North Korea may be one of the world’s few remaining communist countries, a place that has been described as being “hermetically sealed” for the last 50 years, but its leader is no slouch in the new economy.
At a dinner today to mark the end of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s landmark visit to the country, Albright told Kim Jong-il: “Pick up the phone anytime.”
Kim instantly replied: “Please give me your e-mail address.”
The request was unusual coming from the leader of North Korea, a country that has very few computers and no cellular telephone service. North Korea has an Internet service provider though.
The improbability of the night’s meeting was not lost on Albright, who found it hard to believe she was having a cordial visit to a communist land that the United States, until recently, called a rogue state.
Toasting Kim in palatial Magnolia Hall where she was host for a parting dinner, Albright said: “I never expected to play the role of host for such a gathering as this.”
An aide to Kim said in his toast that North Korea looked forward to more steps toward a reconciliation
The officials dined in a six-sided room in a vast hall glowing with brilliant light — all this in a state where many North Koreans, even near the capital, use candles and oil lamps in the face of an electricity shortage and their poverty.
“Chairman Kim was quite clear in explaining his understanding of U.S. concerns,” Albright said, describing him as “a good listener and very decisive.”
Albright said she would report back to President Clinton and he would decide whether the time was right for him to visit North Korea.
After two days of historic high-level talks, U.S. officials said today that North Korea was seeking reconciliation with the United States, and has indicated it won’t launch long-range missiles.
Albright said she took seriously a remark by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il — delivered offhand at a gymnastic exhibition Monday night — that it would refrain from such launches.
Kim had raised the missile issue when an image of a Taepo Dong I missile was flashed before the audience. “He quipped that this was the first satellite launch and it would be the last,” she said.
Asked if she interpreted that as a pledge for a permanent moratorium on missile launches, Albright said, “I take what he said as serious as to his desire to move forward to resolve various questions.”
A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said after Albright and Kim finished their talks that the North Korean leader is agreeable to “serious restraint” in missiles.
“A missile can’t hit the United States unless it goes into space,” the official said. “So the kind of missiles that we’re really worried about, he’s pledged to never launch again.”
But diplomats offered no further elaboration of Kim’s words to Albright in their six hours of talks, including whether his assurances covered all missiles that could be used against other countries.
Lower-level technical talks on missiles were planned for next week.
Many analysts in and out of government are convinced that North Korea already has the capacity with a long-range missile to strike at the perimeter of the United States.