In the highest level talks since 1953, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met North Korea’s Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun in Bangkok. The meeting took place during the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum, which North Korea was attending for the first time. Secretary Albright said the meeting was a "symbolically historic step away from the sterility and hostility of the past." The 70-minute discussion – which lasted twice as long as had been scheduled –was "a useful and substantive exchange of views," according to one State Department official. Secretary Albright said she had addressed all issues of American concern, including North Korea’s missile program and had asked about Pyongyang's reported willingness to end this program in exchange for space launch services. The Secretary received no clarification on this point.
Last week, after a historic visit to North Korea, Russian President Putin announced that North Korea was willing to end its missile program in exchange for international assistance for its space program. The U.S. administration has reacted cautiously to the idea, seeking to clarify North Korea’s precise terms. At the G-8 summit, where leaders commended North Korea on its "constructive attitude," President Clinton explained, "It's not clear to me what the offer is [and] what is being requested in return for it, I think it is something that needs to be explored.'' The U.S. is willing to consider providing Pyongyang with launch facilities for North Korean satellites, but will not consider supplying North Korea with rocket boosters that could be used as long-range offensive systems.
North Korea continues its diplomatic effort to engage the outside world, an effort that holds the potential to dramatically alter the political and security landscape in East Asia. Secretary Albright remains "realistic in expectations and firmly committed to coordination" with U.S allies in the region. However, the Secretary of State did come away from these "get acquainted" discussions with Foreign Minister Paek "somewhat more hopeful than before about the prospects for long-term stability on the Korean peninsula and throughout the region."