian purposes. And our view is that we,
as a member of the six-party talks, intend to hold North Korea to
QUESTION: When you say you intend to hold North Korea to
the obligations --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- about the money, right? Do you intend to
hold North Korea to its obligations to shut down Yongbyon by
MR. MCCORMACK: Where we stand on that is we're now
bumping up against the technical ability to safety shut down all
the facilities related to Yongbyon -- the reactor, the
reprocessing, the fuel fabrication facilities. So we will see where
we are on Saturday. It is our view that all the members of the
six-party talks, including the North Koreans at this point, need to
operate on the assumption that they have to meet the 60-day
deadline which is up on Saturday. We will make an assessment at
that point where we stand as we -- the United States -- as a member
of the talks as well as the other five parties, will make a
judgment about where we stand, whether or not the actions of all
the parties have met the deadlines and whether or not they have
made a good-faith effort to meet those deadlines.
QUESTION: Are you not insisting that they stick to the
letter of the agreement because of safety concerns that you are not
sure that it can actually be done by Saturday? I mean, you're not
saying do it by Saturday. That's what you agreed to?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. It is our view that everybody
should meet the deadlines as outlined in the 60-day agreement.
Ultimately, you are going to have the members of the six-party
talks -- five members not including North Korea -- make a
diplomatic and political judgment about the technical compliance
with the 60-day deadline. You're not able to do that until you
actually come up on the deadline and see what has been accomplished
and make a judgment about whether or not this process is moving
forward, whether or not the idea of confidence-building and
good-faith effort has been moved forward by this process. But as of
this point, we -- it is our view that the members of the talks,
including the North Koreans, should operate in such a way that they
meet the 60-day deadline.
QUESTION: Is there a meeting at the envoy level scheduled
on Saturday or Sunday?
MR. MCCORMACK: There's not one scheduled right now. Chris
Hill, our Assistant Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, is
in the region now. He is currently in Seoul having visited Tokyo.
In Seoul he had meetings with his South Korean counterpart and, by
chance, his Chinese counterpart who was in Seoul for a bilateral
visit, so he took the opportunity to see his Chinese counterpart.
He will then travel from Seoul to Beijing for a couple days of
meetings there and then back home by Saturday. There was a question
also earlier this morning about whether or not Chris will see
Governor Richardson and my understanding is they will see each
other tomorrow in Seoul, local time.
QUESTION: Where is Richardson now? Do you know if he's
still in North Korea?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. I'm not quite sure what his
QUESTION: And even if there's no envoy-level meeting now
scheduled, is any consideration being given to trying to hold one
so that you can make the assessment that you've just said you need
to make on Saturday when Chris is out there? Are you giving
consideration to the possibility of trying to convene such a
meeting so you can judge whether people have met the deadlines?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I'm not aware that we have anything
on the books or are considering a meeting. You can also do things
by telephone or bilateral consultation, so we'll find a way. We'll
find a way to do a poll among all the six party members to find --
determine where we are and how we might proceed from Saturday
QUESTION: How many days does it take to safely close down
these reactors? What are your experts telling you?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, you're going to have to --
you're going to have to check directly with the folks who have deep
knowledge about the functioning of graphite reactors. Well, I don't
-- maybe it's not a graphite reactor, but the reactor of the type
that the North Koreans have. It can take -- you know, take anywhere
from a week onwards. But again, you should really talk to the folks
who have a deep understanding of how these things work and how you
go about shutting them down in a safe manner.
QUESTION: So if it were to take a week or more, then you
would be quite happy in the interests of safety to extend the
MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, let's take a look where we
are on Saturday.
QUESTION: Do you know or can you -- do you know or can
you say based on this thing -- do you know or can you tell if
they've even begun to take any preparations to close it down?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that gets -- since we don't have
people on the ground, that gets into intelligence-related stuff,
and just not an area that I can go into. Part of this agreement,
the February 13th agreement, is that there would actually be IAEA
inspectors on the ground who would be able to provide some feedback
to the other members of the party as well as the IAEA as to what's
going on on the ground. We also have our -- obviously our own means
of assessing progress that has been made on the ground, but the
IAEA is another data point for all the members of the six-party
QUESTION: I don't think the agreement calls for the IAEA
to be there, however, to verify the 60 -- the shutdown in 60
MR. MCCORMACK: No, it's -- they are meant as -- their
presence is meant as a way of, again, starting the regain the
confidence of the international community as a whole. As you know,
North Korea previously had kicked out the IAEA inspectors. They
said that they had withdrawn from the NPT. So this is again part of
the entire -- the larger effort (a) to denuclearize the Korean
Peninsula and (b) eventually get the North Korean Government back
into good standing with the international community on its treaty
obligations, the NPT. And part of that is the reintroduction of the
IAEA. They, of course, will offer technical advice, their technical
views, but ultimately the decisions about how the negotiations go
forward is going to be a decision made by the six parties. It's
going to -- all of the collective judgment of those six
QUESTION: On the unblocking of the funds?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: I understand you talked earlier about the
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: I also understand that there's no direct
reference to the funds or the unblocking of the funds in that
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. In the written statement. Let me --
let me read for you -- again, this is a news account from Dow Jones
out of Beijing and this quoting Wendy Au, A-u, from the Monetary
Authority of Macau, and I quote, "The accountholders or authorized
parties can go to the bank and withdraw or deal with their
deposits." The arrangement takes effect -- "immediate effect," Au
said after the bank's closure Tuesday. So this is, if you will, a
supplement to the written statement that the Macanese authorities
have put out.
