President Bill Clinton announced December 28 that he would not travel to North Korea before the end of his term, citing "insufficient time to complete the work at hand." However, Clinton emphasized in a White House statement that diplomatic progress made over the past several months on ending Pyongyang's indigenous missile program and exports still holds "sufficient promise to continue the effort."
The decision concludes months of intense speculation that Clinton would visit North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il in order to put the finishing touches on a broad arrangement that would terminate Pyongyang's missile program and end its missile exports. According to a State Department official, recent high-level discussions have resulted in "a lot of progress on important issues," but there was not enough time to iron out the details of several key issues. The trip would have been the first by a sitting American president to North Korea.
Since Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's historic October meeting with Kim in Pyongyang, working toward a formal agreement on missiles with the North Koreans has been a high priority for the administration in the little time remaining before Clinton leaves office. Clinton was invited to Pyongyang during the October 9-12 White House visit of North Korea's second-highest ranking military officer, Vice Marshall Jo Myong Rok. (See ACT, November 2000.)
It is not known how the incoming administration plans to proceed with the North Korean missile negotiations, but a break in the recent flurry of diplomatic activity appears likely as President-elect George W. Bush reviews the situation.