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The BBC's Richard Lister
"The hope is that a comprehensive peace agreement is not far behind"
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Thursday, 12 October, 2000, 04:06 GMT 05:06 UK
Albright set for North Korea
Madeleine Albright and  Jo Myong-ro
See you in Pyongyang! Albright and Jo make a date
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has accepted an invitation to visit North Korea and meet the country's leader, Kim Jong-il.

She made the announcement at a dinner in Washington with President Kim's deputy, Vice-Marshall Jo Myong-rok.

North Korean military parade
North Korea's military intentions have sparked widespread alarm
Marshall Jo is the most senior North Korean official ever to visit the United States, where he has signed an agreement on security co-operation.

Mrs Albright's visit will be It will be the first by a high-level US official to North Korea since the Korean war divided the peninsula half a century ago.

'Rich with opportunity'

"That visit will allow for further discussions on regional security issues and other matters of mutual concern," Mrs Albright said.

She said bilateral relations between the two countries were "rich with opportunity".

Vice Marshal Jo Myong-rok
Jo Myong-rok: 'Extremely pleased'
"I would like to say how much I look forward to visiting your country and meeting with Chairman Kim Jong-il," she told Marshall Jo, who said he was "extremely pleased" at the "positive" response by US officials to his visit.

North Korea is hoping Washington will remove it from a list of countries which the US believes sponsor terrorism.

Missile programme

Earlier on Wednesday, Marshall Jo met Defence Secretary William Cohen in what officials said was the first visit by a North Korean military officer to the Pentagon.

Washington is eager to see North Korea abandon its programme of developing and exporting ballistic missiles.

The US is also keen to see a reduction of tensions along the Demilitarised Zone that separates the two Koreas, and obtain further help from the North in the search for remains of US servicemen killed during the Korean war.

US forensic teams have recovered 35 sets of remains in North Korea so far this year, but North Korea has not agreed to extend the work beyond November.

There are still 37,000 US troops in South Korea, but analysts say there is no prospect of them leaving the peninsula soon, even if relations with North Korea continue to improve.

Washington and Pyongyang still have no diplomatic relations, although direct contacts began to expand in the early 1990s as US fears rose that North Korea was about to develop nuclear weapons.

An agreement was signed in 1994, under which Pyongyang froze its nuclear programmes in return for fuel oil and promises of advanced nuclear power plants.

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See also:

06 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea and US move closer
30 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Koreas agree to search for relatives
28 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Koreas agree 500,000 ton food loan
12 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea: A military threat?
09 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Profile: Kim Jong-il
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