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.
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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Commenting on the Moscow Declaration [signed by Russia and North Korea during Kim's 2001 trip] Kim Jong Il said: "Today everybody is using diplomatic terms, like 'partnership' and 'strategic partnership.' I told President Putin that we do not need to look for such a term to apply to our relationship. Putin agreed. It's all diplomacy, and what we need is sincerity. I don't want to be a 'partner.' You don't say 'partner' with friends."
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[After official talks between Putin and Kim] there came an invitation for dinner at the Russian president's Kremlin apartment.
It was quite unexpected. The guest accepted gladly. The unscheduled meeting left an indelible impression on Kim Jong Il. Everything was so simple and homey. [It was as if] the dinner changed Kim Jong Il's personality. Before that, he'd been a little reserved. But after Moscow, he was more open, trusting, gentle. It seemed to me they'd become real friends.
Kim Jong Il kept recalling this unscheduled meeting with Putin: "If I am treated diplomatically, I become a diplomat myself. But Putin was sincere with me, and I opened my heart to him."
"I don't have the skills to be a diplomat. It's the Foreign Ministry people who can swear black is white, say 'delicious' when it is not delicious. I always put it straight."
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Journalists were particularly puzzled by the fact he chose to travel by rail to Moscow. In his opinion, he should follow the way his father - the Great Leader Kim Il Sung - went along the rails of Russia. And the son must follow in his father's footsteps in everything - even choosing the same route, literally and figuratively.
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[Asked] what his favorite activity is, he said: To [be with] the military. "It is a pleasure for me ... meeting the officers, generals, seeing how prepared they are to defend the country. When I see them conscientiously doing their duty, servingthe interests of their native land, as the head of state, I take real pleasure in it."
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Kim Jong Il got an unpleasant impression of Russian cigarette addicts: "... in your country, smokers enjoy vast freedom. My own experience taught me that you just have to make up your mind and you can give up smoking. I tried to give up tobacco way back in 1982, but two years ago I resolved not to smoke, and now I don't."
One of his attendantsadded immediately that all high-ranking Army officers gave up smoking as their general did. But soldiers do smoke - it is not forbidden. Moreover, the general shows his concern for the Army by ordering soldiers be provided with high-quality tobacco.
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He recalled his meeting in Pyongyang with Madeleine Albright. He asked her how she couldstand to converse with the last of "the communist devils."
"First, Albright interrogated me like a prosecutor. I answered all her questions, and she was watching whether I was using notes or speaking offhand. I expressed myself simply, in my own words. She seemed to like my personality."
A Korean diplomat immediately elaborated: "The US State Department executives who were present in Pyongyang said Albright was charmed by our general. Throughout the reception she kept holding his hand. According to herassistants,it was sure proof of the high-ranking American's sympathy toward Comrade Kim Jong Il. More than that, before the reception she changed the brooch on her dress - put on a miniature heart instead of the American flag."