Jo Myong Rok

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The Independent Online

Jo Myong Rok, who died aged 82 on 6 November, had been at the centre of North Korea’s power structure for three decades. He was the country’s second-highest ranking military officer, vice marshal of the Korean People’s Army.

He made history in 2000 when he became the first North Korean military officer to enter the Pentagon, later meeting the then-President Bill Clinton. Jo also pledged to the then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that North Korea would take steps to improve relations in the interests of peace and security.

He 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 earlier that year.

The reconciliatory mood has since changed, however, following tension between Pyongyang and Washington over the regime’s nuclear weapons programme and other issues.

Born on 12 July 1928 to a peasant family, in Yonsa County, North Hamgyong Province, Jo joined the Korean People’s Army in December 1950 and flew for North Korea during the Korean War, going on to become squadron commander, group commander and divisional commander of an air unit before becoming chief of the staff and commander of the Korean People’s Army air force.

A statement from the Korean Central News Agency said: “His death is a great loss to the party, the army and people of North Korea waging a dynamic struggle to win the victory of the cause of building a thriving socialist nation.”