- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2000

North Korea's offer to abandon its long-range missile program in exchange for international assistance in launching space satellites is "fairly ambiguous" and not reliable evidence that the missile threat from North Korea has lessened, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said yesterday.
"It's unclear to me exactly what the offer is," Mr. Cohen said. "It is still fairly ambiguous in terms of the scope of the proposal. It would require a great deal more clarification before I could comment that it was a positive proposal or not."
Mr. Cohen discussed the matter with reporters during an appearance in his Pentagon office with Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisyan.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who met recently with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, told President Clinton on Friday that North Korea was willing to abandon its missile program if other countries helped it launch space satellites.
Mr. Cohen's skepticism stems from a concern that what North Korea may have in mind is importing a booster rocket capability that could be used to launch intercontinental weapons as well as satellites. If, on the other hand, it is seeking to use other countries' space-launch facilities, that might be acceptable, U.S. officials have said.
North Korea's test flight of a long-range rocket in August 1998 shocked the world and helped convince Mr. Cohen that the United States should develop a national missile defense as soon as possible. The Pentagon is aiming to have a national missile shield ready for use by 2005, and Mr. Cohen is due to recommend to Mr. Clinton this summer whether he should take the first steps toward building such a system.
Some argue that North Korea's reported interest in abandoning its missile program undercuts the urgency of deploying a national missile defense.
Mr. Cohen, however, said he remains skeptical of North Korea's intentions. During U.S.-North Korean missile talks early this month in Malaysia, the lead negotiator for North Korea told U.S. officials, "Our missile policy is to develop, to produce and to deploy powerful missiles continuously," Mr. Cohen said.
"So we have to weigh one statement against the other and get clarification before any judgment could be made about the validity and the advisability of the proposal," the defense secretary said.
Mr. Cohen said Pentagon missile defense officials are assessing the technical feasibility of the proposed U.S. national missile defense project, and he expects to weigh that and other factors in making a recommendation to Mr. Clinton "within about three or four weeks."
One additional factor to be considered, Mr. Cohen has said, is the urgency of the missile threat against the United States. He said he has reviewed a draft of the CIA's updated assessment of the missile threat. The CIA's previous assessment, published in September, said North Korea could deploy a long-range ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States as early as 2005. Since then, North Korea has frozen its missile development program to allow for negotiations, but it has not abandoned it.
Mr. Cohen would not comment on the substance of the updated CIA threat assessment.

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