Top North Korean military official Jo Myong-Rok, a longtime confidant of leader Kim Jong Il who traveled to Washington in 2000 on a then-unprecedented goodwill mission, has died. He was 82.
Jo, who was vice marshal of the Korean People's Army and held the No. 2 post on the powerful National Defense Commission behind Kim, died Saturday of heart disease, the official Korean Central News Agency reported from Pyongyang.
Jo, a Korean War veteran, paid a rare visit to Washington in October 2000 as Kim's special envoy, meeting during that trip with then-President Clinton. He also pledged to then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that North Korea would take steps to fundamentally improve relations in the interests of peace and security.
Jo was the highest-level North Korean official to visit Washington, and his trip -- followed by Albright's landmark visit to Pyongyang -- was part of North Korea's efforts to keep up the momentum generated by a breakthrough summit between Kim and late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung held earlier that year.
Jo was born into a peasant's family in Yonsa County in North Hamgyong province, the news agency said. He served as a pilot during the war, which North Korea refers to as the "Fatherland Liberation War," and later rose to the position of chief of staff and commander of the air force of the Korean People's Army, state media said.
Jo's body will lie in state at Pyongyang's Central Hall of Workers to receive mourners before a state funeral Wednesday. Kim and his son and heir apparent Kim Jong Un are among members of the funeral committee.
-- Associated Press