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Russia: Moscow And North Korea To Sign Weaker Basic Treaty

Prague, 20 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russia's long-standing support for North Korea is waning. Or so it seems.

Three days ago Russia and North Korea concluded in Moscow a series of talks designed to prepare a new bilateral friendship treaty. The two had signed a basic treaty in 1961, but Russia wants the new treaty to reflect their changed interests. Prior to the talks Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said that the 1961 agreement "contains dated clauses, notably on union obligations in the event of aggression. These will taken out of the new document." Russia has earlier told Japanese and Chinese officials that it has stopped supplying North Koreans with arms, providing now only spare parts.

Karasin and his North Korean counterpart, Lee In Kyu, began the latest round of talks on June 16. The session reportedly focused on the wording of the new treaty. But it also said to have featured Moscow's assurances that Russia is still interested in remaining North Korea's partner.

But it is clear that Russia has new interests in Asia and particularly in the Pacific rim. Just in the last two months the Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov traveled to China, Japan and the United States. China's President Jiang Zemin came to Moscow to sign new agreements on cooperation and Japanese Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda was in Moscow for talks on relations. Russia has also hosted an ASEAN conference. None of these talks and contacts involved North Korea.

North Korea is stricken by famine to the point where Pyong Yang must accept humanitarian aid from their worst enemies. Its economy appears to be is crumbling. Waves of North Korean migrant workers are reported to be in Siberian logging camps or at Siberian construction sites and the reason is not so much fraternal friendship as might have been the case a decade ago, but the lack of jobs at home.

Recently, former ranking U. S. government official Zbigniew Brzezinski said that the end may be near for North Korea. In a recent article in the Washington Post Brzezinski said the United States and China must "prepare for the emergence of a unified, independent and yet unthreatening Korea."

But, while everything seems to be going wrong for North Korea, its statements made immediately following the Moscow meeting were far from conciliatory. North Korea warned again that it was prepared, if necessary, to fight to the end against the United States and South Korea.