By Alex Wagner
Concluding an unprecedented visit to Pyongyang on October 24, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il had apparently signaled a willingness to end testing of the Taepo Dong-1 ballistic missile. Albright and Kim met for two days of discussions covering North Korea's missile program, nuclear transparency, normalization of relations, and a possible trip to Pyongyang by President Bill Clinton. Albright is the highest-level U.S. official ever to travel to North Korea and the first U.S. government representative to meet with Kim.
During an October 24 press conference, Albright said she and Kim "discussed the full range of concerns on missiles," including North Korea's indigenous program, its exports to states like Pakistan and Iran, and Kim's reported proposal to Russian President Vladimir Putin to cease missile testing in exchange for foreign launch of North Korean satellites. (See ACT, September 2000.) The United States had cited North Korea's advances in missile technology as the primary rationale for a national missile defense and Pyongyang as the principal exporter of missiles to so-called states of concern.
According to Albright, while attending a celebration of the 55th anniversary of North Korea's communist party, Kim said there would be no more tests of the Taepo Dong-1 missile. When an image of the missile flashed across the stadium, Kim "immediately" turned to her and "quipped that [the 1998 test of the Taepo Dong-1] was the first satellite launch and it would be the last." When asked whether the statement was "an unqualified pledge…not to test missiles," Albright said, "I take what he said on these issues as serious in terms of his desire and ours to move forward to resolve the various questions that continue to exist on the whole range of missile issues."
Albright described her talks with Kim as "serious, constructive, and in-depth" and said that Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation Robert Einhorn will follow up on missile issues with the North Koreans November 1-3 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Since September 1999, North Korea has voluntarily foregone missile testing while talks with the United States proceed, a moratorium that Pyongyang reaffirmed after the United States eased economic sanctions in July. North Korea conducted its only test of the Taepo Dong-1 medium-range ballistic missile in August 1998 in an attempt to put a satellite into orbit. U.S. government officials maintain that the satellite launch was a failure and that the launch was intended to test missile guidance and booster capability.
The groundwork for Albright's trip was laid during an October 9-12 visit to the United States of Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok, North Korea's second-highest ranking military and civilian official. While in Washington, Jo met with Clinton, Albright, and Secretary of Defense William Cohen. When asked at an October 12 press briefing if Jo had discussed Kim's reported offer to Putin to stop missile launches in exchange for foreign satellite-launch assistance, Ambassador Wendy Sherman, policy coordinator for North Korea, said, "We believe, based on the discussions that we had, that there is validity to this idea."
The Jo visit concluded with the release of an October 12 joint communiqué, which noted that resolution of the missile issue would "make an essential contribution to fundamentally improved relations" and reiterated the two countries' commitment to implementation of the 1994 Agreed Framework, which halted Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. The statement was also the first announcement that Albright would visit North Korea in order to prepare for a possible visit by Clinton.
Previously, North Korea had made sending a high-level envoy to the United States contingent upon being removed from the State Department's list of states that sponsor terrorism. However, in an apparent concession, North Korean delegates at a September 27-October 2 bilateral meeting in New York proposed that Jo visit the United States, according to Sherman.
During periodic discussions since 1996, the United States has tried to persuade North Korea to end its ballistic missile exports and terminate its indigenous missile development program. The last round of missile talks ended in stalemate in July in Kuala Lumpur, when North Korea demanded $1 billion per year in compensation to make up for lost revenue from exports and reiterated its position that missile development was a sovereign right. (See ACT, September 2000.)