Albright Hopeful After North Korea Talk

Madeline Albright North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said landmark talks with North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun on Friday left her more hopeful about peace prospects on the divided peninsula.

"My meeting today with Foreign Minster Paek constitutes a substantively modest but symbolically historic step away from the sterility and hostility of the past," she said of the highest U.S.-North Korean talks since the 1950-53 Korean War.

"I am also somewhat more hopeful than before about the prospects for long-term stability on the Korean peninsula and throughout the region," Albright said.

North Korea issued a statement saying both sides had "serious deliberations on the ways to normalize and expand" relations and agreed that recent developments had led to a "positive atmosphere."

But there are still roadblocks to better U.S.-North Korean relations. Albright said she learned little from Paek about the communist country's reported intentions to curb its missile program, a major topic at an Asian security forum this week.

Paek would not discuss a North Korea offer, made to Russia, involving shifting North Korea's missile program into peaceful efforts to launch satellites into space.

U.S. officials have suggested that North Korea could launch satellites from neutral nations, but should not be allowed technology for use on its own soil that that might end up in improved missiles.

A 1998 North Korean missile shot over Japan woke up the world to that country's growing weapons prowess and is helping motivate U.S. desires to improve relations with the communist country. U.S. officials predict that North Korean missiles will be able to hit U.S. territory by 2005.

Albright said she had been "direct in stating American concerns" about issues including North Korea's missile threat and nuclear arms-related activities but gave no details of Paek's replies.

Still, the discussions, which Albright called "a get-acquainted meeting," were full of diplomatic signals, friendly overtures and other hopeful signs that U.S.-North Korea relations would improve.

They began with a 10-minute session posing for the world's media, and lasted 70 minutes - twice as long as scheduled. Albright smiled and shook hands with Paek three times for the benefit of television cameras. She wore a canary-yellow suit just like one she donned at talks in South Korea recently in a visible endorsement of Seoul's "sunshine policy" of broader contacts with the North.

"I must say the foreign minister was very nice," Albright said.

"He said he had passed me last year at the general assembly. We had not spoken to each other. He did tell me, however, that I looked younger this year," she said.

North Korea's new diplomatic friendliness is seen as motivated by the need for help reviving its nearly dead communist economy.

Paek said his country had agreed to normalize relations with New Zealand Friday.

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