ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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North Korea : First Steps

North Korea : First Steps

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S secretary of state Madeleine Albright's visit to Pyongyang on October 23-25 represented a historic step in attempts to engage North Korea. Albright and North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il, toasted each other and even sat side by side at a celebration in Pyongyang to mark 55 years of communist rule in the country. Such bonhomie would have been unimaginable even some months back. With North Korea's opening up to talks with the US, South Korea and Japan and its willingness to discuss reductions in its weapons programme, the US was even considering a trip by Clinton to the country. However, failure to reach an agreement on North Korea's missile programme has now virtually ruled out that possibility. North Korea has been a hermetically sealed society, distancing itself from the west and from much of the rest of the world for over half a century. The US and North Korea fought the Korean War in 1950-53 which ended in an armistice in 1953 but no peace treaty. The US has branded North Korea a 'rogue' state as it is suspected of holding an arsenal of chemical and biological weapons and even trying to build a nuclear bomb. It is also accused of exporting long-range missile technology to Syria and Iran. In 1998, North Korea test-fired a missile over Japan, causing serious alarm throughout the region. Recently North Korea has begun to thaw its relations with other countries, the change being symbolised most dramatically by the historic summit with South Korea in June. The summit was made possible by South Korean president Kim Dae Jung's 'sunshine policy' of constructively engaging North Korea, which earned him this year's Nobel peace prize. His efforts have led to exchange of prisoners and family visits between the two countries. There has also been talk of eventual re-unification of the two Koreas. It is unclear however how far North Korea is willing to go in its diplomatic efforts, urgent as its need for aid to cope with its food crisis and economic collapse is.

Analysts point out that North Korea may be unwilling to give up its trump card, its long-range missile capability. Albright claimed that her meeting with Kim had led to significant progress as North Korea had indicated that it would halt its missile programme, although no agreement to this effect emerged. In spite of meetings between senior officials of the US and North Korea, an agreement on reducing North Korea's missiles remains to be concluded. North Korea is also demanding large amounts of aid to stop missile exports.

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