Events

"Warm and Fuzzy with the North Koreans"

By Benjamin Wittes
Monday, October 27, 2014, 8:29 AM

The other day, I posted this video of the North Korean Ambassador to the United Nations giving a talk at the Council on Foreign Relations:

The question of whether or not a think tank like CFR should host the worst people in the world---among whom the leaders of the North Korean state surely rank---is tricky one. As much as it galls me for CFR to give over its very respectable stage to a spokesman for the world's long-running mass murder operation, there's a lot to be said for a foreign policy organization's willingness to hear out, ventilate, and challenge the views of our foreign policy adversaries. There is no excuse, however, for the tone and substance of this event, which was hosted by former U.S. ambassador to South Korea Donald P. Gregg. Even before Gregg introduced his guest, he set exactly the wrong tone by creepily describing himself as "warm and fuzzy" with the North Koreans:

just to make things a little different, I have something I'm going to pass around. I definitely want it back, because it's one my precious possessions. It's a copy of a leaflet dropped by North Korea when I was ambassador in 1991. I checked this out with Ambassador Jang; it's OK with him. And this was on a golf course out in Seoul. And for those of you who don't read, Korean, you'll see me sitting regally in a chair with Roh Tae Woo bending over me, and we're discussing how to assassinate Kim Young-sam, who was the upcoming president of South Korea.

So that was how I was perceived by the North Koreans. I pass this around, because I think that some people feel, well, this guy, Gregg, is sort of warm and fuzzy with the North Koreans. And that is not---that is not---we may be now, but we certainly weren't there. So, anyway, please enjoy it. Thank you.

Gregg then introduces Ambassador Jang Il Hun: "Ambassador Jang and I have become good friends in the time he has been here." We may be warm and fuzzy now? Good friends? Let's just say this is not the note on which I would have started an event with a representative of a government with more than 100,000 people in labor camps. And then (drum roll, please) the first tough question to our good friend, with whom we are now "warm and fuzzy": "how would you respond to Mr. Kirby's statement that, under Kim Jong-un, there has been an improvement in the human rights situation in North Korea?" The reference here is to Michael Kirby, the Australian head of a U.N. commission for human right in North Korea. His report, for the record, is not really about "improvement" in North Korean human rights. Here's Kirby's central finding (p. 6):
The commission finds that systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In many instances, the violations found entailed crimes against humanity based on State policies. The main perpetrators are officials of the State Security Department, the Ministry of People’s Security, the Korean People’s Army, the Office of the Public Prosecutor, the judiciary and the Workers’ Party of Korea, who are acting under the effective control of the central organs of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the National Defence Commission and the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
It gets worse. Gregg goes on to read approvingly from a DPRK report on human rights in the country and then ask: "have the countries of China, Russia, Japan or South Korea ever raised with you the issue of human rights problems in your country?" Answer: Japan and South Korea do but Russia and China don't. Gregg then goes on to ask: "Three Americans are held in your country. And are any of them connected with human rights issues?" Answer: "No. Definitely not." It goes on and on and on. There are, to be sure, some excellent questions from the floor, particularly from the New York Times's David Sanger, who pushed the ambassador on the execution of Kim Jong-Un's uncle, and from a representative of Human Rights Watch. But one scours the transcript in vain for any sign of skepticism, much less moral outrage, from the organization or the moderator. One gets, instead, simpering solicitude. At the transcript's end, Gregg congratulates his guest:

GREGG: Thank you very much for coming. I think what you have seen today is a panoply of reactions. There are things I knew, in some cases, there was nothing you could say that would satisfy some of the questions. But it's the start of a process. And I think that the fact that the process has begun by your coming is very constructive.

So thank you very much. And thank you for the audience. And the class is dismissed.

(APPLAUSE)

GREGG: Well done.

My word to CFR: Not well done.

UPDATE: Here are the tweets sent from the account @CFR_org on the event:

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