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North Korea Unilaterally Extends Missile Test Moratorium to 2003

By Doug Struck

North Korea will launch no ballistic missiles until 2003, its leader told European officials Thursday, unilaterally extending a moratorium on the missile testing that had rattled leaders in America and Asia three years ago.

Kim Jong Il said he will “wait and see” if the Bush administration wants to resume progress toward better relations before resuming the missile tests, Sweden’s prime minister, Goran Persson, told reporters after meeting Kim in Pyongyang.

Fear of a missile attack by North Korea or other small hostile states has been a major factor in the administration’s interest in building a missile defense system. On Tuesday, Bush reaffirmed intention to proceed with such a shield.

According to Persson, Kim also said his pending visit to South Korea, anxiously sought by Seoul, will similarly depend on the next move by the American president, who has taken a hard-line approach to North Korea.

“We have a clear message that Kim Jong Il is committed to a second summit,” to follow the historic meeting between leaders of North and South Korea last June, Persson said. But he quoted the North Korean leader as saying he first wanted “to see what the (Bush) policy review ended up with.”

Kim’s promise to extend the pause in missile testing renews a pledge he made in September 1999, to the United States. That came in negotiations following the Aug. 31, 1998, launch of a Taepodong ballistic missile that passed over Japan.

The launch spooked Japan, surprised America and helped fuel discussion of a missile defense system.

In the 1999 negotiations, the United States said it would continue to ease economic sanctions against North Korea, and Pyongyang promised to stop testing missiles as long as talks continued with the United States.

But Bush put a freeze on those discussions when he took office, causing many analysts here to question whether North Korea would resume the tests. Kim’s answer to those questions was given to Persson and other officials of the European Union in the first visit by a Western head-of-state to the Stalinist state.