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North Korean's historic visit to U.S.
SAN FRANCISCO, California (Reuters) -- North Korea's second-most powerful official, Vice Marshal Jo Myong-rok, arrived in San Francisco on Sunday for a one-day stopover before heading to Washington where he will become the highest-ranking North Korean ever to visit the U.S. capital.
Former Defence Secretary William Perry, who is hosting Jo during his visit to the San Francisco Bay Area, met the vice marshal as he left his airplane.
Jo waved to photographers as he walked from his plane at the San Francisco airport, but did not talk with reporters.
While in the Bay Area, Jo is expected to visit telecommunications equipment maker Lucent Technology Inc. (LU.N) for meetings with the firm's executives.
Jo, a soldier with 50 years of service at one of the hot spots of East-West conflict, comes to Washington as the special envoy of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, son of the founder North Korea.
The visit, which marks the fall of another Cold War barrier, has been in the making for almost a year.
It shows how far North Korea and the United States, enemies in the 1950-1953 Korean War, have come in a gradual rapprochement driven largely by U.S. fears of North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile technology and its military sales to governments that Washington dislikes.
It also comes in tandem with a thaw in relations between North and South Korea, which culminated in the June summit between Kim Jong-il and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.
The United States wants to talk to Jo about his country's weapons programmes, its status as a "state sponsor of terrorism" and how to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula.
But Ambassador Wendy Sherman, coordinator of U.S. policy toward North Korea, tried last week to play down any expectations that the visit will lead to breakthroughs.
"The very fact of this visit is important and I believe historic. We are hopeful of course ... that we will make progress on issues as well. But I think that remains to be seen, because this is a long process," she told reporters.
The countries still have no diplomatic relations but have been talking about opening liaison offices in Washington and Pyongyang as a first step toward exchanging ambassadors.
"These discussions are underway and we are hopeful that as we move forward in this process that we can begin to take additional steps that would move to normalise our relationship," Sherman said.
They took a minor step forward on terrorism last week when they issued a joint statement agreeing to exchange information and work toward removing North Korea from a U.S. list of seven countries deemed to be "state sponsors of terrorism."
But the North Koreans have not yet complied with a U.S. demand that they expel members of the extreme leftist Japanese Red Army who hijacked a Japanese airliner to North Korea in 1970.
"They know what they have to do. They've always known. They still know. And we'll see how quickly that can happen," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
The United States will especially want to find out more from Vice Marshal Jo about Kim Jong-il's proposal to give up ballistic missile programmes in return for foreign assistance with launching North Korean satellites.
Robert Manning, director of Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said a possible outcome would be a permanent freeze on the missile programmes, one step beyond the temporary suspension North Korea announced last year.
He envisioned a deal similar to the Agreed Framework of 1994, in which Pyongyang froze its nuclear programmes in return for financial help for fuel oil and new nuclear power plants.
As a former air force commander and the leader of military delegations to many countries through the 1990s, Jo is well placed to talk about Washington's proliferation fears.
He went to Russia in 1994, Cuba in 1994 and 1997, Pakistan in 1995, Syria in 1998 and China in May this year with Kim Jong-il, according to published reports.
But no U.S. official has ever met Jo and little is known about his personality. Published accounts say he is about 78 years old but an official biography provided by North Korea listed only his military and official appointments.
While in Washington, Jo will meet President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Defence Secretary William Cohen.
Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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