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Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
D.P.R.K. Threatens to End Missile Moratorium, Nuclear Cooperation

Alex Wagner

Pyongyang threatened on February 22 to abandon its missile testing moratorium and its participation in the Agreed Framework if the Bush administration followed a "different" North Korea policy from that of the Clinton administration. North Korea also criticized the Bush team for what it termed an "aggressive and brigandish" approach to future relations that would obstruct movement in the "direction of reconciliation, cooperation and improved ties."

The remarks were made in a Foreign Ministry statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency, the official government press organ. The statement claimed that the Bush administration "is not posed to seriously study" progress made by the Clinton administration toward ending Pyongyang's indigenous missile program and missile exports.

The statement reaffirmed that, while North Korea would not test long-range missiles during negotiations, a pledge originally made in September 1999, if dialogue were discontinued, the moratorium could not be maintained "indefinitely." Pyongyang also accused Washington of "not sincerely" implementing the Agreed Framework and emphasized that, should Washington continue to delay implementation, there would be "no need" to be "bound to it any longer."

The framework, signed in 1994, froze North Korea's nuclear program in exchange for two light-water commercial nuclear power reactors and for heavy fuel oil shipments during the reactors' construction. Since the framework's signing, the reactors' construction has suffered from setbacks, prompting North Korean protests.

The statement also denounced past U.S. characterizations of North Korea as a "rogue state" and U.S. national missile defense efforts.

At a February 22 press conference, White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice characterized Pyongyang's threat to resume missile tests as "counterproductive." Rice told reporters, "It's not helpful for the North Koreans to threaten to have missile tests in order to get [the United States] to do something to give up missile defense." Rice also said that the new administration is still reviewing its North Korea policy, which it is closely coordinating with South Korea and Japan.

However, earlier that same day, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher expressed the administration's willingness to continue the progress made to date on security issues, saying, "We will continue to use that as we form an overall policy." Boucher added that the United States expects Pyongyang to respect its pledge on ballistic missile testing and that the Bush administration would honor its commitments under the Agreed Framework "as long as North Korea does the same."

North Korea appears to have issued its statement in response to what it perceives as a more "hardline stance" by the new Bush administration. At his January 17 confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Colin Powell indicated that he plans to move carefully when engaging North Korea on missile issues. Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "The Bush administration will come in and work with North Korea and with our allies in the region…in a very, very cautious way."

While Powell stated that the United States should "encourage" the opening up of North Korea, he stressed that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il should be viewed with "clear-eyed realism." Powell emphasized that, even if Pyongyang agreed to end its indigenous missile program and missile exports, "we'd still be left with a situation of a dictatorial regime that has a very large army poised on the border between North and South Korea."

Powell also said that the new administration would only continue to engage North Korea through reciprocity and that it would measure progress by Pyongyang meeting tangible benchmarks. Any North Korea policy would have to be implemented "in a very, very realistic way" that does not "give them anything unless we get something in return, something that is really valuable to us, something that moves them in an entirely different direction."

Richard Armitage, a key foreign policy adviser to the Bush campaign who has advocated taking a tougher negotiating posture with Pyongyang, has been nominated to become Powell's deputy. In a 1999 paper for the National Defense University, Armitage called for regaining the "diplomatic initiative" with North Korea and moving toward "full normalization of relations" if Pyongyang satisfies U.S. concerns. However, should diplomacy fail, Armitage suggested that the United States would be faced with either living with and deterring a "nuclear North Korea armed with delivery systems" or "preemption, with the attendant uncertainties."