President Clinton plans to visit North Korea, the world’s only bastion of orthodox communism to survive the Cold War, if Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright can set the trip up.
A visit by Mr. Clinton would mark a dramatic opening of the isolated state against which the United States and South Korea fought a bloody war five decades ago to the outside world.
Mrs. Albright said yesterday that the president wants to go and that she would travel to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang shortly in an attempt to make it happen.
“I will be going very soon, by the end of the month, probably. And then President Clinton … hopes to go,” Mrs. Albright told reporters.
“We’re going to work very hard to make it possible. And if we assess that we can make some serious progress on our key issues, this will proceed.”
Mrs. Albright said no date has been scheduled for the president’s possible trip, but Wendy Sherman, the State Department’s coordinator on North Korea, said the president hopes to visit Pyongyang “soon thereafter.”
Mr. Clinton is scheduled to make an 11-day trip to Asia from Nov. 10 to 21, during which he will visit Vietnam. The White House yesterday refused to speculate whether Mr. Clinton would add North Korea to his Asian itinerary.
The announcement comes at the successful conclusion of a two-day visit by North Korea’s special envoy, Vice Marshal Cho Myong-nok.
Mr. Cho, who is widely regarded as the second most powerful man in North Korea behind its leader, Kim Jong-il, came to the United States as the head of North Korea’s formidable military and Mr. Kim’s personal envoy.
On Tuesday, Mr. Cho delivered a letter to Mr. Clinton from Mr. Kim.
During the visit, which began Monday night and ended early yesterday, Mr. Cho also met with Mrs. Albright and Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.
A host of difficulties in U.S.-North Korean relations were discussed, including terrorism, missile and nuclear proliferation, the establishment of diplomatic relations, and food aid to North Korea.
Mrs. Albright’s announcement that she would visit North Korea came during a toast at a dinner held at the Mayflower Hotel Wednesday night. Yesterday, she said her goal was to lay the groundwork for a visit to Pyongyang by Mr. Clinton.
Should Mr. Clinton make the trip, it will be the first time a U.S. president has visited the reclusive Stalinist state, a nation that remains on the U.S. list of terrorist nations and with whom the United States has never signed a peace treaty to conclude the 1950-53 Korean War.
The United States has some 37,000 U.S. servicemen in South Korea to help protect the South from an attack from the North.
A thaw in relations has been taking place over several years. It quickened in May 1999 with a visit to Pyongyang by former Defense Secretary William Perry, a special envoy of Mr. Clinton, and has progressed rapidly since June’s “Sunshine Summit,” between South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il.
State Department officials said Mrs. Albright’s planned visit did not mean that North Korea would be removed from the terrorist list prior to her arrival in Pyongyang. Miss Sherman said North Korea “knows what it needs to do” to be removed from the terrorist list.
The North was placed on the terrorism list following the 1987 bombing of a South Korean passenger jet in which 115 persons died.
Japan also accuses North Korean agents of kidnapping at least 10 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. Tokyo wants them back.
North Korea denies the kidnappings, but it has agreed to launch an investigation into the fate of missing Japanese nationals.
Miss Sherman said that North Korea’s terrorist designation is “not a bar” to either Mrs. Albright’s or the president’s visit, noting that both she and the president have been to Syria, which is also on the list.
Mrs. Albright said that in relations with North Korea, “the differences are extensive and of long standing. They will not be erased overnight.”
But she was optimistic, noting that the United States and North Korea have taken “a very substantial step away from the frozen and distant relations of the past.”
A joint communique issued by North Korea and the United States following Mr. Cho’s visit stressed the “serious, constructive and business-like atmosphere, allowing each side to gain a better understanding of each other’s concerns.”
“The United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have decided to take steps to fundamentally improve bilateral relations,” the statement said.
In Seoul, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung said through his spokesman, Park Joon-young, that he “fully supports and welcomes” the U.S.-North Korean agreement.
“This is another step forward toward peace on the Korean peninsula and in the world,” the spokesman quoted the South Korean leader as saying.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.