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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 50, September 2000

Clarification Still Sought on North Korea Missile Offer

As reported in the last issue, in mid-July North Korea apparently offered, following discussions in Pyongyang between President Kim Jong-il and President Putin of Russia, to stop work on its ballistic missile programme in return for international assistance in non-military satellite launches and space research projects. As US officials were quick to point out, details of the offer were extremely sketchy. No fresh information appears to have been made available during the period under review. On September 7, the issue featured prominently in a meeting at UN Headquarters between President Clinton and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung. According to P. J. Crowley, a spokesperson for the National Security Council: "The President indicated that we were very interested in finding out more about North Korea's interest in perhaps gaining access to commercial launching facilities outside North Korea in return for ending their missile programme... Obviously that remains one of our primary policy goals with North Korea, to see an end to their missile programme... We believe it was a serious [suggestion]...that Kim Jong-il made to President Putin. We are very interested in it."

Earlier, on August 24, State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher told reporters: "We don't know exactly what this offer is that they made to Putin. We're still following up with the Russians. The Russians have been following up, we think, with the North Koreans. We're going to want to talk to the Russians about it and see what they know and how they evaluate." Ambassador Wendy Sherman led a State Department delegation to Moscow for talks on North Korean issues with Russian, South Korean and Japanese officials on August 28-29.

On September 6, the US apologised to North Korea for an incident at Frankfurt airport in which the country's delegation travelling to the UN Millennium Summit was body searched by US airline staff. The delegation, headed by Kim Yong-nam, Chair of the People's Supreme Assembly Standing Committee, returned to Pyongyang and issued a protest against the "rude and provocative act". On September 8, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told reporters: "They accepted the letter [of apology] and expressed understanding of the fact that this is not a position of the United States Government and will not affect in any way our continuing evolutionary relationship... We are putting all this behind us."

Reports: Ambassador Sherman's travel to Moscow and Seoul, US State Department, August 24; US official to talk to N. Korea in Moscow, Reuters, August 24; Clinton, S. Korea discuss N. Korea missile program, Reuters, September 7; N. Korea to watch for next US steps after apology, Reuters, September 9.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.