On Friday 3rd of December 2011, former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright addressed the future of US foreign policy and the leadership of women in helping to build prosperity, foster peace, and promote democracy across the globe at the London School of Economics in London, United Kingdom. This lecture was part of her tour to the UK to promote the Madeleine Korbel Albright Institute for Global Affairs with Wellesley College, her alma mater. The first female secretary of state had an hour-long Q&A session following giving a speech on women’s need to be more active and supportive of each other. After a number of questions about her experiences as a woman, Dr. Albright was asked to talk about her experience in North Korea. She gave the audience a detailed narrative on her trip.
In 2000, when she visited Pyongyang, the United States government was deciding whether it should negotiate with or enter a war against North Korea. The Americans chose the former and finally decided to talk to North Koreans. While former President Bill Clinton was initially invited, Secretary Albright went to North Korea instead to talk about their future relations and the country’s various missiles. Her party knew that Kim Jong-Il liked American movies and that he was a big basketball fan, so she brought a ball autographed by Michael Jordan. She was first asked to pay respect to Kim Il-Sung, the current leader’s father. Then she met him. She shared with the audience that the North Korean leader was very bright and communicative. Then Kim took her to a mass performance with her party in Pyongyang’s giant May 1st stadium as a surprise. At the end of the show, a missile made out of placards performers held launched, and Kim told her, “That’s the last one.” She shared with the audience that the performance was sumptuous, although the rest of the population did not have enough food to eat. Over the next few days, Kim told her about his plans to invite Korean Americans to teach English to North Korean students and asked her if his interpreter was better than the one former President Kim Dae-Jung of South Korea had. Of course she said the North Korean one was better, as she knew what would have happened to the interpreter if she had said otherwise.
Later on, the United States government invited Kim Jong-Il to visit the US, but he declined the offer. Dr. Albright stressed that what North Korea wants is attention and recognition by the United States, and that it wanted the same thing back in 2000. She closed her remarks by saying that she wishes six-party talks would continue. She also hoped China would play a positive role in involving North Korea.
Madeleine Albright was the 64th secretary of state of the United States (1997-2001) and is professor in the practice of diplomacy at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. The podcast of this lecture can be found here.