The hermit kingdom is poking its nose out of its shell. Senior State Department officials are surprised by how North Korea has begun to reach out to other countries over the past few months. Pyongyang recently established formal diplomatic ties with Italy, Brunei and the Philippines, and is discussing normalized relations with Japan and Australia. "Dear Leader" KIM JONG IL, who celebrated his 58th birthday last week by opening a consulate in Hong Kong, is even warming to the old enemy--he held a personal meeting last October with Hyundai executives from South Korea. According to U.S. diplomats, Kim finally realized that with his cold war benefactors gone, he has no choice but to open up to other countries for help in rescuing his devastated economy. Does this mean Pyongyang will curb its missile program, as the U.S. wants? Not yet. A senior North Korean delegation will visit Washington next month, and the missile negotiations "will be difficult," says a Clinton aide.
--By Douglas Waller/Washington