North Korea Freezes Missile Tests; U.S. to Lift Sanctions; Perry Report Released

Howard Diamond

THE UNITED STATES and North Korea took limited reciprocal steps in September toward strengthening bilateral ties, ending Pyongyang's development and export of long-range missiles, and improving the security of Northeast Asia. President Clinton announced September 17 that he was suspending the sanctions that have been in place since North Korea's 1950 invasion of South Korea. Seven days later, Pyongyang's official news agency, quoting a foreign ministry official, declared that North Korea "will not launch a missile" while negotiations to comprehensively improve relations are ongoing. The moves followed five days of bilateral talks in Berlin.

At a September 17 briefing on the president's decision to lift sanctions, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the understanding reached in Berlin, together with a recently completed review of U.S. policy by former Defense Secretary William Perry, had put the United States on "a new and more hopeful road," but she added that U.S. cooperation "is not a one-way street." Albright pointed out that the sanctions could be quickly re-imposed at any time and that the administration was prepared "to go down a different road altogether" to defend U.S. interests if necessary.

The president's waiver of sanctions did not require congressional approval, and will take several months to implement as officials from the departments of Commerce, Transportation and the Treasury work to draft new regulations. The sanctions lifted were imposed under the Trading with the Enemy Act, the Defense Production Act, and the Commerce Department's Export Administration Regulations. They cover imports of North Korean goods, exports of U.S. goods to North Korea, investment in commercial economic sectors in North Korea, remittances to North Korean nationals, and shipping and commercial flights to and from North Korea.

Still in place are U.S. non-proliferation and counter-terrorism controls, which prohibit trade of all munitions list, dual-use and missile technology-related items; any type of U.S. foreign assistance to Pyongyang; support for loans to North Korea through international financial institutions; and financial transactions between U.S. citizens and the North Korean government. U.S. sanctions imposed on North Korea for missile technology proliferation also remain in place, barring trade with missile-related sectors of the North Korean economy. North Korean assets in the United States remain frozen, and North Korean claims against the United States will remain unsettled.

The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) applauded the Clinton administration's actions on September 21, describing them as consistent with U.S. obligations under the 1994 Agreed Framework, which froze the Yongbyon plutonium production facilities. The KCNA noted, however, that the U.S. lifting of sanctions came "belatedly" and was not "comprehensive." Pyongyang also reiterated its position that peace on the Korean peninsula will require removal of the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea and a bilateral peace agreement. Washington expects a visit in the coming weeks by a senior North Korean official to resume discussions on normalization of relations.

Perry Review Completed

Guiding the Clinton administration was William Perry's recently completed review of U.S. policy toward North Korea. After briefing the president, congressional leaders and Japanese and South Korean officials in September, Perry released an unclassified version of his policy review on October 12. Though Perry and other U.S. officials had made some of its contents known in previous weeks, the published report provided a clearer understanding of the rationale for the Clinton administration's actions following the September talks with North Korea in Berlin and Perry's trip to North Korea in May 1999. (See ACT,April/May 1999.)

President Clinton appointed Perry to conduct the policy review in November 1998 following North Korea's August launch of its Taepo Dong-1 rocket and the discovery of an underground construction site in Kumchang-ni thought to be potentially useful for nuclear weapons-related activities. (Inspection by U.S. officials later showed the Kumchang-ni site to be poorly suited to nuclear activities.)

While confirming the importance and accomplishments of the Agreed Framework, Perry's report notes that there have been several important changes in the region since the nuclear agreement was reached in 1994. First, Pyongyang's ballistic missile development and export activities, combined with "possible continuing nuclear weapons-related work," have newly jeopardized regional security. Also, under the leadership of Kim Jong-Il, North Korea's economic and humanitarian crises have greatly worsened.

The South Korean government has opened up new opportunities on the peninsula through President Kim Dae Jung's policy of "engagement" with the North, according to the report. Also, Japan's critical support for the Agreed Framework has weakened because of Pyongyang's August 1998 missile test and the prospect of further North Korean missile tests overflying Japan. Finally, Chinese interests in North Korea have become more closely aligned with those of the United States and its allies because of Beijing's concern that Pyongyang's missile activities could lead to a U.S.-led Asian missile defense system.

Perry's report concludes that while military deterrence on the Korean Peninsula remains strong, continued North Korean nuclear and missile activities could jeopardize the security and stability of the Asia-Pacific region, and even of the United States. The United States and its allies would be able to triumph convincingly in any military confrontation, the report notes, but only at a catastrophic cost in lives and money. Perry asserts that Washington should therefore attempt to advance U.S. interests cooperatively if Pyongyang is willing, and failing that, to strengthen its containment of the North Korean threat.

Perry recommends that Washington adopt "a new, comprehensive and integrated approach to…negotiations with the DPRK" in order to achieve a "complete and verifiable" cessation of North Korea's nuclear weapons- and missile-related activities, including "testing, production and deployment of missiles exceeding the parameters of the Missile Technology Control Regime, [as well as] export sales of such missiles and the equipment and technology associated with them."

To win Pyongyang's support for the cooperative approach, the Perry report suggests that the United States and its allies "reduce pressures" on North Korea "in a step-by-step and reciprocal fashion." The report continues, "If the DPRK moved to eliminate its nuclear and long-range missile threats, the United States would normalize relations with the DPRK, relax sanctions that have long constrained trade with the DPRK and take other positive steps that would provide opportunities for the DPRK."

Alternatively, if Pyongyang refuses to cooperate, the United States and its allies should "take firm but measured steps to persuade the DPRK" to pursue the cooperative approach and not upset the regional security balance. The details on what disincentives should be considered are listed in the still-classified version of the review. But Perry's report makes clear that "the U.S. and allied steps should seek to keep the Agreed Framework intact and avoid, if possible, direct conflict."