Global Policy Forum

Clinton Ends Most N. Korea Sanctions

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Republican leaders say he's bowing to pressure

By Terence Hunt

Associated Press/Assistant Nation
September 18, 1999

Washington - President Bill Clinton lifted a half-century of restrictions on trade, travel and banking against North Korea on Friday, rewarding the impoverished communist nation for an apparent agreement not to test missiles that could strike as far as Alaska or Hawaii. Clinton's decision was the most sweeping gesture toward North Korea since the Korean War. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the United States and North Korea were starting "down a new and more hopeful road. It is a road that holds out the possibility of long-term stability and even eventual reconciliation on the Korean peninsula."


But Republican leaders sharply criticized Clinton's move and accused the White House of bowing to pressure. "We are once again entering a cycle of extortion with North Korea," said Rep. Benjamin Gilman (Republican of NY), chairman of the House International Relations Committee. "Ultimately, we have no assurances that North Korea has halted missile development or its program for weapons of mass destruction." Sen. Jesse Helms (Republican of North Carolina), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, registered his opposition with William Perry, the president's coordinator for North Korea policy. Helms made clear "his concern that the United States was on the verge of becoming the foreign aid benefactor of the world's most oppressive communist government," said Helms' spokesman, Marc Thiessen. Perry, briefing reporters at the State Department, said the contemplated trade would involve only consumer goods and therefore would not affect South Korean security.

In Tokyo, Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura praised the White House announcement. "We strongly hope it will lead to further progress in relations between North Korea and the US," he said. The president's order relaxed a once-total trade embargo imposed in 1950 during the early days of the Korean War. Over the years, some of the prohibitions had been eased to permit academic, sports and cultural exchanges and the delivery of US humanitarian goods to relieve starvation and respond to natural disasters.

Clinton's order allows a wide range of trade in commercial and consumer goods, eases restrictions on investment and eliminates prohibitions on direct personal and commercial financial transactions between North Korea and the United States. Moreover, US planes and ships will be allowed to fly to North Korean airports and call on its ports, and North Korean craft will enjoy the same privileges in the United States.

One of the poorest and most secretive nations in the world, North Korea does not have the resources or apparent inclination to become a major market for US products. Conceivably, North Korea could capitalize on its low-wage labor market to sell its goods to Americans - but it would have to compete with other Asian countries and Latin America. North Korea currently receives 500 million metric tons of wheat, rice, corn and other grains annually from the United States through the United Nations World Food Program. For years, North Korean leaders have blamed their country's poverty on U.S. sanctions. "Obviously there's not a whole lot of trade opportunities in an impoverished communist country," said Greg Mastel, a global economics specialists at the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank. "It's mostly a symbolic step, a signal maybe of things to come, a confidence-building [move]. I don't think you'll see North Korea blossom into a China overnight in the economic sense."

Clinton's decision grew out of US-North Korean talks in Berlin held Sept. 7-12 to ease tensions over North Korea's suspected nuclear weapons programs. Details of the discussions have not been disclosed, but the United States says it is confident that North Korea will suspend a possible missile test. "On the basis of these discussions, it is our understanding that North Korea will continue to refrain from testing long-range missiles of any kind as both sides move toward more normal relations," presidential spokesman Joe Lockhart said.

North Korea rattled nerves in Asia and Washington after firing a missile over Japan last year. The United States had feared the Koreans were on the verge of testing another missile, this one capable of striking Alaska or Hawaii. North Korea had pledged in 1994 to freeze its suspected nuclear weapons program but that promise did not cover its missile program, leading Washington to open separate negotiations.

Perry, the US coordinator for North Korea policy, had recommended quick pursuit of an accommodation with the North Koreans if Pyongyang agreed to forgo long-range missile and nuclear weapons development. He expressed confidence that US monitoring capabilities would be able to uncover any North Korean violations of its commitments.

What's now ok - Restrictions lifted on:

  • US imports of most North Korean products.
  • Sales of most US consumer goods and financial services.
  • US investment in most industries.
  • Direct financial help from US citizens to North Koreans.
  • US ship and plane transport of cargo to and from North Korea.
  • Commercial flights to and from North Korea.

    Restrictions remain on:

  • Sales of US weapons and missile technology.
  • Unlicensed export of items that could have military uses.
  • US foreign aid and support for international loans.

    About North Korea
    Official name: Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
    Population: 22 million.
    Government: Communist, led for four decades by dictator Kim Il Sung. When he died in 1997, his son Kim Jong Il succeeded him.
    Religion: Traditionally Chondogya, Buddhism and Confucianism. But under communism, religious activity has been almost nonexistent.
    History: Korea, a Japanese colony since 1910, was partitioned in 1945, after World War II. In 1950, North Korean troops, backed by the Soviet Union and China, invaded the south, which was supported by the United States and other UN members. The war ended in an armistice in 1953, but no permanent peace treaty was signed.
    Economy: The country is rich in natural resources, but several years of flooding have caused widespread crop failures and famine. Four decades of US sanctions also hampered economic development.


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