- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 28, 2000

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il put on quite a show for Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Pyongyang this week. The communist leader treated Mrs. Albright to an extravaganza a la Kim, climaxing with a well-choreographed flash-card image of a long-range ballistic missile launch and dancers performing mock military drills. The final scene of the show was titled, "We will support our powerful nation with rifles."

The display, which commemorated the 55th anniversary of the North Korean communist party, was an odd way of honoring Mrs. Albright's diplomatic overture. Mr. Kim was undoubtedly aware that Mrs. Albright made the trip to nudge North Korea towards dismantling its missile program. Mrs. Albright, who applauded obligingly during the 90 minute ode to communism, failed to show she was in any way put-off by the mock missile launch and other exercises. And when the secretary of state visited a kindergarten Monday morning, she went so far as to join five-year-olds in a dance to music about a boy who proves his valor fighting imperialist aggressors. It seems that Mr. Kim must have quiet a sense of humor.

Mrs. Albright's trip has certainly given the world a rare glimpse of the hermit country and its leader. If anything captured the tone of Mrs. Albright's visit, it was the surreal background of clouds and flowers used for the Albright-Kim photo-op. Much of the Mr. Kim's behavior was mystifying and the Koreans themselves seemed otherworldly.

When Mrs. Albright and Mr. Kim entered the May Day Stadium for the anniversary extravaganza, the huge crowd "rose in unison, and to thunderous music, people fervently stretched their arms toward Mr. Kim as if to a deity," reported the New York Times. These demonstrations of devotion appear to be a ritual de jour for North Koreans. South Koreans, who after 50 years have finally been given the opportunity to visit their kin in North Korea, say that their relatives repeat words of praise for their "dear leader" in a robotic mantra. This reverence is especially eerie since an estimated 2 million North Koreans have died from famine under communist rule.

North Korea is now courting the West and South Korea in order to avert another mass famine. The Rome-based World Food Program said last month that North Korea reported losing nearly one-third of its total grain needs to flood, drought and heat waves this year.

The United States already provides nearly 70 percent of the food aid North Korea receives. But U.S. officials would be prepared to give North Korea even more in aid in exchange for a commitment from the regime to limit its missile program and its arm sales to rogue states, such as Iran and Syria.

Unfortunately, the Clinton administration hardly has any credibility on reducing weapons proliferation, since the State Department was forced to acknowledge this week that in 1995 Vice President Al Gore agreed to keep secret Russia's sale of arms and nuclear technology to Iran. The White House can hardly chastise North Korea for making the same type of sales.

North Korea reportedly made a vague promise to Mrs. Albright to use "restraint" in its missile program. But given the cast of characters in the State Department, the White House would be wise in letting South Korea take the lead in negotiations with North Korea. When South Korea's president, Kim Dae-jung, visited the North, at least he was spared the mock missile launches, military drills and songs about imperialist aggressors.

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