Tuesday, November 4, 2003

The lifelong ambition of Kim Jong-il is to become dictator over a unified, communist Korea, a former top North Korean official said yesterday.

Hwang Jang Yop, the highest-ranking Pyongyang official to defect, also said in an interview with The Washington Times that North Korean ruler Kim Jong-il is a failed leader who has starved millions of his people but who is “brilliant” as a dictator.

Mr. Hwang, 81, said Mr. Kim’s “priority in life is to become the supreme ruler of the unified Chosun, or, as you call it, Korea.”

Speaking through an interpreter, he said he does not believe Mr. Kim would initiate a war against South Korea unless he was certain the communist forces would prevail, but that he would use nuclear weapons in a conflict.

Mr. Hwang said Mr. Kim should be judged by “the fruits of his labor, what he has done.”

“Before Kim Jong-il came to power, there was his father, Kim Il-sung. No one starved to death under Kim Il-sung. However, after Kim Jong-il came to power, millions of people starved to death. The economy has been destroyed, and the whole government and the country became one big prison. As a politician, he is a failure.”

The defector, also a former tutor and mentor to Mr. Kim, met with senior Bush administration and congressional officials last week. One official said Mr. Hwang provided important information in closed-door meetings on Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Mr. Hwang was a close aide to Mr. Kim’s father, dictator Kim Il-sung, and is one of the few people outside North Korea who has intimate knowledge of the reclusive regime. He was the chief ghostwriter for Kim Il-sung and gave shape to the regime’s philosophy of “juche,” or self-reliance. He also helped promote Kim Jong-il’s cult of personality and was a senior official in the Korean Worker’s Party.

He broke with the younger Mr. Kim in February 1997 during a visit to China and later escaped to South Korea, where he heads an organization of former North Koreans that seeks to topple the dictatorship in Pyongyang and replace it with a democracy.

One U.S. State Department official compared the defection at the time to “Lenin defecting from the Soviet Union.”

Asked by The Times whether Mr. Kim could be trusted to abide by nuclear accords, Mr. Hwang said: “That’s a good question. People can change, and conditions can force a person to follow a certain path.

“However, if history is an indication, when the Geneva framework was entered into, North Korea, especially Kim Jong-il, failed to abide by the terms of the agreement. And I think there’s a certain possibility that Kim Jong-il would follow the same path again.”

Mr. Hwang said the North Korean regime’s failures led it to seek nuclear weapons to maintain its grip on power and that Mr. Kim would be willing to use the weapons against South Korea in a conflict.

“I would think that by having these warheads, it would be possible to maintain the status quo of the dictatorial regime of North Korea,” Mr. Hwang said.

“And also possibly use them against South Korea, to occupy South Korea by force.”

In October 2002, North Korea disclosed to a U.S. official that it was developing nuclear weapons, despite a 1994 agreement banning such arms.

Talks on the issue have been under way since April between representatives of the United States, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia. A third meeting could be held before the end of year.

The 1994 Geneva agreement required Pyongyang to give up its nuclear arms program in exchange for help building two nuclear power stations. Work on the power stations was halted after North Korea disclosed it was building a uranium-based nuclear weapons program, in addition to a separate plutonium-based arms program that was to have been scrapped in 1994.

Mr. Hwang said he does not believe China and Russia took part in the nuclear arms program.

He said he favors efforts by the United States to curb North Korea’s export of missiles and goods related to chemical, biological and nuclear arms. “It is possible that this will actually have the effect of limiting the radius of activities of the dictator, and that would eventually, I hope, help democratize North Korea.”

U.S. intelligence agencies and private relief organizations estimate that since Kim Jong-il came to power, several million people have died from starvation caused by a mismanaged economy. Mr. Kim became North Korea’s military commander in 1991 and took over as supreme leader after his father’s death in 1994.

Ideologically, Mr. Kim is consumed by personal ambitions, Mr. Hwang said.

“What kind of ideology does he live by? This man is very egotistical. He is watching out for his self-interest, and his self-interest only. He believes that as the leader he can decide everything; that he owns everything; and that he is the center of everything. A totally egotistical man,” he said.

“As a leader of his people, this man has been a failure,” Mr. Hwang said. “However, as a dictator, in maintaining his dictatorial regime, this man has been brilliant.”

Mr. Hwang said in the interview that the United States’ global war against terrorism should be extended to North Korea, especially since President Bush included it as one of three “axis of evil” states. Iraq under Saddam Hussein and Iran were the other two states.

“After the occurrence of 9/11, the United States declared war on terror, and this was for human rights purposes,” Mr. Hwang said. “No one opposed that war on terror, and essentially, when you fight for human rights, you are fighting for democracy, you are fighting against ones who are abusing human rights, and that would certainly include dictators. And fighting against a dictator is for the democracy of the world.

“I believe we need to have a common cause where we are fighting against the dictatorship for the purpose of establishing human rights and restoring human rights for people, and that is the principle of democracy that I believe that should be applied when it comes to North Korea — and that principle should be applied consistently,” Mr. Hwang said.

The former North Korean official concludes a weeklong visit to the United States today. The visit was delayed for years by Seoul, which said it was worried Mr. Hwang could be targeted by North Korean agents while here.

His visit was arranged by the Defense Forum Foundation, which provides bipartisan educational programs on various defense-related topics for the benefit of Congress.

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