President Clinton on Thursday ended speculation that he might visit North Korea before the end of his term, saying there is not enough time to conclude an agreement with Pyongyang on curbing its development and export of ballistic missiles.
In a written statement, Clinton said that he continues to believe that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is committed to reaching such an accord and that the United States has a "clear national interest in seeing it through."
"I believe the next administration will be able to consummate this agreement," Clinton subsequently told reporters.
Kim Jong Il had invited Clinton to Pyongyang in October, and Clinton had been tempted to make the trip, which would have been the first by an American president to the secretive Communist country. But the prospect of such a grand gesture at the end of his term prompted sharp criticism from Republicans, including advisers to President-elect George W. Bush, who remain deeply suspicious of North Korean intentions.
In the end, Clinton decided that negotiations on the details of a missile accord had not made sufficient progress to reward Pyongyang with a visit. Planning for the trip was also complicated by the long period of uncertainty following the presidential election.
"I have determined that there is not enough time while I am president to prepare the way for an agreement with North Korea that advances our national interest and provides the basis for a trip by me to Pyongyang," Clinton's statement said. "Let me emphasize that I believe this process of engagement with North Korea, in coordination with South Korea and Japan, holds great promise and that the United States should continue to build on the progress we have made."