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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Friday, October 27, 2000

Albright: U.S., Japan, South
Korea must present united front

By Jeremy Kirk
Seoul bureau chief

SEOUL — Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stressed Wednesday that the United States, Japan and South Korea must move in unison in dealing with North Korea.

"It is essential that our three countries carry on these discussions (with North Korea) in parallel," Albright said at a news conference, which included South Korean Foreign Minister Lee Young-binn and Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono.

Albright came to Seoul after spending two days in North Korea for talks with leader Kim Jong Il. Albright spoke at the Shilla Hotel in Seoul, just a few miles from Yongsan Garrison. So far, no specifics on talks with the North’s Kim have been released, but Albright has said they covered North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

"We have begun to address in a serious way some of our differences with Pyongyang," Albright said.

One major difference involves concerns about the North’s nuclear capabilities. A 1994 U.S.-North Korean agreement was designed to freeze a suspected nuclear weapons program in Yongbyan, but there are concerns Pyongyang may have stockpiled one or more such weapons beforehand.

Some experts believe North Korea had acquired sufficient materials in the pre-agreement period for one or two weapons. Others doubt Pyongyang has any.

Albright said she raised the weapons issue with Kim.

"Obviously, the nuclear issue has been one of central importance to us," Albright said, stressing the need for full disclosure by the North Koreans.

"I made the point any number of times in my discussion with Chairman Kim, whatever the subject, that confidence-building measures generally and transparency were absolutely essential if our relationship is to move forward," she said.

Albright said that David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington and no relation to the secretary, said peace on the Korean Peninsula "can’t be achieved without verified assurances that North Korea is free of nuclear weapons. A single nuclear weapon could cause tremendous havoc to Seoul."

Since her trip, no mention has been made of the 37,000 U.S. servicemembers stationed in South Korea as a deterrent force. During their June summit, the North’s Kim told South Korean President Kim Dae-jung that U.S. troops might be able to stay even after eventual unification of the Koreas.

The position was a surprise because North Korea has steadfastly demanded a U.S. troop withdrawal as a precondition for reconciliation.

Also discussed was helping North Korea with satellite launches in exchange for arms-control concessions, Albright said.

Kim reportedly suggested the proposal during a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin in July. The suggestion was dismissed by many as a joke, but the secretary of state said expert-level missile talks are scheduled for next week between the United States and North Korea.

This year, a top North Korean concern has been removal from the U.S. list of countries that sponsor terrorism. The issue was discussed, she said.

"They know what they need to do (to get off the list)," she said.

Albright said she will consult with President Clinton when she returns to Washington. No decision has been made whether Clinton will be the first president to travel to North Korea next month.

Some critics say a presidential trip to North Korea may lend undeserving legitimacy to a regime that has a horrendous human-rights record.

But North Korea has been on its good behavior this year, re-establishing diplomatic ties with countries such as Australia and Italy. Experts believe North Korea has tried to improve relations to stave off the country’s implosion.

North Korea has been heavily dependent on foreign aid to feed its people. Plagued by poor weather and outdated farming methods, it’s estimated as many as one million people have died from famine over the past six years.

But its military is the fifth largest in the world, and the country is considered a threat to Asian stability. Despite a limping economy, North Korea maintains a high military exercise tempo and force modernization program, U.S. intelligence reports indicate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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