A beautiful castle sits on a hill in a magical city. A wise man named Vaclav Havel lives there. His subjects no longer love him as they once did. Soon his rule as president will end and he worries that the citizens will choose an unworthy successor, a bitter rival. An emissary from a faraway land--a woman who long ago fled the magical city--visits him. A portent, surely. The wise man says he has found the perfect candidate to lead the country. 'Tis Madeleine K. Albright of Washington, D.C.

Havel on Monday: "I would personally consider it excellent, because into this rather stale provincial environment [Albright] would bring an international spirit."

At first Albright just smiles. A clamor arises from the lowly scribes who have trailed her here. She speaks.

Albright today: "I am not a candidate and will not be a candidate. . . . My heart is in two places, but America is where I belong."

To be continued.

Czech President Vaclav Havel, the playwright and former dissident, suggested again this week that U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, born Marie Jana Korbelova in 1937 in Prague, would be the best choice to succeed him in 2003.

Albright said she was flattered by the president's comments but dismissed the idea, saying that while she had "an unshakable pride in my native land" she also had "an unshatterable commitment to my adopted one."

In September 1998, Havel first mentioned Albright's name as a possible candidate for president, a position chosen by parliamentary election. The president must be a Czech citizen over 40 years of age. Albright, a naturalized U.S. citizen, qualifies for Czech citizenship under a law that allows those who fled the Communist regime after 1948 to regain citizenship.

Albright rejected the notion in 1998, and U.S. officials thought the matter had been put to rest. Time magazine, however, raised the issue shortly before Albright's three-day visit to the Czech Republic, which ends Wednesday, forcing the secretary again to brush off any possibility of decamping to Prague Castle.

But Monday, without informing Albright in advance, Havel again raised the subject in an interview with Czech television as Albright stood beside him.

"He planned it, but she didn't know it," said Ladislav Spacek, Havel's spokesman. "Her staff [was] a little surprised. One of them said, 'The topic is closed.' She just smiled."

And at a private dinner that night, Havel again broached the subject, telling Albright he would like to see her in Prague in a political role, according to a source briefed on the conversation. Albright replied that she cannot and will not seek the presidency, the source said.

Commentators here said Havel is serious about wanting Albright to consider the position, but he also is attempting to undermine the potential candidacy of Vaclav Klaus, a fierce rival and head of the right-wing Civic Democratic Party.

Havel "doesn't think this is science fiction," said Jiri Pehe, head of the New York University branch here and a confidant of the president. "But he may also be promoting a type. She embodies for him what a Czech president should be. . . . It's up to her, but if she wants to be a president of something, why not the Czech Republic?"

And, say other proponents of the the Albright for President campaign, the idea may be raised more forcefully after she leaves the State Department next year.

"It's clear to any professional that she said what she must say under the circumstances," said Michael Zantovsky, a Czech senator and former ambassador to the United States. "If sometime in the future--and 'future' is the key phrase--she changes her mind, I think she could play an important role."

However, supporters of Klaus say Havel, beguiled by his castle, is beginning to act like a nobleman who thinks he can simply name his successor. Havel, who became president by unanimous vote by Parliament in 1989 after leading the "Velvet Revolution" in what was then Czechoslovakia, has seen his iconic status slip; his reelection by Parliament in 1998 was by a single vote.

"I'm afraid that sometimes our president is behaving a little bit like a hereditary peer, anointing someone as his political successor," said Jan Zahradil, a member of Klaus's party in Parliament. "Madeleine Albright doesn't deserve to be dragged into our domestic politics. And there would be resistance to anyone parachuting in for the presidency."

There has been only one Czech poll on Albright's popularity, commissioned after Havel's 1998 statement. She trailed Klaus.

On the streets of Prague today, however, most people seemed receptive to the idea even if they found it implausible.

"I would be pleased by a woman on the throne, and especially a woman of her quality," said Jan Volsova, 60, a historian. "The world is not local anymore. If you look around our domestic scene the politicians are lacking education, intelligence and experience, and this woman has it all."