Adopting a harder line toward North Korea than that of his predecessor, President George W. Bush said March 7 that his administration would not immediately resume missile negotiations with Pyongyang left unfinished by the Clinton administration. The announcement differed from previous statements by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had indicated that the administration planned to pursue what appears to have been a nearly complete deal by the Clinton administration to end North Korea's missile development and exports.
Bush, who made his remarks during a joint press conference with visiting South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, expressed "skepticism" about North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il and said that he has concerns about the ability to verify any agreement with a closed society like North Korea. Bush said he "look[s] forward to, at some point in the future, having a dialogue with the North Koreans, but that any potential negotiation would require complete verification of the terms of a potential agreement."
During the press conference, Bush also said that the United States is "not certain as to whether or not [the North Koreans] are keeping all terms of all agreements." The statement sparked some confusion because the United States has only one agreement with North Korea: the 1994 Agreed Framework, which ended Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. In a briefing following the conference, a senior administration official explained that, despite his phrasing, the president was referring to the potential verifiability of a future missile deal with North Korea. The official said that there are no indications North Korea is violating the Agreed Framework.
Bush's decision to put off negotiations contrasted with statements Powell had previously made on the administration's approach to North Korea. On March 6, Powell told reporters that "we do plan to engage with North Korea and pick up where President Clinton and his administration left off." Powell went on to say that "some promising elements were left on the table" and that the United States has "a lot to offer that regime if they will act in ways that we think are constructive."
However, emerging from the March 7 meeting between Bush and Kim, Powell shifted gears, emphasizing that there is "no hurry" to engage Pyongyang. He said that the administration is conducting a comprehensive review of U.S. policy toward North Korea and that it would, "in due course, decide at what pace and when we engage." Amending his remarks from March 6, Powell said that if "there was some suggestion that imminent negotiations are about to begin—that is not the case."
According to a former senior U.S. official, North Korea had been prepared at the end of the Clinton administration to stop its missile development and missile exports in exchange for international satellite launch services and nonmonetary compensation, respectively. Writing in The New York Times March 7, Ambassador Wendy Sherman, Clinton's special adviser on North Korea, characterized such an agreement as "tantalizingly close."
The former senior official noted, however, that the problem of how to verify and monitor an agreement, in addition to the status of Pyongyang's current missile inventory, had remained unresolved. Powell indicated this was one reason the Bush administration was reviewing its options before proceeding. "What was missing in what had been done was how one would put in place any kind of monitoring or verification regime. And the North Koreans had not engaged on that in any serious way in the period of the Clinton administration," he said in March 8 testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Powell also said that the administration would consider issues beyond missile negotiations in its policy review, including whether the conventional military balance on the Korean Peninsula should be considered simultaneously with missile talks—a course the Clinton administration had avoided. "There's a huge army poised on the demilitarized zone, pointing south, that is probably as great a threat to South Korea and Seoul and regional stability as are weapons of mass destruction. Should that be included in a negotiation with the North Koreans?" Powell asked.
In what may have been a reaction to Bush's comments, on March 13 Pyongyang canceled cabinet-level discussions with Seoul hours before they were set to begin. On March 15, North Korea threatened to "take thousand-fold revenge" on the United States "and its black-hearted intention to torpedo the dialogue between North and South [Korea]." The statement, issued by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, called Washington's new policies "hostile" and noted that Pyongyang remains "fully prepared for both dialogue and war."
Congress ReactsFollowing Bush's demand for verification in dealings with North Korea, Republican leaders in the House and Senate urged the administration to reconsider the terms of the Agreed Framework, under which North Korea is to be provided with two light-water reactors.
On March 9, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Jesse Helms (R-NC), along with Senators Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Bob Smith (R-NH), sent a letter to Bush calling for the administration to abandon the reactor project in favor of "several clean-burning, coal-fired power plants to meet North Korea's civilian energy needs." The letter called into question Pyongyang's "track record" and said that "North Korea's regime hardly can be trusted with [light-water reactor] technology, or with fissile material."
In a March 13 speech to the American Enterprise Institute, Henry Hyde (R-IL), chairman of the House International Relations Committee, also championed replacing the light-water reactors with conventional power plants while stressing the need for comprehensive verification in light of past actions by North Korea.
Congressional Democrats urged Bush to continue to pursue a negotiated solution to U.S. concerns over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile capabilities. In a March 6 letter to Bush before his meeting with Kim, the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate, as well as the ranking members of the International Relations and Foreign Relations committees, encouraged the president to work with South Korea to address North Korea's nuclear and missile programs and said that, if he does so, they "stand ready to support" him.
EU to Send Delegation to Korean PeninsulaFollowing President George W. Bush's decision to put off missile negotiations with North Korea, the European Union (EU) announced it would send a high-level delegation to the Korean Peninsula.
Speaking at the EU summit in Stockholm, President of the European Council and Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson said March 24 that he, EU Secretary-General Javier Solana, and EU External Affairs Commissioner Christopher Patten hope to visit Seoul and Pyongyang before the end of May. Persson said he planned to broach "a broad agenda" with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, including discussions on missiles. Sweden currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU and has had diplomatic relations with Pyongyang for the past 26 years.
According to a senior Swedish official, the EU discussion is intended to be "complementary" to both the North-South peace process and any further U.S.-North Korean security negotiations. The official stressed that it is "important that the U.S.-North Korean discussions resume" and said that the dialogue on missile negotiations "cannot and should not" be taken up without the United States.
However, in a March 24 interview on Swedish television, Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh reportedly stated that the unanimous decision by the 15 EU leaders to send the delegation came about because "it's becoming clear that the new U.S. administration wants to take a more hard-line approach toward North Korea." Lindh went on to say that such a policy "means that Europe must step in to help reduce tension between the two Koreas, not least because the outside world is so worried about North Korean missiles." —A.W.