- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 10, 2005

Blame the paparazzi

Rep. Curt Weldon, the Pennsylvania Republican who recently hosted a Capitol Hill luncheon “in honor” of North Korea’s deputy chief to the United Nations, says that, contrary to a report in this column, his guest never threatened the life of a North Korean defector and journalist who testified that same day on Capitol Hill.

Instead, Mr. Weldon writes in a scathing letter to Inside the Beltway, Ambassador Han Song-ryol was expressing any anger he had at “the deluge of paparazzi-like reporters that descended upon him without warning.”

Meanwhile, it was learned yesterday that Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican and chairman of the House International Relations Committee, has warned Pak Gil-yon, North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, that his government will be held responsible if any harm comes to Kim Seung-min, the North Korean defector and journalist purportedly threatened on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Hyde told the ambassador that the incident in the Gold Room of the Rayburn House Office Building, “where my own office is located, [has] raised concerns once again about the hostile intent of your government directed at those who express concerns regarding North Korea’s human rights policies.

“The threat made against [Mr. Kim], director of Free North Korea Radio … is of particular concern … as Mr. Kim was in a House office building at the time and had come to Washington at the invitation of our committee to testify at a hearing conducted by two of our subcommittees.

“If any unpleasant incident were to take place involving [Mr. Kim] in the future, at any time or in any place, this would gravely influence” U.S.-North Korean relations, Mr. Hyde said.

Nevertheless, Mr. Weldon in his letter blasted the president of the bipartisan Defense Forum Foundation (DFF), Suzanne Scholte, and her recollection of events as they unfolded after his Gold Room lunch Oct. 27.

In the Nov. 1 Inside the Beltway column, Mrs. Scholte charged that Mr. Han threatened Mr. Kim in the moments before he and two fellow North Korean defectors, both women, testified about purported human rights atrocities in the communist country. Mrs. Scholte had arranged for the defectors’ congressional testimony as head of the DFF.

She said others accompanied the defectors into the Gold 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,” said Mrs. Scholte, at which time “Han then threatened Kim with ‘Do you want to die … ?’ ”

Mr. Weldon calls Mrs. Scholte’s recollection “grossly inaccurate,” containing a “litany of misrepresentations and falsehoods,” and “perhaps the most patently false is the claim that the ambassador threatened the life of a North Korean protester.

“Ambassador Han never came into contact with any of the protesters, and whatever anger he expressed was toward the deluge of paparazzi-like reporters that descended upon him without warning,” the lawmaker said. “As exciting as the confrontation dreamed up by Mrs. Scholte might sound … it never happened.”

But in an interview with this columnist yesterday, a senior congressional aide who speaks Korean confirmed that he had accompanied Mrs. Scholte into the Gold Room, and immediately afterward, while agreeing to serve as an interpreter for an Associated Press reporter, spoke to Mr. Kim about his verbal exchange with the ambassador.

“I quoted Mr. Kim as saying that, ‘Ambassador Han looked at me, and with a threatening gesture, he said, “You bastard … Do you want to die?” ‘ I translated that,” the aide said.

Mrs. Scholte, who was out of town yesterday delivering a speech, said by telephone that she stands behind all her earlier statements. Furthermore, she said a Korean lawyer on hand in the Gold Room is “willing to sign an affidavit” about what she had witnessed.

Behind Oz

It was while on assignment at the White House in 1998 that award-winning photojournalist Chris Usher began pointing the Leica camera he always wears around his neck away from the president of the United States.

Thus began “Behind the Velvet Rope,” an ongoing documentary project shot entirely with two Leica range finders on Kodak Tri-X black-and-white film (remember those pre-digital rolls?).

His primary subjects are those who work to create, manipulate and disseminate the essence of the presidential persona to the public — aides toiling in Bill Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s administrations, candidate Al Gore’s campaign staff, the Secret Service and the ever-present White House press corps.

After a 5:30 p.m. reception today, 51 images from the project, selected from 20,000-plus pictures taken by Mr. Usher, will go on display through Jan. 5 in the Angie Newman Johnson Gallery on the campus of Episcopal High School in Alexandria.

“The images are myriad people no one knows, sort of behind the curtain of the Wizard of Oz — those who make it all happen and control the machine,” Mr. Usher says.

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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