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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 49, August 2000

Progress Suggested in Russia-North Korea Missile Discussions

In mid-July, President Vladimir Putin became the first Russian head of state to visit North Korea. Issues of missile development were high on the agenda. Speaking in Pyongyang on June 19, President Putin announced that North Korea would be prepared to renounce ballistic missile development in return for assistance in its space research and satellite programme. According to Putin, President Kim Jong-il "voiced an idea under which North Korea is even prepared to use exclusively the rocket equipment of other countries for peaceful research if they offer it." Putin added: "One should expect other countries, if they assert that the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] poses a threat for them, would support this project. They can minimize the threat by supplying the DPRK with their own rocket boosters…" On July 21, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov urged both a positive and a patient response to the proposal: "If such assistance is offered, North Korea is ready to stop ballistic missile tests… It's too early to discuss specifics, such as whether such assistance would envisage providing funds or carrying out launches."

At the end of their summit, the Russian and North Korean leaders issued a joint statement declaring: "The DPRK and Russia consider that the results of the analysis of…present international realities prove the missile threat from some states, cited as a pretext to justify…projected amendment of the ABM Treaty, to be totally groundless. … The DPRK stated that its missile programme does not pose any threat to anybody but is purely peaceful in nature…"

An unnamed US official voiced immediate scepticism about the apparent missile offer, noting on July 20: "It's not clear if it's good or bad news… It is certainly a possibility, that we are open to, that Putin and Kim Jong-il have discussed the prospect of Russia and perhaps others in the international community providing the North Koreans with a boost or launch capability outside of North Korea… [But] if, repeat if, Russia is contemplating providing North Korea with additional launch capability so as to enhance and accelerate its capability to launch its own rockets, that is a total non-starter… It is not clear from what we have seen whether Russia is contemplating something here that would make it part of the solution or part of the problem…" The following day, another senior Administration official addressed the issue at length:

"[I]f what's envisioned here would be for North Korea to give up, to forswear, its ballistic missile programme in exchange for some kind of international assistance in outing into orbit satellites and that sort of thing, and if was clearly understood that the launch capability was going to be outside [North Korea]…and thoroughly subject to international technology controls, that not only would be something that we would be prepared to pursue, but it's actually something we have pursued in the past. And, by the way, there…might be a role for the G-8 in that… But…the underlying problem here is that the North Koreans have already progressed quite far, as the August '98 missile shot demonstrated. And that means that they could, in relatively short order, if they were to decide to suspend the moratorium on testing and rush ahead with a testing programme, have a missile that could threaten Japan, for starters - well, I guess we should say South Korea for starters, Japan, and not too much farther in the future, the United States. … So, in other words, what I'm saying is, President Putin did not say that what he had heard in Pyongyang was some kind of a slam-dunk rebuttal to the premise of NMD."

On August 14, reports in the South Korean media quoted Kim Jong-il as remarking, during an August 12 meeting with South Korean media executives in Pyongyang: "I told Putin that $200 million to $300 million is needed to launch a rocket and that if the US launches our satellites into orbit instead, we'll stop developing them… I made this and other remarks regarding scientific technology [with regard to space] research of rockets as a passing, laughing matter. Putin did not respond at that time but he later seized on it firmly…" On August 15, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Alexander Yakovenko commented on the reports: "I think there is hardly any need to confirm that during the talks in Pyongyang the North Korean side really expressed the view that if countries concerned about the DPRK's missile programme launched, free of charge, two or three DPRK satellites a year for the North Korean space programme, Pyongyang would have no need for carrier rickets of its own manufacture. This position is reproduced just literally in the reports of the South Korean journalists who visited Pyongyang only recently and met with the DPRK leader on August 12. Incidentally, the South Korean press does not doubt this position. …. If this initiative is implemented, the exponents of the development of an American national ABM system will lose one of their key arguments in favour of deploying such a system. When the stakes are so high, there is nothing surprising about the appearance of such 'interpretations.'"

In Bangkok on July 28, US Secretary of State Albright held an unprecedented meeting with North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sum. Albright told reporters afterwards that she had been "direct in stating American concerns about all aspects of the missile threat, nuclear weapons related activities and the importance of achieving the goals of the Agreed Framework." Asked if she had been "able to glean…any more details of this supposed offer to halt the missile programme in exchange for space technology," Albright replied: "No. ... We discussed it but I was not able to glean." Earlier (July 24), Defense Secretary Cohen argued that, given the vagueness surrounding the offer, the US had "also to take into account" the fact that North Korea's "top negotiator…recently…made the statement that 'our missile policy is to develop, to produce, and deploy, powerful missiles continuously.'"

Reports: Putin says North Korea offers to give up rockets, Reuters, July 19; Putin visits North Korea, Associated Press, July 20; Washington - Russia intention in North Korea unclear, Reuters, July 20; Russia, North Korea - US missile fears groundless, Reuters, July 20; Background briefing by senior Administration officials on Presidents Clinton and Putin bilateral,' The White House, July 21; Clinton, Putin discuss military, Associated Press, July 21; N. Korea decries anti-missile system, Associated Press, July 22; Cohen wary of N. Korea missile report, Associated Press, July 24; Transcript - Cohen, Armenian Defense Minister press availability, US State Department (Washington File), July 24; Transcript - Albright July 28 press stakeout on US-DPRK bilateral, US State Department (Washington File), July 28; American official going to North Korea for talks, Reuters, August 9; N. Korea said ready to open US ties, Associated Press, August 13; Reply by [the] official spokesperson of the Russian Foreign Ministry Alexander Yakovenko to a question from [an] Interfax correspondent, Russian Foreign Ministry, August 15.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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