Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 147

More than a week after the appearance of reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin had negotiated an agreement by which North Korea would give up its ballistic missile development program, there appear still to be more questions than answers as to what exactly it was that Putin accomplished in Pyongyang. Initial reports of the North Korean-Russian missile “deal”–reported by Russian agencies following talks between Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on July 19–suggested that North Korea had agreed to scrap its ballistic missile program in exchange for access to foreign space rocket technology. Government officials and defense experts in the United States and elsewhere reacted skeptically to the announcement out of Pyongyang, and looked forward to what they assumed would be clarifications from Putin at the summit of Group of Seven countries and Russia which took place on July 21-23 in Japan (see the Monitor, July 21).

Those clarifications have apparently not yet come. Although Putin’s presentation on his visit to North Korea was described by some G-7 leaders as “brilliant,” Clinton administration officials at least claimed afterward to still be largely in the dark about the details of the proposed missile deal (Los Angeles Times, July 22). Nor, apparently, did the North Korean delegation’s maiden appearance at a ministerial meeting of the South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum this week in Bangkok do much to clear up lingering questions on the subject. The North Koreans focused instead on joining the Chinese and Russian delegations in blasting anew both U.S. plans for a limited national missile defense program and a U.S.-Japanese proposal for the deployment of a theater missile defense system in Asia (Reuters, BBC, AP, July 27). The U.S. delegation in Bangkok did apparently get some new assurances from Russia that the plan Moscow has in mind could in fact end the North Korean missile threat. But there has apparently still been no confirmation from the North Korean side that it is willing to accept such a proposal. That confirmation, the U.S. side hopes, will be forthcoming today, when Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is scheduled to meet with North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun in Bangkok (International Herald Tribune, July 28).