U.S. - DPRK Missile Talks Make Little Progress

The United States and North Korea were unable to reach an agreement to end Pyongyang's indigenous missile development and missile-related exports during a seventh round of missile negotiations November 1-3 in Kuala Lumpur. It appears unlikely that the talks resolved enough outstanding issues to warrant a visit by President Bill Clinton before the end of his term, as proposed by North Korean Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok during his October discussions with high-level U.S. officials in Washington. (See ACT, November 2000.)

Assistant Secretary of State Robert Einhorn characterized the discussions with his North Korean counterpart Jang Chang Chon as "detailed, constructive, and very substantive" in a November 3 statement. Although Einhorn noted that the United States and North Korea "continued to expand common ground," he emphasized that "significant issues remain to be explored and resolved."

At a November 15 press conference in Brunei prior to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, Ambassador Wendy Sherman, special adviser to the president on North Korea, told reporters that progress on the missile issue had indeed been made and that the negotiations had achieved "positive clarification" on Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's discussions with Chairman Kim Jong-Il in October. Albright told reporters October 24 that Kim had pledged not to conduct any further tests of the Taepo Dong-1 ballistic missile.

Despite the State Department's positive spin on the results of the missile talks, many observers had believed that more substantial progress would be made in the discussions, leading to the first-ever trip by a sitting U.S. president to North Korea. Nevertheless, in a November 20 interview with CNN, Clinton said that "it's conceivable that there could still be a trip" to meet with Kim. Clinton opted not to continue to North Korea after his six-day trip to Vietnam, which had been considered the most likely time for a visit.