Albright Trip Marks Korean Thaw

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright celebrated a thawing relationship with North Korean Officials today, even while acknowledging that it will take time to erase 50 years of enmity and mistrust dating back to the Korean War.

Albright, the highest-level U.S. official to ever visit North Korea, met for a second day with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who had described himself Monday as “really very happy” to have the opportunity to meet with the secretary of state.

In their three hours of talks Monday, Kim and Albright discussed “the issues which were of concern to us,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Chief among those issues is North Korea’s missile development program and its export of missiles to Iran and Syria.

A Trip to the Country

Albright ventured out into the countryside Tuesday for a lunch hosted by Cho Myong Nok, Kim’s top aide, at a rural guest house. Trees along the route from capital were ablaze with color.

Toasting her host, Albright said: “The U.S. loves peace and we want to see Cold War divisions end. We want countries to feel secure from the threats, conflict and war.”

In his remarks, Rok said the U.S.-North Korean relationship “that has been frozen so deep over the past several decades is now reaching the historic moment of thawing.”

Jo, whose toast was read by Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan, said he was convinced that Albright’s visit would lead to “further improved breakthroughs” in the relationship between their countries.

Korean War: The Last Chapter?

Indeed, Albright was seeking to lay the groundwork for a visit by President Clinton as early as next month. White House spokesman Jake Siewert said the president would not decide whether to make the trip until Albright’s return.

“We have some hope of resolving our outstanding differences with North Korea and looking forward to the day when they will truly close the last chapter in the aftermath of the Korean War,” Clinton said Monday.

Albright urged caution. “We must be pragmatic and recognize that the road to fully normal relations remains uphill,” she said.

From her first step on North Korean soil to her meeting with Kim, Monday was a day of firsts for Albright. No other secretary of state had ventured to North Korea, nor had any other U.S. officials met with the reclusive leader.

Kim made note of the occasion. “This is a new one from a historic point of view,” he said.

Albright was his guest at a spectacular performance of acrobatics and dance, and witnessed the vivid display of adoration that Kim received from the thousands in attendance. She was not introduced to the crowd.

Flashing color-coded cards aloft, a section of the crowd lionized the North Korean military and laborers. Gymnasts and dancers, through their motions, extolled “the great Comrade Kim Il Sung’s Party,” in honor of the current leader’s father, founder of the Stalinist state.

Courtesy Calls

Albright paid separate courtesy calls earlier Tuesday on President Kim Yong Nam, the ceremonial head of state, and the North Korean foreign minister, Paek Nam Sun.

They sat across at wooden conference tables polished to such a gloss that their reflections were crisply mirrored. The walls were adorned with large pictures of Kim and his father, omnipresent images throughout the communist nation.

The threat of war has hung over the Korean peninsula since the end of the war. About 37,000 American troops are stationed in South Korea.

North Korea has been included on the U.S. list of states supporting international terrorism since January 1988, after North Korean agents bombed a South Korean airliner, KAL Flight 858, in November 1987, killing 115 people.