- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2000

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright announced yesterday she will travel to North Korea next week, the highest-ranking U.S. official ever to visit the long-isolated Stalinist state.

Mrs. Albright will arrive in Pyongyang on Monday for two days of talks, including a meeting with reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il that is expected to clear the way for a trip by President Clinton to Pyongyang in the coming months.

The trip will also mark another milestone in the diplomatic rapprochement with the North engineered by South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, whose efforts to end a half-century of hostilities across the world's most heavily militarized border won him the Nobel Peace Prize last week.

Mrs. Albright made the announcement to reporters while on a plane returning from the Middle East. She said her talks in North Korea would focus on Pyongyang's missile program, U.S. concerns about weapons proliferation and "the extent to which [the North Koreans] want to break out of their isolation."

"I think we are definitely probing to see whether the openings that Kim Dae-jung" has made "allow for us looking at a different set of relationships with North Korea, based on our own national interests," Mrs. Albright said.

Following her visit, Mrs. Albright will travel to Seoul Wednesday to brief South Korean and Japanese officials on her talks.

After decades of mutual hostility, diplomatic contacts between the United States and North Korea have intensified recently.

Mrs. Albright met North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun for the first time at an Asian summit in Thailand in June.

North Korean Vice Marshal Cho Myong-nok visited Washington last week, and U.S. officials said the two sides made real progress on the proliferation issue. The Clinton administration believes that North Korea may be supplying nuclear and missile parts to countries such as Iran, Iraq and Pakistan, a charge the North Korean regime denies.

North Korea stunned the United States and its neighbors in 1998 by testing a missile that flew over Japan before falling into the sea.

A delegation of 40 U.S. officials, headed by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Thomas Hubbard, crossed the border into North Korea Tuesday to prepare for Mrs. Albright's trip.

State Department spokesman Philip T. Reeker said yesterday the U.S. side had been "very pleased with North Korea's cooperation in facilitating this travel."

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