May 27, 1999
Seoul, South Korea -- North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, received a letter on Wednesday from President Clinton brought by a special envoy to the isolated Communist country, the official North Korean news agency reported. The envoy, William Perry, delivered the letter through Kim Yong Nam, head of North Korea's legislative Supreme People's Assembly, according to the Korean Central News Agency, which was monitored in Seoul.
Last week, White House officials said that Perry's mission was to deliver a proposal that the 50-year-old economic embargo against the country be lifted gradually in exchange for a series of major concessions, including an agreement that the North will end its long-range missile program. It is still unclear whether the enigmatic North Korean leader plans to meet Perry in person. Washington hopes for such a meeting.
Perry arrived on Tuesday for talks aiming to persuade the North Korean leadership to abandon its suspected nuclear arms and missile development programs. He heads the highest-level United States delegation to travel to North Korea during the rule of Kim Jong Il, who took over following the 1994 death of his father, longtime ruler Kim Il Sung. Kim Yong Nam, who is also North Korea's second-highest official in the ruling Workers' Party, received Perry and other American delegates at the North Korean legislative hall. North Korean television footage carried by South Korea's MBC-TV showed Perry shaking hands with Kim Yong Nam before officials from both sides sat down facing each other across a long conference table. Perry then handed President Clinton's letter to Kim. Typed on the yellow cover was, "His Excellency, Kim Jong Il, Supreme Leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Pyongyang." The footage later showed Perry and his party watching a performance by North Korean acrobats.
South Korean news media have speculated that in his personal letter, Clinton urged Kim Jong Il to make concessions on weapons proliferation, promising the famine-stricken North both economic assistance and improved relations with Washington as rewards.
Former President Jimmy Carter and Congressional delegations have visited North Korea, but Perry is the first to make an official visit representing the President of the United States. This week, an American inspection team visited an underground building outside Pyongyang. North Korea is suspected of using the site to revive its nuclear weapons program, which was suspended under a 1994 accord with Washington.