Fri, Feb 23, 2001 - Page 1 News List

North Korea may jettison missile deal

ARMS CONTROLS The Stalinist state said it may drop out of a 1999 agreement with the US to not launch missiles, citing the US' `hardline stance' in negotiations

REUTERS , TOKYO

North Korea said yesterday it would not observe "indefinitely" its agreement with the US not to launch long-range missiles, and issued a new demand for hard currency in exchange for halting exports.

Famine-struck North Korea issued the warning in response to what it described as a "hardline stance" taken by the US administration of new President George W. Bush.

"We will not remain a passive onlooker to the things which only hamstring our scientific and technological development. We are always ready for all events," the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) quoted a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying.

Unpredictable North Korea test-fired a three-stage missile in August 1998, part of which flew over Japan, fueling speculation that it was preparing to launch soon another longer-range missile with the capacity to reach as far as Alaska and Hawaii.

A year later North Korea promised the US it would not proceed with further testing of its long-range Taepodong ballistic missile, and Washington quickly lifted some trade barriers against Pyongyang a half-century after the Korean War.

"We decided not to launch long-range missiles while the missile negotiations are under way but we will not indefinitely maintain this moratorium," the North Korean spokesman said.

The statement carried on KCNA was monitored in Tokyo.

`Seriously mistaken'

While refusing to accept a series of North Korean proposals, the US was pressing Pyongyang to move unilaterally and lay down its arms, the spokesman said.

"In other words, it wants the DPRK [North Korea] to totally disarm itself first. The US is seriously mistaken if it thinks that Pyongyang will accept its demand," he said.

Washington is particularly concerned about suspected transfers of North Korean missile technology and hardware to Iran, which US intelligence sources say is developing its own long-range missiles and could begin to test intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of striking the US within the next 10 years.

The US Central Intelligence Agency ranks North Korea as the world's biggest exporter of ballistic missiles, and defense analysts say Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Syria are among nations that have been on the receiving end.

Currency needs

"We might stop the missile export if the relevant compensation is made in hard currency because the missile export is aimed to earn foreign currency," the North Korean spokesman said. "But the new US administration is not poised to seriously study the issue."

Experts believe North Korea sells weapons including missiles and missile parts for up to US$1 billion each year.

The US has used an "engagement approach" to deal with North Korea since 1994, when it determined the Stalinist state had produced enough plutonium at a nuclear facility for one or two bombs.

Enemies since the 1950-53 Korean War, the two sides signed an "Agreed Framework" in 1994 under which North Korea froze its nuclear weapons program in return for a US pledge to provide two nuclear power reactors and oil supplies worth US$5 billion.

By the end of President Bill Clinton's second term, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had offered to stop developing missiles in exchange for promises of foreign help in launching satellites.

The US was interested, but did not have time to clinch a deal before the end of Clinton's term.

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