Defiant North Korea takes case to UN press corps
Officials working for the government of communist North Korea seldom appear in public — especially in front of reporters from countries they view as hostile. But Pyongyang’s ambassador to the United Nations, Sin Son-ho, turned to the U.N. press corps in New York on Tuesday to defend his nation against Seoul’s allegtions that the North Korean military torpedoed a South Korean naval ship on March 26, killing 46 sailors.
South Korea brought the dispute to the U.N. Security Council this month, asking the 15-nation body to take action to deter “further provocation” on the Korean peninsula, where the North and South have maintained an uneasy truce since the Korean War ended in 1953. On Monday members of a South Korean-led investigative panel presented the council with their evidence. Afterwards, Pyongyang had a chance to state its case in a separate closed-door briefing, though council diplomats said few if any envoys present were persuaded by the North Korean denials.
On Tuesday it was time to reach out to the press. The North Korean mission held a news conference at United Nations headquarters, a decision that several U.N. officials described as “unprecendented” for Pyongyang, which is under U.N. sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.
Large numbers of empty seats at U.N. briefings are commonplace, but Sin faced a full house. For most of his long rebuttal of Seoul’s allegations, Sin and two other North Korean diplomats on either side of him remained characteristically deadpan. Sin said his country was being framed by South Korea and the United States, both of which stood to politically benefit from unfairly heaping the blame on North Korea. He said the South Korean investigation was “a complete fabrication from A to Z” and compared its conclusions to Aesop’s fables.
“The U.S. most benefited from the sinking,” he said. “The U.S. wants to degrade our economy.”
Speaking in English, Sin showed a jovial side at least twice during his hour-long briefing, in which he fielded numerous questions from reporters, many of them Japanese and South Korean. He laughed heartily when asked how North Korea’s soccer team would perform in the World Cup in South Africa.
“This is not a place to be concerned about a soccer team,” Sin said with a big smile. “I am not in a position to give you any answer to your question, because your question is not directly related to the sinking of the South Korean warship.”
He also pointed out that he’d probably be sacked if the Security Council decides to condemn Pyongyang for a crime he insists his country did not commit.
“If any action is taken by Security Council against us, I lose my job,” he said.
But what he added had an ominous ring to it: “Military will have its own job, I mean follow-up.”
Some of his remarks about the tensions on the Korean peninsula were typical of the fiery rhetoric that North Korea’s KCNA news agency is famous for. Sin said it was “a touch-and-go situation that war may break out at any time,” adding that “our people and our army will smash our aggressors.”
There were other questions Sin declined to answer. He refused to discuss the six-nation aid-for-disarmament talks that have been stalled ever since North Korea carried out a second nuclear in 2009. He also dismissed a hypothetical question about whether North Korea would have the right to sink a South Korean ship if it ventured into North Korean waters.
“That is also technical matter,” Sin said.
(Posted by Louis Charbonneau)