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Washington Journal: U.S., North Korea Moving Closer

Washington, 20 September 1999 (RFE/RL) --The United States and North Korea - adversaries in a war nearly a half century ago - are moving closer to normalizing relations.

U.S. President Bill Clinton on Friday ordered easing trade sanctions against North Korea in what American officials say is part of a plan to persuade the communist country to give up its missile and nuclear research programs.

The announcement came just days after U.S. and North Korean negotiators in Berlin agreed that Pyongyang would temporarily freeze testing its long-range missiles.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the U.S. move to promote better ties was fully endorsed by key countries in the region, such as South Korea and Japan.

Albright said: "Our policy of seeking to ease tensions, prevent destabilizing developments and explore the possibilities of a different and better relationship with North Korea are fully in accord with the positions of our allies."

The secretary of state said the easing of sanctions depends on whether North Korea delivers its promise of abandoning its high tech military research. Washington is concerned that an improved version of North Korea's Nodong missiles could eventually reach parts of the United States. Existing missiles are feared to be a threat to South Korea and Japan.

Albright warned: "If circumstances warrant that we go back to square one, we can do so without damage to our interests. If circumstance require that we go down a different road altogether, we will do so to defend our interests."

The agreement between the two countries permits North Korea to buy consumer goods from the United States and send cargo directly to the U.S. and back home. Until now, such transactions have been prohibited.

In addition, American companies will now be able to invest in North Korea to develop its agriculture, industry and utilize its natural resources. However, it is unclear if U.S. businesses would take be willing to invest in the country that has no laws against nationalization or regulations protecting foreign enterprises.

White House spokesman Joseph Lockhart also explained the move.

Lockhart said: "The easing of sanctions will allow most consumer goods to be available for export to North Korea and will allow the importation of most North Korean-origin goods into the United States. To support this easing of sanctions and the trade of goods, most personal and commercial funds transfers will be allowed between U.S. and North Korean persons. The relaxation of transportation restrictions will allow commercial air and sea transportation between the U.S. and North Korea for passengers and cargo, subject to normal regulatory requirements. This easing of sanctions does not affect our counter terrorism or nonproliferation controls on North Korea, which prohibit exports of military and sensitive dual-use items, and most types of U.S. assistance. Statutory restrictions, such as U.S. missile sanctions, will remain in place. "

The White House spokesman cautioned that the next move will be up to North Korea.

Lockhart said: "This is a very conditional lifting of sanctions, (and) I think as we've made it very clear, that if they resume testing, that sanctions will be put back on."

The new policy was developed by former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry, who traveled to the region at Clinton's direction to determine if the United States and North Korea could move toward more normal relations.

The U.S. has been sending humanitarian aid to the North, a country hit by famine in recent years. Under a 1994 agreement, the U.S. has agreed to ship $40 million a year in fuel oil in return for North Korea's freezing its plutonium production.