Prague, 28 August 1997 (RFE/RL) - Defections over last weekend of two North Korean diplomats and the celebrity-actress wife of one of them constitutes severe embarrassment for a regime -- and in a culture -- where avoiding embarrassment is of intense importance. Western press commentary suggests that the escapes of Ambassador to Egypt Jang Seung Gil, his actress wife, and his brother have that consequence and other repercussions as well.
WASHINGTON POST: Mystery remains around the events preceding the defection of Jang
R. Jeffrey Smith, a staff writer, says in a news analysis today that U.S.-North Korean arms talks scheduled to start yesterday in New York, but since abandoned by a North Korean delegation, were one casualty of the diplomatic incident. He writes: "U.S. officials were prepared to tell officials of the communist regime they would seek to lift some long-standing economic sanctions that are hampering the country's economy and contributing to its food shortages. Some measures would be taken by President Clinton, while others would require congressional approval."
Smith says also that there some indications the defections were not entirely spontaneous, but were invited by U.S. intelligence. He writes: "Meanwhile, some mystery remained around the events preceding the defection of (Jang), who had been the ambassador since 1994 and was slated to return to North Korea next month. Although some U.S. officials have indicated that Jang sought out U.S. officials late last week to ask for political asylum, others said yesterday that he had been recruited by the CIA over a longer period."
THE TIMES OF LONDON: Mr Jang is by far the most important intelligence source ever to escape from North Korea to America
The editorial today says that the primary gain for the United States and loss for North Korea measures not in the currency of face but in that of strategic information. Says The Times: "In terms of the current intelligence likely to be in his possession, Mr Jang is by far the most important source (from North Korea's regime) ever to escape to America. (He) is not the most senior member of the regime to have defected. Formally, he is outranked by Hwang Jang Yop, the veteran ideologue and number 24 in the party hierarchy who is now mystifying debriefers in Seoul.
"(But) Mr. Hwang is now thought to have been marginalized from the regime's inner circles for some years. Mr Jang, by contrast, was not only close to Kim Jong Il by virtue of his marriage to one of the 'dear leader's' favorite actresses, but had a pivotal role in the most internationally sensitive area of North Korean policy, its secretive exports of ballistic missiles to the Middle East. Mr Jang was vice-foreign minister in charge of the Middle East before becoming ambassador to the country which North Korea has made its headquarters in the region."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The most serious domestic damage is likely to have been caused by the defection of one of North Korea's most popular actresses
Commentator Gebhardt Hielscher writes today that the insult to North Korea occasioned by the defections was increased geometrically by who the defectors are and from whom -- the United States -- they chose to seek asylum . He says: "The defection of two leading North Korean diplomats and their families is no less explosive news than the fact that they have chosen to defect to the United States. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea has seen the United States as its arch-enemy ever since it was founded 49 years ago. (Jang) is particularly interesting for the Americans. He probably knows all about missile exports and other arms sales by North Korea to Iran, Iraq, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries."
Hielscher comments: "The loss of face the North Korean regime has suffered as a result of his defection was compounded by the fact that his elder brother defected with him. The elder Jang worked in Paris, where he successfully raised foreign exchange for Pyongyang. But the most serious domestic damage is likely to have been caused by the defection of Choi Hae Ok, the ambassador's wife and one of North Korea's most popular actresses."
He writes, also, that the North Korea regime has, from its perspective, cause to delay negotiations with the West. Hielscher says: "Evidently, the North Koreans now want to review the damage to their negotiating position from the defection before continuing the dialogue with the United States. The Americans do not want talks to
end altogether either, and are keen to limit the disruption caused by the defections. But the test will come in mid-September when the next round of quadripartite talks on the future of Korea is due to be held and attended by North and South Korea, China and the United States."
NEW YORK TIMES: The administration's decision to grant asylum is a grave insult, says North Korea's U.N. representative
In a news analysis today Steven Lee Myers concurs with the view that other negotiations are under at least short-term threat.
Myers writes: "The defections also appeared to throw into question whether broader talks including North Korea, South Korea, the United States, and China to negotiate a formal end to the Korean War would take place (as scheduled) on September 15." Myers says: "Li Gun, North Korea's deputy representative to the United Nations, called the administration's decision to grant asylum and its role in the defections a grave insult that showed hostility toward his country. (But the U.S.) administration appeared to have no second thoughts about the defections, which officials are describing as a potential intelligence coup, offering rare insight into North Korea's foreign policy and its arms sales in the Middle East."
NEWSDAY: North Korean government is suspected of printing and circulating counterfeited $100 bills
Roy Gutman writes in an analysis that intelligence interrogation of Ambassador Jang already is yielding fruit of an unexpected variety, currency sabotage. Gutman says: "Initial debriefings of Jang already have provided quite a bit of information about exceptionally well counterfeited $100 bills that the North Korean government is suspected of printing and circulating, government sources said (yesterday). Pyongyang has denied such charges in the past. The CIA is leading an interagency team that is questioning Jang at an undisclosed location. The sources said North Korea was using government printing presses to produce the bills."
CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Intelligence officials are eager to know about North Korea's mercurial leadership
David S. Cloud, in his news analysis yesterday, said: "Jang presumably (can) supply U.S. officials with information about North Korea's missile program. (Also, his) experience as an ambassador would give him access to information that U.S. intelligence officials are eager to know about North Korea's mercurial leadership and what effect the country's severe famine is having on its internal stability.
"Although Jang was posted overseas, his involvement in carrying out policy may make him more useful to U.S. and South Korean intelligence agencies than the last prominent North Korean defector, Hwang Jang Yop, a senior official responsible for ideological matters who sought asylum in the South Korean Embassy in Beijing."