QUESTION: Can you explain why -- I mean, does it not
cause you a little concern that the written statement makes no
reference to this? I mean, this goes much beyond what the written
statement is. Do you have any doubts about whether they've actually
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, we don't have any doubts that this
is, in fact, what they have decided to do and have done.
QUESTION: And do you think the North Koreans are going to
take yes for an answer? Do you think they're actually going to take
the money out?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll see. We'll see if they take yes for
QUESTION: Just out of interest, was this the technical
pathway that you were referring to on Friday and is this via Hong
Kong Bank? I just wondered, you know --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm going to -- those were confidential
diplomatic discussions between the Treasury Department and Macanese
authorities and North Korean officials, so I'm going to keep those
confidential. Suffice it to say there are a number of different
ways you could do this. This is one of them. And it's one of the
means that meets the parameters laid out by the international
system that any solution meet the standards of the international
financial community and also that it would also hold the North
Koreans to meeting their obligations to spend the money for the
betterment of the North Korean people.
QUESTION: Sean, I don't recall any other occasion of you
reading a wire story from the podium, or part of a wire story from
the podium, and I understand why you're doing it but the statement
clearly says that the release of the funds is conditioned upon the
agreement of all parties, meaning you and the Koreans and the
Chinese. So as I understand, I haven't heard (inaudible) such an
agreement has been reached. You said on Friday that you'd find a
way to do it, then someone didn't like the way, you said there
might be another way to do it. But the statement from Macau says
this is conditioned on all parties respectively agreeing on a way
to do this.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well --
QUESTION: So now you have a quote from Wendy someone who
says, you know, they can take the money whenever they want. But
these two things just don't square, as far as I'm concerned. Are
you taking this quote from Ms. Wendy as the final decision and
policy of the financial authority of Macau.
MR. MCCORMACK: I take it as authoritative. The Department
of Treasury has already issued the statement saying that in their
view, this deal meets the conditions that were laid out by the
Department of Treasury. So from our standpoint, the ball is in the
North Koreans' court.
QUESTION: Because neither the North Koreans nor the
Chinese have come out and said this is all solved, the money will
be released or transferred tomorrow or the next day. We only heard
from the Treasury and now this quote from Macau, but why do you
think the Chinese and the North Koreans have been silent about
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you. You can speak to
QUESTION: You mentioned earlier that you intend to hold
North Korea to its obligations to use the funds for the betterment
of the North Korean people.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: How do you intend to do this?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, admittedly, that is a difficult task
to -- in which we can have a hundred percent confidence that that
is happening. However you present this, it is -- it always comes
down to the irreducible point of holding the North Korean
Government to the assurances it has given the six parties. Now how
can we monitor everything that is going on in North Korea? That is
very difficult. The World Food Program for several years had a
difficult time doing that and actually suspended their shipment of
food commodities as a result, so yes, this is difficult.
But the idea here is that we are trying to enter into a new kind
of relationship between North Korea and the rest of the world.
Previously, that relationship has been marked by mistrust, broken
obligations that we all know about and that you've written about
over the years. That isn't to say that we are suddenly going to
abandon our senses and not go in a step-by-step fashion as we
proceed in implementing the September 2005 agreement, which really
gets to the point here, is a denuclearized North Korean peninsula,
as well as outlining for the countries in the region a different
kind of security framework and a different kind of political
So as we proceed to that, we're going to go in a step-by-step
fashion. Now North Korea, at this part of the process, has said,
"We pledge to you, all the members of the six-party talks, that we
are going to spend these funds in a certain way." So this is
something that we are going to watch closely, we are going to ask
the North Koreans about in subsequent negotiations, whether or not
they are abiding by their pledges, and to the best of our ability,
determine whether or not they are abiding by that pledge as well as
other pledges that they make in this process.
But overall, this is a process in which good faith actions will
be met in turn by good faith, which results in a building of
confidence, which allows all the parties to make some of the tough
decisions that are going to be needed if we're going to achieve --
all achieve our goals. So this is -- we go into this with our eyes
wide open, as do other members of the six-party talks.
QUESTION: And just to follow up, so how is this not a
confession on the U.S. side or how -- because you said you wouldn't
use the term, concession, to describe the BDA issue?
MR. MCCORMACK: Any -- in any negotiation, you are going
to get a point where every party to the negotiation wants something
and they're not going to get it exactly in the form that they want
it, but -- and that's part of the negotiating process; you
compromise and -- but you compromise with a reason. You compromise
in order to achieve a larger objective and the important thing is
that along the way, you not abandon principle and that you not
abandon the -- what you want to achieve at the end of the process.
That has been very clearly outlined.
QUESTION: Sean, Treasury on September 15th, 2005
designated Banco Delta Asia as a primary money-laundering
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Then you know, as we all know, it then made
final its designation.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Are you absolutely certain that not a penny of
the $25 million is in any way tainted?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll let the Treasury Department talk
about their assessment of the funds and who held them and what they
may or may not have been used for.
QUESTION: Because if you don't have absolutely certainty
that all of the money is untainted than it's reasonable to ask the
question are you not compromising on an important principle by
essentially allowing the money to be given back if some of it, even
a penny, is tainted.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are a couple of measures here.
One -- and I'll let the Treasury Department talk about the details
to the extent they wish to. There are a couple of things here. One,
does -- do these agreements comply with international obligations,
UN Security Council resolutions, international financial laws which
were -- as well as domestic financial laws? And does the agreement
actually meet the threshold terms that the North Koreans have laid
out for themselves? Are they going -- how are they going to spend
the money? So you can -- you have a definite answer on the first of
those from the Treasury Department. They have essentially given the
good housekeeping seal of approval to this particular arrangement.
They've said that they've examined it and in their view it can
On the second that is going to bear watching. The Koreans -- the
North Koreans have made a pledge and we as well as the other four
members of the six-party talks are going to watch whether or not
they abide by that pledge as well as other pledges that they make
along the way in this process.
QUESTION: Sean, just one more on this. When you quoted
the lady from Macau saying that they --
MR. MCCORMACK: You didn't seem to like her very much,
Nicholas. (Laughter.) You don't seem to trust her very much.
QUESTION: I've regretted when I was there I didn't meet
her but I should have. Is it your understanding that when she says
that, you know, they can -- whoever's authorized can go to the bank
and is it your understanding that they can actually withdraw the
money in cash or are they going to just be there physically to
authorize the transfer?
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you. You'll have to talk to
the Macau authorities. This is -- that's a level of detail I just
QUESTION: Because it strikes me that if you are just
going to transfer you don't have to appear physically in person,
you know, at the branch of the bank.
MR. MCCORMACK: I can only -- I can read again what she
said here. I -- you'll have to talk to them about it.
MR. MCCORMACK: The manner in which funds may be
Anything else on this?
QUESTION: So is Chris Hill making progress on bringing
the focus back to denuclearization, do you think now that this is
other issue is out of the way?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we've never taken our eye off the
ball, the main objective. And all along the way we have been having
discussions internally as well as with others about how this phase
looks as well as what a second phase might look, which really gets
to the heart of full declarations about North Korea, all of North
Korea's nuclear programs, as well as how to go about the disabling
and dismantlement of the North Korean nuclear program which are big
questions and I expect going to be -- going to have very
complicated answers to those questions: how do you go about doing
it. And those things are all going to have to be negotiated. So it
hasn't -- we haven't been sitting on our hands waiting -- just
waiting for this to be resolved. There have been a lot of
discussions about not only this phase but future potential phases.
And we've been having some informal discussions as well. And Chris
is going to talk about these very issues with his counterparts on
his travels, where do we stand right now in the implementation
phase as well as what are the potential next phases look like.
QUESTION: Is the deadline on Saturday absolute or could
it be moved?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this is a different way of asking
the question that Arshad and others have been asking.
QUESTION: She asked it very well though. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: She really got right to the point.
QUESTION: She hit the nail on the head.
MR. MCCORMACK: As I said before, we're going to take a
look at where we are on Saturday and we call upon all the parties
to operate on the basis of meeting the deadlines as outlined in the
February 13th agreement.
QUESTION: And you're talking about intent this
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: I know that this might seem like a silly
question, but if you get to Saturday and they start the process of
shutting this plant down, would that suffice? I mean --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, let's see where we are. We --
you know, what we expect is the February 13th agreement to be fully
implemented, and that means shutting down the Yongbyon facilities.
