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Kim Jong Il: Bow when you don't say that name

March 14, 2003

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has a high-profile spot on President Bush's axis of evil, but the secretive leader remains an enigma to outsiders. Russian Far East emissary Konstantin Pulikovsky spent 24 days traveling by train across Russia with Mr. Kim in the summer of 2001, and published a memoir about it last fall. 'Orient Express: Across Russia with Kim Jong Il' (Gorodetz, 2002) is written in the stiff, bureaucratese of the career Soviet military officer Pulikovsky was. But it caused a stir in Pyongyang and Moscow for its frankness - including detail down to the last crumbs of lavish meals partaken by a leader whose policies are blamed for widespread starvation. The book is reportedly a better seller in the international intelligence community than in Russia. These excerpts were edited and translated for the Monitor by Elena Ostrovskaya, a university English instructor in Moscow.

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Kim Jong Il was informal with his [servants], which cannot be said about his [political and diplomatic aides]. When they entered, they bent reverently in a low bow and rested in this position until they got a barely noticeable sign from the general that they could straighten up. They never addressed him directly. Instead, they said: "As the Beloved Chief said," "as our General said." The ones who behaved most freely were his security guards.

I was warned that the leader does not approve of the address, "Mister." We were a bit shocked at first, but we got used to [saying], "Could you tell the Great General...." Now it was natural for me to address the North Korean leader as "Comrade Chairman," "Chairman Kim Jong Il."

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Kim Jong Il dressed in semimilitary khaki. The only person who didn't [wear] a badge with [the image of Kim's late father] Kim Il Sung was Kim Jong Il.

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Kim Jong Il expressed regret that, since George Bushcame to power, the US approach to Korean affairs has changed. The North Korean leader does not like it that the administration of the American president places [North Korea] on the same shelf as countries promoting extremism, violence, and terror.

"When Clinton was in power, our relationship developed well. We came very close to the conclusion of a treaty with Seoul on starting rail traffic between the North and the South. But Bush put up an absolutely unacceptable requirement to place conventional arms control on the agenda of bilateral talks. American concern with missiles and nuclear weapons is understandable, but pushing forward the 'problem' of conventional arms goes far beyond any logical explanation,"Kim Jong Il said. "If the Americans follow the same tough line we will have to respond in a supertough way."

Meanwhile he emphasized the necessity for resuming dialogue: "It is important that the new Washington administration inherit from its predecessors not only power, but policy as well. We are ready to resume the dialogue at the same level we had it with [former US Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright."

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[Regarding] the "plague of the 20th century," he completely disbelieves reports of the numbers infected by AIDS in Africa. "It's just impossible! Many countries inflate the scale of their tragedies to get more aid from the international community."

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