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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 38, June 1999

US Reassured on Suspect Site as Perry Visits North Korea

On 28 May, the US State Department announced that inspections by US officials of an underground site in North Korea had revealed no evidence of a nuclear-weapons-related facility. 14 US officials conducted inspections at the Kumchang-ni site between 20-24 May, under the terms of a 16 March agreement between the two sides. According to State Department spokesperson James Rubin: "The underground portion of the site is a large, empty tunnel complex. Construction was unfinished, and no equipment was present. ... [The site] was at a stage of construction prior to the time when any relevant equipment other than construction equipment would be expected to be present." However, Rubin added: "We have the right to return... In anticipation of an outcome such as this preliminary one, we wanted to ensure future visits so that we could fully remove our suspicions about the intended use of the site." Pressed by reporters sceptical that the US could be so sure that the site was currently innocuous, Rubin stated: "I don't see how any wool could be pulled over our eyes when there wasn't any wool." See Documents and Sources for the State Department's official verdict on the status of the site.

Naturally, the North Korean Government was satisfied with the US verdict. According to a statement carried on the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on 7 June: "The visit to the Kumchang-ni underground structure, which is nothing but an empty tunnel, dismissed conservative hardline Congressmen's loudmouthed 'nuclear suspicion' as totally unfounded... And this transparency has put the United States in an embarrassing position."

As part of the 16 March accommodation, the US signalled its willingness to increase food aid to North Korea. On 17 May, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced that, in response to an appeal in April by the UN World Food Programme, the US had decided to make a donation of 400,000 tons of food aid.

President Clinton's Special Envoy on US policy towards North Korea, former Defence Secretary William Perry, visited North Korea from 25-28 May. Perry, who is nearing the completion of a policy review on the full range of US-North Korea issues, briefed reporters on his visit in Seoul on 29 May:

"At the outset, let me say that the DPRK publicity has described our talks as having been 'sincere, frank and held in an atmosphere of mutual respect.' I fully agree with that assessment. ... I've already said this to my host, DPRK First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju, but let me repeat...[that] I welcomed the warm hospitality that was accorded to...the highest level US delegation ever to visit the DPRK. ...

I won't go into the details of our discussions, but we covered a wide range of topics of great importance. These included US and allied concerns over the North's missile and nuclear programs, and issues of peace, security and stability on the Korean peninsular and the North East Asian region.

On Wednesday [26 May], I was able to meet with the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, Mr. Kim Yong Nam. I used the occasion to convey to him a letter from President Clinton to the Supreme Leader of the DPRK, General Kim Jong Il. ... Let me answer here what is no doubt a major question that you all probably have: I did not meet with DPRK leader Kim Jong Il. Quite frankly, we had not expected to meet him although we had indicated to our hosts that such a meeting would be useful. ...

[One major] goal [of my visit] was to explore with the DPRK my thinking about the possibility of a major expansion in our relations and cooperation, as part of a process in which US and allied concerns about missile and nuclear programs are addressed.

Without going into detail, the concepts relating to an expanded US-DPRK relationship were developed by me and my team over the six months that this policy review has taken. ... I travelled as a Presidential Envoy, not a negotiator; and it will take some time for the DPRK to reflect upon the views I expressed and for us to reflect on our visit."

On 11 June, the US Embassy in Tokyo announced that the North Korean leadership had been invited to meet the US leadership in Washington.

Reports: US raises food aid to North Korea, Associated Press, 17 May; US investigates N. Korea facility, Associated Press, 20 May; US concludes visit to N. Korean underground site, Reuters, 25 May; US envoy arrives in North Korea, Associated Press, 25 May; US wants summit with N. Korea leader, Associated Press, 26 May; US - no nuclear violation by N. Korea, Associated Press, 28 May; Text - Perry 5/29 remarks on meetings with North Korean officials, United States Information Service, 1 June; N. Korea says site inspection dispels nuclear fears, Reuters, 7 June; N. Korean leaders invited to D.C., Associated Press, 11 June.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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