- The Washington Times - Monday, December 30, 2002

President Bush loathes him. Escapees from his gulag call him a monster. His mentor says he uses international aid to build missiles and nuclear weapons.
Yet few people have a true measure of Kim Jong-il, the secretive North Korean dictator who has sparked another nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula.
"Frighteningly little is known about him," said a Western diplomat with long experience in Asia. "Many people dismiss him as crazy, but he could be crazy like a fox."
Mr. Kim, who took control in 1994 in the world's first hereditary succession in a communist nation, is reclusive and guarded, rarely meeting world leaders and almost never speaking in public.
Interviews with North Korean defectors and Eastern European diplomats, as well as the observations of a handful of outsiders who have had access to the 60-year-old leader, reveal a portrait of a clever, ruthless leader who lives an opulent life and delights in geopolitical gamesmanship.
Hwang Jang-yop was a longtime aide to Mr. Kim's late father, Kim Il-sung, and he schooled the current leader on the North Korean philosophy of self-reliance, or "juche," before defecting to South Korea in 1997.
"He's ruthless and will do anything he needs to in order to cling to power," Mr. Hwang, the highest-ranking official to defect, said in an interview after fleeing.
Mr. Hwang was sharply critical of the Agreed Framework, a deal negotiated by the Clinton administration late in 1994. It promised to provide North Korea with two nuclear reactors, from which it would be more difficult to extract weapons-grade material, and massive oil shipments until the reactors were up and running.
In return, North Korea would halt work at a disputed nuclear plant, which Washington believed was producing plutonium for nuclear weapons. Work on the new plants has been halted, and Mr. Bush recently cut off oil shipments after North Korea acknowledged that it had begun another effort to make fuel for nuclear weapons.
"If the United States keeps giving economic aid, Kim Jong-il will take that aid and make more missiles and nuclear weapons," Mr. Hwang said. "He's not the kind of person to say, 'Let's live in peace.' "
Mr. Kim was little known when he was thrust onto the international scene after the death of his father, Kim Il-sung, who had been installed in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, by the Soviet Union after World War II.
Western and Russian intelligence agencies believe Mr. Kim to be the mastermind behind several acts of state-sponsored terrorism, including the 1983 bombing in Rangoon, Burma, that killed 17 members of a South Korean delegation, among them several Cabinet members, and the 1987 bombing of a South Korean jet that killed 115 persons.
South Korean movie director Shin Sang-ok and his actress wife were kidnapped from Hong Kong in 1978 on Mr. Kim's orders and brought to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, to work on films, one of the passions of the so-called "Dear Leader."
Mr. Shin spent four years in prison before agreeing to work directly with Mr. Kim. The couple escaped six years later after slipping away from their handlers while in Vienna, Austria, on a film project.
Mr. Shin's memoir, published two years ago, describes Mr. Kim as a "clever micromanager in total control of his government and country."
Mr. Shin has been critical of South Korean engagement with the North.
"Kim Jong-il will never change his attitude, or he'll risk losing power," Mr. Shin said. "Supporting North Korea only strengthens the regime. It won't bring the two Koreas together."
Mr. Shin isn't the only one to see the reclusive leader up close. A now-retired Eastern European diplomat who took classes with Mr. Kim in the 1960s at Kim Il-sung University and later served as an envoy to Pyongyang remembers a fast-living playboy.
"The stories about the cases of expensive French cognac, the women, the lavish all-night parties are true," said the diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "I had to attend my share."
Mr. Kim has lived a life of opulence while as many of 2 million of his people starved during the past decade in famines brought on by government mismanagement and natural disasters. International aid workers say food and medical supplies intended for famine victims instead are diverted to the military, the world's fifth-largest standing army.
Mr. Kim has traveled only rarely and until quite recently had made only two overseas journeys. But he has traveled to Beijing and Moscow in the past two years and has hosted outgoing South Korean President Kim Dae-jung in a historic meeting in Pyongyang. He also met Secretary of State Madeline K. Albright in the capital during the waning days of the Clinton administration.
By and large, however, Mr. Kim operates in the shadows, keeping world leaders guessing about his intentions.
Chuck Downs, author of "Over the Line: North Korea's Negotiating Strategy," sees Mr. Kim as a master of a game his father invented.
"Although [North Korea] brings little to the table, it has succeeded in focusing the world's attention on its demands," he writes. "And in many cases it has won substantial concessions."
The 1994 crisis, in which North Korean engineers began unloading fuel rods from a nuclear reactor in Yongbyon, was widely seen as a manufactured crisis intended to garner both attention and aid from Washington.
Bush administration officials say the current standoff is another attempt to win concessions to prop up a teetering regime.
"I am the object of criticism around the world," Mr. Kim told Konstantin Pulikovsky, a Russian official who accompanied him recently on a long train ride to Moscow. "But I think that since I am being discussed, then I am on the right track."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide