An unexpected face-to-face encounter — in the hallowed halls of Congress, no less — turned downright ugly when North Korea’s deputy chief to the United Nations, Ambassador Han Song-ryol, purportedly threatened the life of a North Korean defector, Kim Seung-min, director of Free North Korea Radio.
Our story begins last Thursday, when Republican Reps. Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey and Jim Leach of Iowa, the respective chairmen of the subcommittees on global human rights and Asia and the Pacific, were preparing to hear testimony from Mr. Kim and North Korean defectors Cha Kyeong-sook and Ma Soon-hee, both women.
Also in attendance was Suzanne Scholte, president of the Defense Forum Foundation that sponsored and arranged for the defectors’ testimony. She tells Inside the Beltway that never, in their wildest dreams, did the trio of defectors expect to confront the enemy, who ironically was being feted at a congressional luncheon just across the hall hosted by Rep. Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican, and attended by some 20 members of Congress.
“When [we] arrived for the hearing,” Mrs. Scholte says, “we discovered that the ambassador … was being honored by members of Congress … across the hall from the hearing.”
So, she continues, “The three North Korean defectors and I went into the room,” where Mr. Kim held up a sign in Korean that read: “The Road to Peace on the Korean Peninsula is the Expulsion of [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-il.”
“Kim then said these same words to Ambassador Han as he was walking across the room,” Mrs. Scholte says, at which time she adds “Han then threatened Kim with, ‘Do you want to die … ?’?”
We rang the North Korean mission at the U.N. yesterday, but received no immediate response concerning Mr. Han’s purported comments.
I will try to get some more info on Radio Free North Korea’s plans to increase its broadcasts. I have a source who has agreed to do an interview when I have the time. Nice to see the regime confronted by dissents, and seeing the confrontation reported in at least a couple of newspapers.
Update: OK, I have now received a third e-mail about this incident from an eyewitness. I’d add that had I not been so damn busy lately, I’d have been there myself, since there was a hearing on NK human rights on The Hill that day (good thing, b/c I’d likely be facing a restraining order and an agg assault rap!). Anyway, my latest source–who asks for anonymity–is a fluent Korean speaker and gives us something close to a verbatim:
According to Kim Sung-Min, Kim said: “Mr. Han Sung-Ryul, look (at me) here.”
After he got nowhere, Kim said he quietly approached Han and gave him his business/name card. According to Kim, Han threw it away.
Then Kim said: “Let’s talk frankly. In order for there to be peace on the Korean peninsula, Kim Jong-Il has to go.”
Han then replied:”You, bastard, you wanna die. Look at that son of a bitch (uttering those words).”
For those not familiar with Korean culture, business cards are a big deal there. There’s a whole chapter of the Korean book of etiquette on how you’re supposed to bow slightly when passing or receiving them, to hold them with both hands, and to look at them carefully before just shoving them in your pockets. Also, SOB is much more profane in Korea than here. Here, you can hear Eric Cartman say it on TV. There, shippal-seki and kae-seki (son of a dog) are sure-fire fighting words.
If I were Chairman Hyde, I’d write to the NK delegation at the U.N. to demand an apology for threatening / intimidating witnesses to a hearing of his committee. If nothing else, it will cause some much-deserved embarrassment for Curt Weldon.
But perhaps it was Muhammad Ali who said it best.