PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea has accepted the idea of working toward restraint in its missile program, U.S. officials said Tuesday, citing progress on a critical issue dividing the two countries as they explore reconciliation after 50 years.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright ended her historic talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il struck by the improbability of it all — a cordial visit to a Stalinist land that the United States until recently had called a rogue state.
But both sides knew they had a long way to go to bury enmity arising from the Korean War and the vast differences between the open democracy and the closed communist regime.
"The glasses I have on are not rose-colored," Albright said.
Kim, commenting before their final meeting Tuesday, said, "I don’t think the three hours of discussions we had yesterday were enough to break the silence of 50 years."
Albright told reporters she took seriously a remark by Kim — delivered seemingly offhand at a gymnastic exhibition — that his state would refrain from long-range missile launches.
Kim had raised the issue when an image of a Taepo Dong I missile was flashed before the audience. "He quipped that this was the first satellite launch and it would be the last," Albright said.
Asked if she interpreted that as a pledge for a permanent moratorium on missile launches, Albright said, "I take what he said as serious as to his desire to move forward to resolve various questions."
A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said after Albright and Kim had finished their talks that the North Korean leader has accepted the idea of "serious restraint" in missiles.
Albright was going to Seoul, South Korea, Wtoday to tell South Korean and Japanese officials about her talks with Kim. President Clinton is considering whether to visit North Korea himself, a trip that could come next month.
"Pick up the phone anytime," she told Kim in farewell, giving the leader — a basketball fan — a ball signed by Michael Jordan.
Kim replied, "Please give me your e-mail address."
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