Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 30

On the first leg of his Asian tour, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov oversaw the February 9 signing of a Russian-North Korean “treaty of friendship, good-neighborliness and cooperation.” This document, which follows several years of negotiation and was first initialed in March of last year, replaces the 1961 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance which had defined relations between communist North Korea and the Soviet Union. Relations between those two countries cooled following Moscow’s diplomatic recognition of South Korea in 1990 and in 1995 the Russian government renounced the 1961 treaty.

Ivanov’s visit to North Korea was the first by a Soviet or Russian foreign minister since then Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze traveled to the North Korean capital in 1990, and there was some rhetoric in Pyongyang this week that the latest treaty signing marked a rebirth of close ties between the two countries. That would seem, however, to be an exaggeration. The new treaty does reflect Russia’s desire to maintain relations with North Korea, but it appears to place a primary emphasis on boosting trade while excluding military assistance clauses contained in the 1961 treaty. In the new treaty Russia and North Korea have instead agreed simply not to back any state which attacks the other (Reuters, Kyodo, February 9; AP, Agence Presse France, Itar-Tass, February 10).

While in Pyongyang Ivanov held talks with both North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam and with Kim Yong Nam, the number two man in the North Korean government. He did not meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. In addition to signing the treaty, Ivanov and his hosts reportedly discussed security on the Korean peninsula. Moscow has tried to win a greater role for itself in Korean peace negotiations. According to one report, Ivanov intended also to call on North Korea to take part in a Moscow-led security system to control ballistic missiles and missile technology (Kyodo, February 9). Moscow has proposed the system as an alternative to Japan-U.S. plans for a theater missile defense system in Asia–a system it opposes–and Russian defense experts more generally have dismissed the idea that North Korea poses enough of a threat to justify U.S. plans for a limited national missile defense system.