Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Pyongyang's nuke envoy dubbed 'the smiling assassin'SEOUL, South Korea (Reuters) -- For those who have sat across the table from him, North Korean chief nuclear envoy Kim Kye-gwan is known simply as "the smiling assassin."
A youthful 64, Kim is the face of Pyongyang's nuclear crisis and the communist state's best-known diplomat.
Disarming and shrewd, he has been at the North Korean nuclear game longer than almost any other diplomat and will almost certainly be leading his country's delegation when six-way nuclear discussions formally resume on Thursday.
"He's always cordial, but he is pretty effective," an official involved in the talks said. "Sometimes you may not realize what's happening, but it's just him getting the job done."
Charles Pritchard, a former U.S. negotiator with North Korea, calls him "the dean" of all the negotiators.
"He can be quick on his feet." said Pritchard, who used to be able to share jokes with Kim as the two grew to know each other.
Recent contact between North Korea and the United States has raised hope for the prospects of the nuclear talks, which also include South Korea, Japan, Russia and China.
According to South Korean government data, Kim's diplomatic career began with a posting to Algeria in 1969, followed by two decades of service that was heavy on developing-world diplomacy.
Then in the early 1990s, he surfaced to the forefront of the North's nuclear diplomacy as part of the Pyongyang delegation which negotiated a now defunct deal with Washington aimed at freezing its nuclear programs in return for energy aid.
Then he appeared a grey cadre spouting communist ideology. Now he is a nattily dressed diplomat who often appears to be a voice of authority from the North.
Jettisoning a communist penchant for harangues, Kim can be startlingly to the point. "Everything can change," he said last month in Beijing when asked if Pyongyang would be more flexible on its longstanding demand for U.S. concessions.
He may be the only North Korean diplomat who will regularly sit down for news conferences with Western media, even answering questions on the fly from reporters not shoved aside by his security detail.
"He's learned the art of negotiation and dropped a lot of the ideologically driven comments when he sits down at the table," said a diplomat who has followed Kim since he first emerged on the international stage.
Kim, dubbed "the smiling assassin" by former South Korean nuclear officials, has been infinitely courteous with reporters, yet unbending in tough negotiating sessions.
"He knows these issues backwards and forwards and up and down, so he's a formidable guy to sit down with," said Thomas Hubbard, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea.
But officials and experts say his impact on the direction of the negotiations could be limited because he has no family ties with paramount leader Kim Jong-il.
"Like most of the North Korean team, Kim is polished and smooth, but he is not so much a negotiator as a buffer," said a former U.S. official who attended most rounds of the six-way talks but has since left government.
Cross-posted at Causes of Interest.