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The BBC's Richard Lister in Pyongyang
"A little awkwardness was inevitable"
 real 56k

US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright
"These children ... should be able to grow up without fear of emergency shortages or famine"
 real 28k

Professor Michael Leifer, London School of Economics
"It's an indication of the American interest in trying to draw North Korea out of its diplomatic shell"
 real 28k

Monday, 23 October, 2000, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
Albright opens new Korean chapter
Madeleine Albright and Kim Jong-il
Mrs Albright and Mr Kim began talks a day earlier than expected
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has held three hours of talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on the first day of her groundbreaking visit to the isolated communist state.

We are not going to go faster than it makes sense in terms of US interests

Madeleine Albright
The meeting, at the elaborate state guest house where Mrs Albright is staying, took place a day earlier than expected and was followed by a state banquet hosted by Mr Kim.

Mrs Albright is the most senior American official ever to go to North Korea, and her visit is seen as opening a new chapter in relations between the two countries.

No details were released on the substance of the discussions, but if the visit is successful there is speculation it could pave the way for a visit by President Clinton later this year.

North Korean missiles on parade
Washington is concerned about North Korean military developments
Before beginning their discussions, Mrs Albright and Mr Kim shook hands and posed awkwardly for official photographs, an image that mirrored the historic visit by South Korean President Kim Dae-jung in June this year.

At present the US maintains some 37,000 troops based in South Korea - a legacy of the Korean War which ended more than 45 years ago in an uneasy truce.

A BBC correspondent travelling with Mrs Albright says her presence in Pyongyang at the same time as the visiting Chinese defence minister, Chi Haotian, is symbolic, since their countries fought on opposite sides in the war.

Missile programme

Kime Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il
The visit follows the historic inter-Korean summit in June
Mrs Albright is hoping her visit will give the US a better idea of the direction Mr Kim intends to take North Korea in its relations with the outside world.

In particular, she is seeking further details on Pyongyang's recent suggestion that it might abandon its nuclear missile programme in return for financial and other assistance to help it recover from years of famine.

The US believes that halting sales of North Korean missiles to countries like Pakistan, Syria and Iran would go a long way towards maintaining stability in some of the world's most turbulent regions.

Washington has been encouraged by the fact that North Korea has been reaching out diplomatically over recent months.

Pace of change

However, officials caution that the regime is clearly dedicated to its own survival - something that could be jeopardised by dramatic change.

Albright and North Korean child
Mrs Albright is the highest-ranking US official to visit North Korea
Speaking to reporters Mrs Albright denied that Washington was moving too quickly in building relations with Pyongyang.

"We are not going to go faster than it makes sense in terms of US interests," she said.

The US delegation does not expect to sign any agreements during the visit, but Mrs Albright will recommend for or against a visit by President Clinton before he leaves office in January.

Mrs Albright began her visit by meeting Mr Kim's deputy, Vice Marshall Jo Myong-rok.

The two met last month when Marshall Jo travelled to Washington for talks with Mr Clinton and Mrs Albright.

Food aid

According to a US official, Marshall Jo was anxious that Mrs Albright's visit should pave the way for one by Mr Clinton.

In return Mrs Albright stressed the importance of North Korea addressing US concerns before such a trip could be possible, the official said.

Mrs Albright then visited a kindergarten that also serves as a distribution point for World Food Programme assistance where she danced with some of the children brought out to welcome her.

She also sent an indirect message to the North Korean leadership, which has been accused of redirecting food aid to its armed forces.

"International donors should be assured that the supplies they send are used for the purposes intended," Mrs Albright said.

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See also:

23 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Mrs Albright's visit
23 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Seoul searching over Albright's visit
19 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
UK and North Korea forge ties
13 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Kim Dae-jung: Korean peacemaker
12 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea: A military threat?
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