WASHINGTON -- Ending more than two months of suspense, President Clinton said Thursday he will not make a presidential visit to North Korea and is looking to his successor for progress in curbing the communist country's missile program.
Clinton told reporters at the White House he informed President-elect George W. Bush that he would not make the trip, which would have been a historic first, because in his three remaining weeks he lacked the time "to make it right."
In a statement, Clinton also noted "sufficient promise" in the talks his administration has held with Pyongyang on development and export of missiles to continue the effort. "The United States has a clear national interest in seeing it through," he said.
"I believe the next administration will be able to consummate this agreement," Clinton said. "I expect visits back and forth. I think a lot of things will happen" that will "make the world a much safer place."
North Korea has been a focus of Clinton's foreign policy. In 1994, the two sides negotiated an agreement to freeze North Korea's nuclear program in exchange for safer reactors and energy supplies from the United States, Japan and South Korea.
Last week, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who visited Pyongyang in October, cited a "genuine possibility" that North Korea would agree to limit its production and export of missiles and missile technology.
One reason the United States is considering construction of an anti-missile shield was unease over North Korea's missile strength. Clinton deferred to Bush a decision on whether to begin activities toward deployment of the defense system. The next president favors a far more extensive and expensive program than the Clinton administration envisioned.
The president said he has made a "lot of progress" with North Korea. "I expect the next administration to build on it," he said.
Clinton said he has talked extensively with Bush about North Korea, and the Republican president-elect did not influence Clinton's decision not to make the trip.
Clinton said North Korean leader Kim Jong Il "put forward a serious proposal concerning his missile program," and the United States had discussed with Pyongyang proposals to eliminate the export program and halt further missile development.
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