North Korea, U.S. to Meet on Missile Issues

Howard Diamond

AFTER WEEKS OF North Korean preparations for the first flight test of the new Taepo Dong-2 long-range ballistic missile and repeated warnings of severe consequences by the United States, Japan and South Korea, the State Department announced a new round of U.S.-North Korean talks on August 25. The missile talks are to be held in Berlin, September 7-11 and will reportedly seek a moratorium on North Korean missile testing in exchange for relief from U.S. economic sanctions. Since April 1996, the United States and North Korea have held four rounds of missile talks, the last round occurring in March.

In mid-June, only days after South and North Korean naval forces clashed in the Yellow Sea, Japanese news organizations began been reporting North Korean preparations for a new missile test, citing unnamed U.S. and Japanese sources. Japan's Kyodo news service reported on June 16 that U.S. satellite imagery showed North Korea was moving propellant and increasing the size of a launching pad at a missile test site, identified by The New York Times June 22 as being in Musadan-ri, North Hamkyong Province. Quoting unnamed U.S. military sources, NHK, Japan's public television network, also reported June 16 that North Korea had conducted static propulsion tests of its Taepo Dong-2 missile in April. The Taepo Dong-2 is estimated to have a range of 4,000 to 6,000 kilometers.

Already in the midst of a congressionally mandated review of U.S. policy toward North Korea, the Clinton administration began a weeks-long diplomatic campaign combining bilateral meetings with North Korea in late June and the second week of August, together with intensive policy coordination with Japan and South Korea. The coordination resulted in the release July 27 of a trilateral statement by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Japanese Foreign Minister Komura Masahiko and South Korean Foreign Minister Hong Soon-Young, who were attending the annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore.

Urging the government to "seize the opportunity" presented in May by former Defense Secretary William Perry's visit to Pyongyang, the joint statement called on North Korea "to build a new and positive relationship with its neighbors and potential partners, and to accept the comprehensive and integrated approach which builds on the engagement policy." (See ACT, April/May 1999.) The foreign ministers' statement also warned Pyongyang that "a missile or satellite launch...would adversely affect peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and beyond, and would have severe negative consequences" for North Korea. While the joint statement confirmed all three nations' support for the 1994 Agreed Framework, Komura told reporters that a North Korean missile test would make it "extremely difficult for Japan to continue its cooperation" with the international consortium implementing the nuclear agreement.

Pyongyang claims that its missiles are needed for self-defense against the United States and that satellite development is a sovereign right.