In the very same room where, nine months ago, two DPRK defectors told their stories, last night the DPRK ambassador addressed members of both Houses of Parliament and answered questions.
It was disappointing that so few MPs were there1, but their absence made sure there was plenty of room for members of the public — journalists, academics, human rights activists and others — to join the gathering.
Ambassador Ja Song Nam was introduced by Lord Alton, chair of the All-Party British-North Korea Parliamentary Group, who presided over the evening’s proceedings. Lord Alton was joined by Baronesses Cox and Williams.
Ambassador Ja started by giving some historical background to the current nuclear issue, highlighting the difficulty in making permanent progress when the armistice which halted the Korean war still defines the DPRK and USA as enemies — hence the DPRK’s insistence on a proper peace treaty. He also highlighted the reversal in US policy in the current Bush era and said the stories of Syria benefiting from DPRK nuclear technology were “complete garbage”.
When it came to answering questions (the first, from Baroness Cox, asked why the DPRK had sent home Medical Emergency Relief International, who had made a promising start to their aid project), Ambassador Ja was well prepared with plenty of back-story. In addressing Baroness Cox’s question he spent much time stating the DPRK’s position on human rights (no state sovereignty, no human rights) before coming to the main point, to the extent that an unsympathetic observer might suspect an element of filibustering (that tried and tested technique employed by all experienced debaters), while the more sympathetic would put it down to a minor misunderstanding of the question combined with a desire to explain the context. But in answering the specific question he highlighted the fact that some aid agencies had abused their position, by agitating with some “hostile elements”, while others had imposed unfriendly terms and conditions on their aid efforts, which is ultimately why all NGOs were asked to leave.
In answering Baroness Williams’s question as to what were the key barriers to progress in the denuclearisation issue, Ambassador Ja emphasised that, on the DPRK side, the Yongbyon nuclear facility was being disabled, while the US did not seem to be making any progress on their side of the February agreement, namely removing the DPRK from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and terminating the Trading with the Enemy Act in respect of the DPRK.
Not being responsible for Japanese relations, the Ambassador chose to decline the question from the Japanese journalist about the abduction issue, and a follow-up meeting was agreed with Christian Solidarity Worldwide about religious tolerance.
All present seemed to agree in the positive effect of musical diplomacy. The ambassador was sure that the visit of the DPRK State Symphony Orchestra (coming to the Festival Hall in September) and the hoped-for reciprocal visit by Eric Clapton, would boost UK-DPRK relations. In respect of relations with the US, the ambassador said that what was most needed was confidence-building.
While seasoned Korea-watchers maybe will not have noted anything new from the Ambassador’s words, what was new was the event itself. As noted in the invitation from the All-party British-North Korea Parliamentary Group, this was the first occasion for a DPRK Ambassador to address a meeting of members of both Houses, and was a valuable opportunity to raise questions and discuss all relevant topics of concern to Members and the international community generally. Such an event is to be welcomed in building mutual understanding.
- N.Korea Remains on U.S. Terror Sponsor List, Chosun, 5 March 2008
- Those present included John Stanley and Gordon Prentice