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D.P.R.K. Extends Missile Pledge as U.S. Readies to Resume Talks

Alex Wagner

Easing four months of escalating tensions in the U.S.-North Korean relationship, Pyongyang pledged May 3 to extend its voluntary missile-testing moratorium until 2003, according to officials from the European Union (EU). A senior U.S. diplomat subsequently indicated that the Bush administration will soon resume talks left unfinished by the Clinton administration that could end North Korea’s indigenous missile program and missile exports.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il told an EU delegation that visited Pyongyang on May 2-3 that he would continue the moratorium on medium- and long-range ballistic missile tests. At a May 3 press conference in Pyongyang, Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson, who headed the delegation, said that he had expressed the EU’s “very grave concern” about Pyongyang’s missile program to the North Korean leader. The EU decided to send a high-level delegation to the Korean Peninsula after the Bush administration announced in March that it would not immediately resume missile talks with North Korea. (See ACT, April 2001.)

In September 1999, after Washington announced that it was planning to ease some economic sanctions on North Korea, Pyongyang reciprocated by vowing not to test missiles as long as dialogue continued with the United States. A year earlier, North Korea had shocked the world by conducting a test-flight of its 2,000-kilometer-range Taepo Dong-1 missile over Japan. Kim reaffirmed his moratorium in October 2000, promising then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that the 1998 test was the first and last of the medium-range ballistic missile. (See ACT, November 2000.)

However in March, the North Korean government threatened that, given the absence of any negotiations with the Bush administration, the self-imposed moratorium could not be maintained “indefinitely.” At a May 4 press conference in Seoul, EU Secretary-General Javier Solana said that Kim “felt free, once the dialogue was stopped, not to continue with the moratorium.” But Solana also said that, by extending the moratorium, Kim was indicating “he would like to express restraint” and continue dialogue with the United States.

It is not clear why Kim gave 2003 as the year the moratorium could end, but the 1994 Agreed Framework, in which North Korea pledged to give up its nuclear weapons program, stipulates that light-water reactors be built in North Korea by a “target date” of 2003. Current estimates of the reactor’s construction indicate completion by that time is virtually impossible. By allowing North Korea the option of resuming missile tests in 2003, Kim may be buying goodwill while maintaining some leverage should the United States fail to build the reactor.

 However, Solana also said Kim reiterated his long-standing demand that North Korea be compensated for giving up its missile exports. At the May 4 press briefing, Solana told reporters that Kim had said that missile sales “are part of trade.” Solana quoted Kim as saying, “I need money. I’m able to produce this, and I will sell it,” despite EU insistence that such a proposition was not acceptable.

Following the EU trip to the Korean Peninsula, the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, decided May 14 to establish diplomatic relations with North Korea. An EU press release noted the hope that opening formal relations “will facilitate the European Union’s efforts in support of reconciliation” between the Koreas, as well as furthering North Korean economic reform and “easing [the North’s] acute food and health problems.”

At the May 3 press conference in Pyongyang, Persson also said that Kim was “committed” to a second inter-Korean summit with South Korea, which may be held in Seoul later this year. However, he stressed that Kim indicated that the summit could only occur after the Bush administration completed its ongoing North Korean policy review.

Bush Administration Policy

In Seoul for talks on the Bush administration’s strategic nuclear plans (Missile Defense Consultations Abroad Yield Little Progress), Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage announced May 9 that Washington was preparing to renew talks with North Korea “in the very near future.” Armitage told reporters at the South Korean foreign ministry that he had conveyed a letter from President George W. Bush to South Korean President Kim Dae Jung indicating that the policy review was “nearly wrapped up” and that the administration had “strong support” for President Kim’s engagement policies with North Korea.

Armitage said he assured President Kim that, upon completion of the policy review, the United States would consult with Seoul about its findings and how to approach North Korea. He also reaffirmed that Washington “would continue to support the Agreed Framework.”

In an interview with the South Korean newspaper Chungang Ilbo on May 9, Armitage characterized the administration’s “basic approach” to North Korea as one where Washington is “keen to leave North Korea alone,” as long as the regime acts in “a benign fashion on the peninsula” and “is not exporting terrorism” or “threatening” South Korea. He went on to say that he “took positive note” of Kim Jong-Il’s extension of the missile moratorium and recognized that the action was a message meant for the United States.

In the interview, Armitage also said that, in addition to himself and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly, Jack Pritchard would be involved in a resumption of dialogue with Pyongyang as the administration’s chief negotiator. Pritchard most recently served as senior director for Asian affairs on the Clinton administration’s National Security Council.