Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's Visit to North Korea

Arms Control Today, November 2000 | Go to article overview

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's Visit to North Korea


An ACA Press Conference

one week after Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok, the second most senior official in North Korea, concluded an unprecedented visit to Washington, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright traveled to Pyongyang as the highest-level U.S. official ever to visit North Korea. On October 20, two days before Albright departed, the Arms Control Association held a press conference to discuss the purpose of the secretary's trip, the potential for progress on nuclear and missile issues, and the possibility of a future visit by President Bill Clinton. (For news coverage of Jo's visit and Albright's subsequent trip, see p. 22.)

Conference panelists were Spurgeon M. Keeny; Jr., president and executive director of the Arms Control Association; Alan Romberg, a former State Department official, now a senior fellow at the Henry L. Stimson Center; David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security and editor of Solving the North Korean Nuclear Puzzle; Joel Wit, former State Department coordinator for the 1994 Agreed Framework, now a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution; and Joseph Cirincione, director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The following is an edited version of their remarks and the question-and-answer session that followed.

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

Welcome to today's press briefing, sponsored by the Arms Control Association, on Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-11 in Pyongyang. This meeting, which has largely been ignored by U.S. media, operating under the shadow of the presidential campaign, signals a potential major breakthrough in U.S.-North Korean stormy relations.

Ten days ago, Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok, second in command to Chairman Kim, had a meeting with President Clinton that ended in a communique, which struck a very optimistic note and emphasized efforts to assure a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and to solve the ballistic missile problem. The communiqu6 concluded with a statement that the secretary of state would be visiting North Korea shortly to meet with Chairman Kim to directly relay the president's views on how to proceed with the North Korean issue. It went on to say that she would also make preparations for a possible presidential visit to North Korea in the near future.

This was indeed a major and largely unexpected development. When they said the secretary would visit "in the near future," I did not anticipate it would be within 10 days, and I think that even though the president's visit was described as a "possible visit," the tone suggests that the visit will probably take place, which is indeed remarkable. When you consider that the two countries have been facing each other for the last 47 years across the DMZ [Demilitarized Zone] as serious adversaries since the end of the Korean War, without a peace agreement, the decision of the president to make a visit is indeed a major development.

The last 10 years of the relationship have been quite stormy, with the focus of attention at the end of the Cold War on the problem of North Korea's apparent intention to develop a relatively substantial nuclear weapons capability. While I think, all things considered, that substantial progress has been made in containing this threat, the problem is far from resolved. In more recent years, the major issue has been the North Korean ballistic missile program-both its development and its export of ballistic missiles and technology to other countries that have all been classified as "rogues," and now "of concern."

Last year, in his review of U.S.-North Korean policy, former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry came up with a proposed plan of action for future relations. In it, he emphasized the centrality of resolving the problem of North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities, which he believed had to be essentially eliminated. …

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