American visitors to North Korea: a history

Seoul (AFP) –


High-profile visits to reclusive North Korea are rare, but over the years it has hosted a handful of top US officials as well as the occasional religious leader and sporting star.

Following reports of a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and incoming Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, here is a look back at landmark American visits to the isolationist nation.

- Madeleine Albright -

The Clinton cabinet official made history in 2000 as the first US secretary of state to visit Pyongyang, 50 years after war broke out on the divided peninsula.

Albright danced with young children and presented a basketball signed by superstar Michael Jordan to then-leader Kim Jong Il, who said he was "very happy" after discussions with the American delegation and asked the visiting diplomat for her email address.

Her two-day visit, aimed at curbing North Korea's ballistic missile programme, prompted a brief thaw in relations before tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions resurfaced in 2002.

- Bill Clinton -

President Clinton had touted a journey to North Korea after Albright's trip, but ultimately deciding against doing so in the closing weeks of his presidency.

Clinton instead travelled to Pyongyang in 2009, eight years after he left the White House, successfully brokering the release of two arrested American journalists who had travelled into North Korea from China without visas.

- Jimmy Carter -

At Clinton's behest, Carter was the first former American president to visit Pyongyang in 1994, where he helped pave the way for an ultimately unsuccessful nuclear deal.

In 2010 he returned, successfully negotiating the release of another American prisoner who had illegally crossed into North Korea, and went back again the following year in another attempt to improve relations.

Carter last year offered his services as a peace envoy to Pyongyang but was rebuffed by the Trump administration.

- Bill Richardson -

The diplomatic troubleshooter and former ambassador to the United Nations has been a frequent visitor to Pyongyang since the early 1990s.

In 2007 he negotiated the return of the remains of six US soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean War, and accompanied the then Google chairman Eric Schmidt on a failed 2013 mission to secure the release of a jailed Korean-American missionary.

Richardson has also been involved in several other prisoner release negotiations -- most recently in the case of Otto Warmbier, a university student who died shortly after being released following nearly 18 months in North Korean captivity.

- James Clapper -

The former US intelligence chief secretly travelled to Pyongyang to negotiate the release of two prisoners in 2014.

He was successful in that objective but said his hosts seemed disappointed that he did not come bearing a broader peace overture.

- Franklin Graham -

The Baptist preacher has visited North Korea at least five times, cultivating close relationships with senior figures in Pyongyang despite strict prohibitions on religious worship.

Graham successfully beseeched authorities in 2011 to release a Californian businessman who had been arrested the previous year for apparent missionary work.

His father, the "pastor of presidents" Billy Graham, made two visits to North Korea in the early 1990s to meet Kim Il Sung, the founder of the country's ruling dynasty.

- Dennis Rodman -

Current North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is a confirmed basketball fan, and welcomed Rodman when he visited the country in 2013.

The colourful former Chicago Bull has made several return trips, calling Kim a "friend for life" and singing him "Happy Birthday" during an exhibition basketball game. His visits were condemned by US officials.