- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2000

NEW YORK North Korea's delegation to the U.N. world summit angrily turned around and flew home yesterday after several of its members were patted down at an airport in Frankfurt, Germany.

During the encounter, security officers for American Airlines closely questioned the group and then subjected them to a physical search.

"As a U.S. carrier we are obliged under Federal Aviation Administration regulations to carry out stringent security procedures for all passengers traveling on our international flights," the airline said in a statement.

The airline apologized for the incident and said U.S. security forces were not involved.

Despite early reports that the delegation was strip-searched, the airline statement said the North Korean diplomats were subjected to a "pat down and removal of only an outer garment, such as a suit jacket, and their shoes."

But the diplomats were unswayed by the apology, accusing the Clinton administration of "hooliganism."

"This was an unbearable insult to the sovereignty to our country," said Li Hyong-chol, Pyongyang's representative to the United Nations, in a hastily convened press conference yesterday.

He said that scheduled bilateral meetings with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori will not proceed. Nor will anyone deliver the speech planned by Kim Yong-nam, chairman of North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly, on Friday morning.

North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Choe Su-hon said at a news conference in Frankfurt that, although there could obviously be no meeting with South Korean officials in New York, he did not blame Seoul for the incident. He stressed that talks had been going well.

"I think there will be a chance for a meeting [in the future]. The chance is lost this time," he told reporters, referring to the dialogue between the two Koreas which began in June after almost 50 years of hostility.

The incident was the first major glitch before today's opening of a three-day United Nations diplomatic extravaganza that is fraught with protocol hazards.

Some 170 world leaders have been gathering in New York for the Millennium Summit, where international and human security will be the subject of carefully edited speeches, roundtable discussions and countless private meetings and social gatherings.

But the 15-person North Korean delegation will not be among them.

The airport incident, which North Korean officials described as "insidious and brazen-faced," could interrupt the thawing relationship between the communist Asian nation and the United States.

"This incident intensified our vigilance and hatred toward the United States," said Mr. Li.

"The United States should understand that as long as they resort to confrontation against us with such provocative acts, they are a destroyer of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and the rest of the world."

Mary Ellen Glynn, spokeswoman for U.S. Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, said yesterday that "the United States regrets that this unfortunate incident occurred.

"We had looked forward to having the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] at the Millennium Summit."

The spokeswoman said she doubted their decision to turn back, rather than take a later flight, was premeditated.

Asked about the impact on relations with Washington, Mr. Li added: "I can only say that the United States should expect to understand that the price for this kind of provocative act will be quite expensive."

But other diplomats yesterday were assiduously cultivating peace wherever they could find it.

Iranian President Mohammed Khatami yesterday was the headline speaker at a highly touted "Dialogue of Civilizations" organized by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright sat in the front row among scores of other diplomats and listened to the reformist cleric praise continuing dialogue.

Meanwhile, the Millennium Summit, a rapid-fire succession of monologues by the heads of state, will begin this morning with speeches by some 60 leaders.

Mr. Clinton is to speak in the morning, followed by Cuba's Fidel Castro, Israel's Ehud Barak and many others.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters yesterday that the summit is "a defining moment for the world's leaders and for the United Nations."

Many officials say the most valuable aspect of big U.N. meetings is not the formal speeches themselves but the opportunity to schedule brief private meetings with far-flung heads of state and engage in the chardonnay-and-canape maintenance of diplomatic relationships.

Later today Mr. Clinton is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr. Barak, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Jordan's King Abdullah and Saudi Prince Abdullah. He also is to attend a dinner party for Third Way social democrats hosted by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Tomorrow, the president will meet with Mr. Kim of South Korea, attend meetings of African leaders and Security Council nations and then host a reception for 1,000 guests at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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