North Korea does not number among the most media-friendly states in the United Nations. Still, the rare public appearances of its diplomats provide occasional flashes of insight.
Take the June 15 press briefing by Sin Son-ho, the current UN permanent representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, on the current situation on the Korean peninsula.
While Ambassador Sin’s statement did not contain surprises and simply repeated Pyongyang’s earlier official statements on the sinking of a South Korean boat on March 26 (don’t blame us and don’t even think of punishing us!) his responses to reporters should be qualified at least as accommodating.
The total duration of the press conference was 58 minutes, 28 of which were devoted to the statement. This left almost half an hour of direct interaction between the North Korean ambassador and mostly Western media.
In my eight years, on and off, as a UN correspondent, I can’t recollect such generosity with the media on the part of an envoy for the Hermit Kingdom.
Sin’s predecessor, Pak Gil-yon, had to manage the UN press corps in October 2006 after North Korea successfully detonated its first underground nuclear device.
Pak angrily chided the UN Security Council for condemning his country’s nuclear aspirations and imposing economic sanctions. Instead of sanctioning North Korea, he said, the world should be proud of the stellar achievements of the DPRK’s genius scientists. The citation is not verbatim, but it was something of the sort.
Pak was boastful in his statement, but if asked a specific question by a reporter, he usually wouldn’t respond.
Not so with Ambassador Sin. Even though the press conference was pre-arranged and strictly controlled by his assistant, Ambassador Sin did respond to most questions, even those that would usually be anathema to Pyongyang.
Asked by “The New York Times” correspondent whether the alleged sinking of the South Korean boat could be seen as setting the stage for the third son of ailing leader Kim Jong-il to take power, Sin did not, as may have been expected, ignore the question or call it blatant speculation. He simply responded in a calm voice that the question was “not appropriate” for the current press conference.
Sin even cracked a joke when repeatedly asked what will be achieved if North Korea is indeed allowed to conduct its own inspection on the site of the ship’s sinking. Citing the recent failure of a South Korean satellite which exploded in midair shortly after launch, he asked if the North Korea military should be blamed in this case as well, and then laughed. But his laughter was solitary, and the UN correspondents apparently did not get the joke.
-- Nikola Krastev