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The BBC's Matt Frei
"Every step forward is cautious"
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Tuesday, 24 October, 2000, 13:22 GMT
Korean missile breakthrough
Madeleine Albright and Kim Jong-il
Mrs Albright is ending an historic visit to North Korea
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has told US officials that he is prepared in principle to halt his country's controversial long-range missile testing programme.

The announcement was made by the US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright following a final round of talks with Mr Kim at the end of her groundbreaking two-day visit to the communist state.

Missile test
The 1998 test launch set off alarm bells across the region
Speaking to reporters, Mrs Albright said the North Korean leader told her on Monday night that a test launch of the Taepodong 2 missile in 1998 would be his country's "first and last".

The surprise test over Japan dramatically raised tensions across East Asia, amid fears that North Korea had acquired the capability to strike targets far beyond its borders.

Pyongyang has always insisted that the test was to launch a domestic satellite.

The road to fully normal relations remains uphill

Madeleine Albright
"During the 23 October mass performance, an image of a Taepodong missile appeared and he [Mr Kim] immediately turned to me and quipped that this was the first satellite launch and would be the last," Mrs Albright said.

She was referring to a gala performance on Monday night in Pyongyang's May Day Stadium, reprising celebrations earlier this month marking the 55th anniversary of the Korean Workers Party.

Part of the performance, which featured an estimated 100,000 dancers, included film of the August 1998 test.

Launch capability

Speaking after the talks, a senior US State Department official said there had been some progress on the idea of Washington helping North Korea to develop its own satellite launch capacity.

A military parade was laid on for Mrs Albright
He said the offer would be made in exchange for the North exercising "serious restraint" on its missile programme and exports.

Missile experts from both countries will meet next week to discuss the issue.

BBC correspondent Richard Lister covering Mrs Albright's visit says Washington is also taking seriously a proposal by Mr Kim that the US launch North Korean satellites, in return for moves by Pyongyang to restrain its missile programme.

Mrs Albright is expected to brief the South Korean President, Kim Dae-jung, on her talks during a stopover in Seoul on Wednesday.

'Constructive talks'

Earlier Mrs Albright and the North Korean leader ended more than six hours of what were described as "serious and constructive" talks at Pyongyang's Paek Ha Won State Guest House.

Albright and Kim Jong-il
Mrs Albright is the most senior US official ever to visit North Korea
Mrs Albright told reporters that they had covered a full range of issues including terrorism, human rights, and concrete steps for tension reduction on the Korean peninsula.

She has made clear that a possible future visit to Pyongyang by President Clinton would depend on progress in these key areas.

A decision on such a visit is not expected until Mrs Albright returns to Washington later this week.

"We made important progress and much work remains to be done," Mrs Albright said. "It is important that we work to overcome the enmities of the past and focus on a brighter future for our peoples."

Earlier Mrs Albright, the most senior US official ever to visit North Korea, said the two sides were moving towards a fundamental improvement in their relationship

However, she cautioned that the road to normalised relations "remains uphill".

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See also:

24 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea's dramatic turnaround
13 Sep 99 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea's nuclear programme
23 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Mrs Albright's visit
24 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Kim hails peace prize boost
23 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Seoul searching over Albright's visit
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