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INTRO: The announcement that President Clinton may be going to North Korea before his term ends in January has come as a surprise to many Korean analysts. V-O-A's Stephanie Mann reports observers are wondering if Thursday's announcement has dramatically quickened the pace of warming relations between the two former wartime enemies.

TEXT: The United States and North Korea fought on opposite sides during the Korean War in the early 1950's. There has been no formal peace treaty from the war, and U-S soldiers continue to defend South Korea against possible aggression from the North across the highly fortified demilitarized zone that divides the peninsula.

Yet in recent months, relations across the D-M-Z have thawed considerably -- with the summit between the presidents of North and South Korea in June, subsequent family reunions and efforts to restore highway and rail links.

Now, U-S Secretary of State Madeleine Albright plans to visit Pyongyang later this month, and she says she will make preparations for a possible visit by President Clinton to travel to the northeast Asian communist state. Secretary Albright says she looks forward to meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Ms. Albright spoke just after a visit to Washington by Vice Marshall Cho Myong-Nok, the highest ranking North Korean official to come to the United States. Without giving details, the secretary of state said the two countries have made very substantial steps to move away from what she called the frozen relations of the past.

However, the United States still includes North Korea on its list of states that promote international terrorism and is still concerned about North Korean weapons and missile sales to countries that oppose the United States.

The director of the Center for Korean Research at Columbia University (in New York), Sam Kim, says some important progress on those issues may have been made during Vice Marshall Cho's visit.

// / KIM ACT ///

The mere fact that North Korea decided to send a high-ranking military officer instead of Kang Sok-Ju, the vice foreign minister, I think is significant enough to arouse a measure of cautious optimism that a kind of breakthrough may be in the making.

/// END ACT / //

Professor Kim says it is especially significant that North Korea sent a military officer and that he was accorded a meeting in the White House. Mr. Kim says North Korea probably wanted to make some major concessions and move relations forward with the United States during the Clinton administration because the next U-S president may not be as willing to do so.

The United States has set forward some steps that North Korea must take before relations can be fully normalized. They include expelling Japanese Red Army terrorists being harbored in North Korea and making further steps to halt missile sales that would allow the United States to take Pyongyang off the list of terrorist states. It is not known if North Korea has made any new promises on those matters.

East Asia analyst Gordon Flake is executive director of the Mansfield Center for Pacific Affairs, a Washington research institute. Mr. Flake says a visit by President Clinton to Pyongyang would be significant, but he adds that for the President to go meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, without major changes in that country, is a matter of concern.

/// FLAKE ACT ///

Normalization would be a wonderful thing. It's something that I and many others have argued for for a long period of time. It's just not quite so certain that, in advance of any real movement of reform or change on North Korea's part, we want to use a presidency out in front that way.

/// END ACT ///

Mr. Flake says he does not expect any major developments -- such as removing North Korea from the terrorist list -- before the U-S presidential election in November. He points out the Korean peninsula is still a source of much tension, and he adds that North Korea would need to take definite steps to ease that tension and address regional security concerns before a presidential visit would be warranted. (Signed)


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