On that there is -- there can be no compromise. That's a predicate
for moving forward, for the process moving forward, so that's -- so
there's no partial credit on that. You need for that to happen.
We'll see exactly where we are on Saturday, and ultimately these
come down to political and diplomatic judgments about technical
matters and whether or not the process is moving forward. And we'll
see where we are on Saturday.
QUESTION: Well, I'm asking though what -- in practical
terms, what is the signal of intent?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we'll make those --
QUESTION: The whole thing or physically on the ground
making moves to actually shut the thing down?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, ultimately it's important where
you end up. Do you have the facility actually shut down? Now, there
are a lot of steps along the way to doing that and you can --
technical experts can tell you exactly what those steps are along
the way. And we'll see where we are in that process on Saturday.
Again, at the risk of beating a dead horse, we hope -- we would
expect that North Korea would make every effort to abide by that
QUESTION: Yes, Sean, I'm sorry to do this because it is a
dead horse, I know. But I just want to make sure I heard your
comment about you take this Wendy Au's comments as authoritative
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm, as quoted by a reputable news
QUESTION: Yeah. But you're relying on a pickup of -- a
Dow Jones pick up of a Kyodo story, okay? So I just want to make
sure that you have been -- the U.S. Government has been informed
through whatever channel that this is, in fact, the --
MR. MCCORMACK: We were told -- we were told that they
would -- there would be a written statement as well as a verbal
statement that is coming out, and this is --
QUESTION: And this is the verbal statement?
MR. MCCORMACK: This is what we expected the --
QUESTION: But did they tell you what was going to be in
the verbal statement?
MR. MCCORMACK: Not the exact wording, but we understand
the intent and the intent here is clear.
QUESTION: Okay, all right. Is there some -- were you told
why they wanted to do it this way?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, in fact, it doesn't really
matter. You know, they can put it out in a written statement. They
could, you know --
QUESTION: Smoke signals?
MR. MCCORMACK: They can do smoke signals. They can -- you
know, they could, you know, get a piece of paper and tie it around
a rock and throw it over the wall. I mean, it has the same
QUESTION: But what she said in the verbal statement is --
it comports exactly with what you expected?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. Or what they told you they were going to
do? What they told you at they -- in other words, they told you
we're going to unblock it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, mm-hmm.
Anything else on this? Yes, (inaudible).
QUESTION: I asked this morning about the sanctions issue.
Earlier today, Japan's Prime Minister Abe said that there's been no
concrete progress on the nuclear issue among others, and without
that Japan won't lift it sanctions. It seems like there's a little
bit of a confidence gap here between your position and the
Japanese. Do you think that's accurate?
MR. MCCORMACK: Is there any gap between us? No, I don't
QUESTION: They seem a little less confident in the
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we'll see where we are -- we'll see
where we are on Saturday. This is -- you know, the Japanese are
taking steps to implement some sanctions that they feel as though
they need to under 1718. That is a bilateral course of action that
of course we support. We support implementation of 1718. I don't
detect the Japanese in any way backing away from the six-party
talks process. Now, there may be on their part a desire for the
bilateral working group with the North Koreans to move forward in a
more constructive manner regarding the abductee issue. We fully
understand that and we fully support the Japanese pursuing that
matter and pursuing it to a resolution that satisfies them.
Ultimately, however, that's going to have to be done between the
Japanese and the North Koreans.
QUESTION: So you don't think they have any, I guess, less
public confidence in the ability of North Korea to meet its
deadline by Saturday?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't been informed of anything.
Way in the back.
QUESTION: Do you think the North Koreans will be
satisfied with today's decision? Because I believe that in the past
the North Koreans have wanted the return of funds to the North
Korean Government and I guess today's it's going back to the
MR. MCCORMACK: We -- again, we'll see. I believe that the
Macanese and Chinese authorities as well as the United States in
its previous actions has acted in good faith in meeting its
obligations, and we'll see if the North Koreans take yes for an
QUESTION: And just on the monitoring of the funds, do you
think it may be more difficult now because it's going to be
returned to individual accountholders?
MR. MCCORMACK: Let's be honest here. I think it was going
to be difficult under any circumstances. And what you -- as I've
talked about previously, it's going to -- the six-party members are
going to have to rely on the assurances at this point of the North
Korean Government. Now, there may be other ways where they're able
to discern how money was spent. I don't know. Perhaps that will be
the case, and if so that's one more way to check whether or not the
North Koreans are meeting their obligations. But again, this should
be viewed as part of a whole negotiating process and the ultimate
objective of this negotiating process is to see a denuclearized
(The briefing was concluded at 1:10 p.m.)
Source: US Department of State, http://www.state.gov.
© 2007 The Acronym Institute.