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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 48, July 2000

US-North Korea Discussions Continue to Backdrop of 'Rogue State' Debate

The tension between the determination of the US Administration to engage in constructive diplomacy with North Korea in order to reverse or contain its nuclear and missile programmes, and its routine description of the state as a 'rogue', has become increasingly evident with the intensification of the debate over US missile defense plans - justified partly in terms of answering the 'threat' from Pyongyang - and the simultaneous, marked improvement in the political atmosphere in Northeast Asia, most dramatically evidenced by the unprecedented June summit meeting of the leaders of the two Koreas.

On June 19, speaking in a National Public Radio interview, US Secretary of State Albright signalled a shift away from the 'rogue state' tag for North Korea and other states, principally Iran and Iraq. The new designation, according to Albright, was "states of concern": "We are now calling these states 'states of concern' because we are concerned about their support for terrorist activities, their development of missiles, their desire to disrupt the international system."

An unnamed State Department official told reporters the same day: "Some of those countries aren't as bad as they used to be. They say: 'we've done some stuff so why are you still calling us a rogue states?" Reportedly speaking with specific reference to North Korea, the official added: "It doesn't help to be calling them rogues one minute and trying to get them to be reasonable the next…" Also on June 19, State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher was adamant that the change of description was not a climbdown:

"It's just a recognition that we have seen some evolution in different ways in different places, and that we will deal appropriately with each one based on the kind of evolution we're seeing. … The [rogue state] category has outlived its usefulness…but we're not trying to create new categories. We're trying to deal with each situation in [terms of] US interests. … If we're able to encourage them of pressure them or otherwise produce changes in their behaviour, and therefore change in our relationship, we're willing to do that…"

On June 19, President Clinton announced an easing of sanctions against North Korea, on the "understanding and expectation, in the words of State Department spokesperson Boucher, "that North Korea will continue to refrain from testing any long-range missiles for the duration of our negotiations that are aimed at improving our relations." The President's statement read: "Since last September, when I announced the measures being implemented today to ease sanctions…North Korea has maintained its moratorium on missile tests. These measures are supported by our close allies in the region and are part of the process of close coordination between the United States, Japan and North Korea recommended by former Secretary of Defense William Perry. We will continue to build on these efforts and on the recent North-South summit to achieve additional progress in addressing our common proliferation concerns." On July 17, Representative Benjamin Gilman (Republican - New York), Chair of the House International Relations Committee, introduced legislation that would guarantee the re-imposition of full sanctions if North Korea "tests or proliferates missiles or missile technology. According to Gilman: "Despite the recent summit with South Korea, North Korea continues to use missiles and weapons of mass destruction to blackmail our nation… As long as the Administration continues to engage the North Korean regime in these dangerous games of threats and blackmail, Congress must act to protect American national security interests…"

US and North Korean delegations met in Kuala Lumpur from July 10-12 for talks centring on Pyongyang's missile development programme and export policies. The talks, led by US Assistant Secretary of State for Non-Proliferation Robert Einhorn and Jang Chang Chon, Director-General for the North Korean Foreign Ministry's Department of US Affairs, failed to produce any breakthrough, principally due to US unwillingness to respond favourably for a North Korean request for compensation in return for suspending exports. As Chin explained the situation to reporters (July 12): "After negotiations, we clarified that we will continue our discussion on condition that the United States side was willing to make compensation for the political and economic losses to be incurred in case we suspend our missile exports… In our own estimate, we propose about $1 billion [will be a sufficient amount]…" Einhorn told reporters (July 12):

"The North Koreans should not be compensated for agreeing to stop conducting activities that they shouldn't be conducting in the first place. Our longstanding policy…has been to be prepared to pursue a step-by-step improvement in …relations…toward full political and economic normalization… Naturally, such an evolution in the relationship will involve tangible benefits for the DPRK. But we are prepared to pursue this normalization only as the DPRK addresses issues of concern to the United States, and one of the critical issues of concern to the US is North Korea's missile activities. So as it addresses these concerns and deals with the missile question, we are prepared to continue along the path of normalization… But we are not prepared to pay cash compensation to North Korea."

Speaking on July 10, US Defense Secretary William Cohen told reporters that, regardless of the outcome of the talks then opening in Malaysia, the US would continue to require missile defences to protect against the possibility of future aggression by North Korea or other states: "They have indicated that they are not going to resume, for the time being at least, testing of the longer range missiles, but that could be either suspended…[or] could go forward whenever they choose to do so. We cannot adjust or calibrate whether or not we are going to go forward with an NMD program based upon what the North Koreans may say from time to time… I think that it's clear that, based on what they have done in the past, they could achieve a long-range capability by 2005… We never want to have the United States put in the position of being blackmailed…and prevented from carrying out our security interests in the conventional way."

Notes: in Seoul on July 14, Einhorn met with Song Min-soon, Director-General of the South Korean Foreign Ministry's North American Affairs Bureau, to discuss South Korea's desire to develop missiles with a maximum range of 187 miles, in excess of a current limit, first agreed in 1979, of 112 miles. 187 miles is the maximum range permitted under the terms of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which Seoul is expected to seek admission to following agreement on with Washington on the new limit. Press reports spoke of such an agreement being likely within the next few months.

On June 19, President Putin began the first visit to North Korea by a Russian or Soviet leader. Putin later announced that North Korea was ready to renounce its ballistic missile programme in return for provision of rocket boosters, for use in a non-military space programme, by other states. See next issue for details and reaction.

Reports: Statement by the President, The White House, June 19; US eases North Korea sanctions, Associated Press, June 19; State Department drops 'rogue state' tag, Reuters, June 19; US eases economic sanctions on North Korea, Reuters, June 20; US-North Korea missile talks, US State Department statement, June 28; Cohen plays down failed US missile defense test, Reuters, July 10; Transcript - Einhorn Press Conference on N. Korea missile talks, US State Department (Washington File), July 12; US, N. Korea missile talks end, Associated Press, July 12; US, N. Korea missile talks deadlocked over money, Reuters, July 12; US, S. Korea to discuss missiles, Associated Press, July 14; Gilman introduces bipartisan N. Korea Non-Proliferation Act, House International Relations Committee Press Release, July 14.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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