North Korea tour guide has own recipe for detente

PYONGYANG (Reuters) - As U.S. and North Korean envoys meet in Geneva to try to push forward a disarmament plan, halfway around the world a resident of the North’s isolated capital has her own ideas on resolving tensions.

Li Gyong-il, a tour guide aboard the Pueblo, a captured U.S. warship that symbolizes the gulf between the arch-foes, insists that nuclear weapons are what keeps North Korea strong.

At the same time, though, she says her country would be willing to accept detente with the United States if Washington changed its “hostile policy” toward the country formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

“As far as I am concerned, our country could accept any kind of decisions if the U.S. changes its attitude to our country,” Li said.

“If they change the hostile policy towards the DPRK, we the Korean people will accept it and the relationship between the DPRK and the U.S. will change for the future,” said Li, dressed in a military uniform on the deck of the Pueblo.

The U.S. Navy ship, captured by North Korea in 1968 along with 83 crewmen, remains docked in Pyongyang’s Taedong River, a symbol of the country’s strength in the face of what it sees as U.S. hostility towards its Communist government and its people.

A video shown to tour groups aboard the ship refers to “brazen-faced U.S. imperialists”, “rogues” and “cowards”, highlighting the deep animosity U.S. envoy Christopher Hill and his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-gwan must overcome if they are to make progress in rare bilateral talks in Switzerland.


In their weekend discussions, the two are trying to advance agreements made at six-party talks aimed at ending Pyongyang’s nuclear program and ultimately normalizing relations.

Both were positive after talks on Saturday. Hill said they had had a “substantive discussion” and Kim said the two had discussed removing North Korea from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

North Korea agreed in principle at the six-way talks grouping the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and China, to abandon its nuclear weapons in exchange for massive fuel aid and diplomatic incentives.

But the country, so poor that it lacks fuel to run its factories and must rely on food aid to feed its people, still sees its nuclear program as key to its security in the face of richer and more militarily powerful enemies.

“Other countries, the great nuclear countries of the world, they don’t touch our country any more and they cannot be any threat to the DPRK because we have a nuclear bomb,” said Li.

The Iraq example also looms large in the imagination of North Korean residents as an example of unwarranted U.S. aggression.

“What happened in Iraq, U.S. troops just occupied Iraq and destroyed a lot of buildings and killed a lot of Iraqi people,” said Li. Although Washington also sees North Korea as an enemy, Pyongyang has escaped attack because of its nuclear bomb, she added.

At Panmunjom, on the demilitarized zone that has divided North and South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, U.S. and North Korean soldiers glare at each other from across the narrow border line.

But Li was confident that the guiding doctrine of late North Korean state founder Kim Il-sung, always known here as the Great Leader, would see the country through any threat.

“As long as we have single-hearted unity around the Great Leader, and a nuclear bomb and the Great Leader leading our Korean people to victory, then our country will be a great power in the world.”