- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2000

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright yesterday defended recent U.S. overtures to North Korea's Stalinist regime but said the administration was "in no hurry" to nail down a deal to curb the North's missile program.
"The substance of an agreement matters far more than the timing," Mrs. Albright said in her most extensive public remarks to date on her talks in Pyongyang last month with reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
"But if prospects for further progress develop, we will pursue them," Mrs. Albright told reporters at the National Press Club. "We would be irresponsible if we did not take advantage of an historic opportunity to move beyond 50 years of Cold War division and reduce the danger North Korean missiles pose to us and others around the globe."
Mrs. Albright gave no indication whether President Clinton will make the first visit by a U.S. president to North Korea later this month, a trip she and Mr. Kim discussed last month.
The trip may hinge on the course of three days of talks that wind up today in Malaysia between North Korean and U.S. officials.
The two sides are discussing a proposal first floated by Mr. Kim this past summer to give up North Korea's missile development and export programs in exchange for U.S. help in launching the North's communications satellites.
The two sides met for about six hours yesterday, giving only the briefest hints of the progress of the talks. North Korean delegation members told reporters in Kuala Lumpur that the two sides "exchanged serious opinions about long-distance missile issues."
A July negotiating session in the Malaysian capital bogged down over a North Korean demand for $1 billion annually in compensation in exchange for curbing its exports of missile technology and weapons to Pakistan and a number of Middle Eastern clients.
Mrs. Albright indicated yesterday that even basic details of the missiles-for-launches trade-off including where and how the satellites would be launched, what other types of economic aid North Korea is seeking, and compensation for a North Korean halt on weapons exports were not discussed during her Pyongyang talks with Mr. Kim.
Administration critics such as Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican, and many private analysts have cautioned against a presidential trip, saying Mr. Clinton, a lame duck, would provide a propaganda coup for a regime that routinely violates human rights and is listed by the State Department as a sponsor of terrorism.
The trip would also tie the hands of Mr. Clinton's successor, they say.
Mrs. Albright did not address the lame-duck argument yesterday.
But she said the "next president will have to choose whether to continue down the path we have begun. Respectfully, I hope he will and believe he should, because I am convinced it is the right path for America, our allies, the people of Korea, and the world."
The secretary of state also denied that Pyongyang's rapprochement with Washington was a ploy to divide the United States and South Korea, where some 37,000 U.S. troops remain guarding one of the last and most heavily fortified dividing lines of the Cold War.
She noted that South Korean President Kim Dae-jung already has visited North Korea in an unprecedented summit in June.
North Korea would also be more likely to improve relations with the South if U.S.-North Korean security concerns are eased, she said.
"Relations between the United States and South Korea have become 100 percent 'wedge-proof,' " Mrs. Albright said.
She said American policy-makers recognize that North Korea's human rights record is "not good not good at all" but added that progress in curbing the North's dangerous missile program could open the door to progress on human rights and other issues down the road.
"I know that I didn't see anything in North Korea beyond what I was supposed to see," she said.
"I saw an empty city, and I saw a perfectly orchestrated, totalitarian performance of people all dancing in step. Only a dictator can manage to get 100,000 people to dance in step," she said.
But she also argued that "without dialogue, we are stuck with the status quo. And I believe the risks of trying to work with North Korea are less than the ongoing costs of confrontation."

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