Albright Meets N. Korean 'Great Leader'

P Y O N G Y A N G, North Korea, Oct. 23, 2000 -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright held historic talks with North Korea’s KimJong Il today and said Washington was taking a measuredapproach to rapprochement with the secretive communist state.

“No, it is very measured,” Albright told reporters whonoted some quarters believed the United States may be movingtoo fast. “We are not going to go faster than it makes sense interms of U.S. interests.”

A smiling Kim, in a display reminiscent of his welcome forrival South Korea’s President Kim Dae-jung at their epochalJune summit, greeted Albright warmly before they settled intotalks which went on for much longer than expected.

“I am really very happy,” said Kim as he met a U.S. cabinetmember for the first time ever.

Talking for Hours

A U.S. State Department official said Albright and Kimtalked initially for two hours, took a 10-minute break, thenmet for another session likely to continue a further hour.

Although no details were available of the tone andsubstance of the discussions, Kim suddenly decided to take overas host of a dinner arranged for Albright by Vice Marshal JoMyong Rok, vice chairman of the National Defense Commission andthe highest-ranking North Korean ever to go to Washington.

Kim thanked Albright for arranging a meeting with PresidentClinton for Jo.

“There was no dispute between our countries — everything wentsmoothly,” Kim said, referring to Jo’s recent Washington trip.

A Recluse No More?

The talks were another step in reclusive North Korea’sefforts to enter the world stage. Within the past year, Kim hasalso met the presidents of China, Russia and South Korea.

While no accords are expected to be signed during hertwo-day trip, Albright will recommend for or against a visit byClinton, who could then seal some deals, a senior U.S. officialsaid.

Albright was met by North Korean vice foreign minister KimGye Gwan in a low-key ceremony at Pyongyang airport on a graycloudy morning, and her motorcade glided along largely desertedstreets on the half-hour journey into the capital.

Albright wants to judge how serious Kim Jong Il really isabout leading his country out of its long isolation andimproving relations with Washington and U.S. allies in EastAsia, the official told reporters during the long flight fromWashington.

European and Asian leaders gave a boost to reconciliationbetween the two Koreas on Saturday when, winding up a summit inSeoul on regional cooperation, they lent support to SouthKorean President Kim Dae-jung’s policy of reconciliation withthe North.

A Tense Peninsula

The United States wants to reduce tension on the Koreanpeninsula, where U.S. and South Korean troops fought NorthKorea and Chinese forces in the Korean War, and persuade NorthKorea to abandon the long-range missile program that has beenthe driving force behind expensive U.S. missile defense plans.

U.S. officials believe North Korea, after years of foodshortages and economic decline, sees cooperation with theoutside world as the best way to bring prosperity withoutgiving up power like the communists of eastern Europe.

Albright is particularly interested in learning more aboutKim Jong Il’s offer to abandon North Korea’s long-range missileprogram in exchange for foreign help with missile launches.

The idea, put to Russian President Vladimir Putin earlierthis year, is gaining ground after some initial skepticism.

Albright and Kim talked in a large luxurious room, across alarge table, in a building in the Paekhawon guesthouse complexwhere the U.S. visitor is staying.

Albright sat with four aides on one side, including NorthKorea policy coordinator Wendy Sherman and negotiator CharlesKartman. Kim and three aides faced her.

The 14-member U.S. delegation posed with Kim for a group photoin front of a stormy seascape mural.

Dances With Children

As they walked to the meeting room, Kim asked Albright ifshe was having a pleasant stay.

“I danced with the children and I’m very satisfied,”Albright replied, referring to a visit to the RangnangKindergarten, one of tens of thousands of places where theWorld Food Program (WFP) distributes food to needy children.

She stood on the kindergarten steps, kicking her heels andwaving her arms, following the lead of a North Korean teacher,under a sign reading, “Thanks To The Respected GeneralissimoKim Il Sung,” Kim Jong Il’s father and North Korea’s founder.

Albright’s first engagement in Pyongyang this morningwas a visit to the Kim Il Sung memorial palace to pay respectsat the mausoleum of Kim Jong Il’s father, who died in 1994.

On the eve of Albright’s arrival, the Vice Chairman ofChina’s Central Military Commission, Chi Haotian, and amilitary delegation traveled to North Korea for ceremoniesmarking the 50th anniversary of the first clash between Chineseand U.S.-led United Nations forces.

The troops — which China says were volunteers, not regulararmy personnel — aided Pyongyang in the 1950-53 Korean Warthat resulted in as many as 900,000 Chinese casualties.

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