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Wednesday, 19 July, 2000, 17:20 GMT 18:20 UK
Analysis: North Korea sets its price
The miniature interception device at the heart of the US missile defence system
Russia opposes the planned US anti-missile system
By Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus

The Russian president's interest in the North Korean missile programme is linked to his opposition to Washington's plans to deploy defences against ballistic missile attack.

President Putin knows that it is North Korea's development of ever-longer range missiles that is determining the pace of the US national missile defence effort.

President Putin must reason that if the North Korean programme can be slowed or - better still - abandoned altogether, then President Bill Clinton - and more importantly his successor - may pause to re-think the controversial missile defence plan.

What the North Koreans seem to be offering, though, may not be terribly attractive to the Americans.

Terms

They appear to have told Mr Putin that they would give up their missile programme if somebody else provides them with rocket boosters for space exploration.

US and Russian presidents at Moscow summit
The US and Russian leaders still differ over the anti-missile system
In outline this seems similar to the deal brokered by the US under which North Korea's nuclear programme was halted by the promise to provide western-designed power generating reactors.

But while North Korea's ailing economy obviously needs cheap electricity, it's hard to see why a country whose population regularly faces famine needs to engage in space exploration.

North Korea already claims that much of its missile effort is intended to launch satellites into space - an explanation that carries little weight in Washington.

The idea of giving the North Koreans even better booster engines for their missiles may not prove very popular either.

Hope

However the Clinton Administration may perhaps be able to discern one small glimmer of hope in the North Korean statement.

It could be read as a signal - however tentative - that Pyongyang is now ready to abandon its missile programme at a price.

But that price is still to be determined.

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See also:

19 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea offers missile 'deal'
18 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Russia-China attack US missile plan
19 Jul 00 | Media reports
Russian press upbeat over Beijing
17 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Shared aims at Beijing summit
12 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea: A military threat?
26 Apr 00 | Europe
Russia resists US missile plan
28 Mar 00 | Europe
Putin's foreign policy riddle
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