North Korea Extends Missile-Test Moratorium; U.S. to Send Kelly

October 2002

By Paul Kerr

North Korea announced September 17 that it would indefinitely extend its moratorium on testing long-range missiles. Subsequently, the United States said September 26 that it would send an interagency delegation led by James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian-Pacific affairs, to Pyongyang October 3-5.

The North Korean pledge was part of the North Korea-Japan Pyongyang Declaration signed during a September 17 summit between Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. According to the declaration, North Korea “expressed its will to extend its moratorium on missile tests beyond 2003.”

The country originally announced a halt to testing long-range missiles in September 1999, saying it would adhere to the moratorium as long as dialogue continued with the United States. The prospects for reaching an agreement to permanently halt North Korea’s missile program brightened when then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met with Kim in October 2000. At that meeting, Kim promised not to test further the Taepo Dong-1 missile, which it had test-fired over Japan in August 1998 to considerable international alarm.

The Clinton administration subsequently came “tantalizing close” to a deal to eliminate North Korea’s medium- and long-range missiles and end its missile exports, according to Wendy Sherman, a Clinton adviser on North Korea policy. But an agreement was never reached, and after the Bush administration suspended negotiations in March 2001 pending a policy review, North Korea stated that it could not maintain the moratorium “indefinitely.” During a May 2001 meeting with a European Union delegation, however, Kim said North Korea would extend the moratorium until 2003.

A portion of the Japan-North Korea declaration also references nuclear weapons, saying only that the two countries “affirmed the pledge to observe all the international agreements for a comprehensive solution to the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula.” Whether this statement simply affirms a commitment to existing agreements or signals support for additional arms control measures is unclear.

The most relevant nuclear agreement is the Agreed Framework concluded in 1994 between North Korea and the United States. This agreement defused the crisis over Pyongyang’s diversion of plutonium from its graphite reactors as part of a secret nuclear weapons program—a violation of its nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty commitments. Washington agreed to construct two proliferation-resistant nuclear reactors in North Korea in exchange for a freeze on the country’s nuclear weapons program and eventual dismantlement of its graphite-moderated reactors and related facilities.

The United States recently expressed support for the deal when Jack Pritchard, State Department special envoy for negotiations with North Korea, attended the August 7 ceremony to mark the pouring of the concrete foundation for the first reactor to be supplied under the Agreed Framework.

Diplomatic Progress

Meanwhile, after months of discussing whether to send a U.S. envoy to North Korea, the United States has decided to send Kelly, who will be the highest level official to visit the country since President George W. Bush took office. A September 26 White House statement said that Kelly would “explain U.S. policy and seek progress on a range of issues of long-standing concern to the United States and the international community.”

According to a State Department official interviewed September 26, those issues include weapons of mass destruction, conventional weapons, human rights, humanitarian issues, and missile production and proliferation. This is consistent with the Bush policy of linking progress on missiles to other issues. Kelly will visit Seoul and Tokyo prior to the Pyongyang meeting to consult and coordinate with U.S. allies, the State Department official said.

Koizumi’s visit to North Korea—the first by a Japanese prime minister—suggests some positive signs for security in Northeast Asia. Kim and Koizumi committed “to observe international law and refrain from threatening mutual security” and agreed to meet again in October to discuss normalizing diplomatic relations. The two sides also agreed to discuss future economic cooperation initiatives, with the “understanding” that Japan will “render economic cooperation” to North Korea.

The meeting also made important progress toward resolving several other controversial bilateral issues. North Korea apologized for the kidnapping of a number of Japanese citizens over the past 25 years—a major source of friction between the two countries—and agreed to take measures to prevent future abductions. Japan apologized for its treatment of the Korean people during its colonial rule from 1910-1945.

Koizumi expressed cautious optimism about the meeting’s outcome in a September 17 press conference, stating “as long as the principles and spirit of the Japan-North Korea Pyongyang Declaration are sincerely abided by, relations between Japan and North Korea will begin to make great strides from hostile relations to cooperative relations.” He also quoted Kim as saying that “the doors are always open for dialogue” with the United States.

North Korea also praised the meeting’s outcome, calling the summit “a landmark event which paved the way for putting an end to the abnormal relations” between North Korea and Japan, the state-run Korean