North Korean diplomat in Italy ‘in hiding’: South’s spy agency

Italy is an important diplomatic mission for Pyongyang, as it handles relations with the Rome-headquartered UN Food and Agriculture Organization and North Korea suffers from chronic food shortages. (Shutterstock/File)
Updated 03 January 2019
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North Korean diplomat in Italy ‘in hiding’: South’s spy agency

  • Italian authorities were “agonizing” over what to do, the official was cited as saying
  • The spy agency briefing to lawmakers came after South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo daily reported that Jo had sought asylum in an unidentified Western country with his family

SEOUL: North Korea’s top diplomat in Italy has gone into hiding, a Seoul lawmaker told reporters after a closed-door meeting with South Korean intelligence officials on Thursday.
“Acting ambassador Jo Song Gil’s term was ending in late November last year and he escaped the diplomatic compound in early November” with his wife, Kim Min-ki told reporters.
The spy agency briefing to lawmakers came after South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo daily reported that Jo had sought asylum in an unidentified Western country with his family.
“He sought asylum early last month,” the JoongAng quoted a diplomatic source in Seoul as saying.
Italian authorities were “agonizing” over what to do, the official was cited as saying, but added that they were “protecting him in a safe place.”
The last senior North Korean diplomat to defect was Thae Yong Ho, who abandoned his post as deputy ambassador in London in 2016.
Jo, 48, has been acting ambassador in Rome since October 2017 after Italy expelled the then ambassador Mun Jong Nam in protest at a nuclear test by the North a month earlier in violation of UN resolutions.
Italy is an important diplomatic mission for Pyongyang, as it handles relations with the Rome-headquartered UN Food and Agriculture Organization and North Korea suffers from chronic food shortages.
Jo is “known to be a son or son-in-law of one of the highest-level officials in the North’s regime,” the JoongAng cited an unnamed North Korea expert as saying.
Most North Korean diplomats serving overseas are normally required to leave several family members — typically children — behind in Pyongyang to prevent their defection while working abroad.
Jo however came to Rome in May 2015 with his wife and children, suggesting he may be from a privileged family, the JoongAng said, adding the reason for his defection bid was still unclear.
At the time of his own defection Thae, the former deputy ambassador to London, said he had switched sides partly to give his three children a better future after being ordered to return to the North.
The Kim dynasty has ruled the impoverished but nuclear-armed state for three generations with little tolerance for dissent, and the regime stands accused of widespread human rights abuses.


Report raises fresh doubts over Trump’s NATO commitment

Updated 16 January 2019
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Report raises fresh doubts over Trump’s NATO commitment

  • Last year, Trump repeatedly told senior officials that he did not see the point of NATO
  • Before taking office, Trump called NATO “obsolete”

WASHINGTON: Fresh doubts surfaced Tuesday over President Donald Trump’s commitment to NATO, after he was reported to have discussed a desire to pull out of the trans-Atlantic military alliance.
Last year, Trump repeatedly told senior officials that he did not see the point of NATO — the historic alliance that forms the backbone of the West’s post-World War II security order — and that he wanted to withdraw, The New York Times reported.
He has often blasted members of the 29-nation partnership for not paying more into their national defense budgets.
Before taking office, Trump called NATO “obsolete” and soon after a tumultuous summit in July, he questioned whether the US would honor the alliance’s founding principle of mutual defense for newest member Montenegro.
Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman, said the US remains “100 percent” committed to NATO.
At the summit the president said the US “commitment to NATO is very strong” and “tremendous progress has been made” by allies and partners.
“That has not changed,” Pahon said in a statement.
“NATO remains the cornerstone of transatlantic security.”
In Brussels, a NATO official also highlighted Trump’s comments from the July summit.
“The United States is strongly committed to NATO and to transatlantic security,” the official told AFP.
“The US has significantly boosted its commitment to the defense of Europe, including with increased troop commitments.”
Turning 70 this year, NATO has underpinned Western security in Europe for decades, first countering the Soviet Union and then Russian expansionism.
A US withdrawal from NATO would be a strategic gift of epic proportions to Russia, which is accused of meddling in the 2016 presidential elections to help Trump win.
Former defense secretary Jim Mattis was a staunch proponent of NATO and repeatedly visited its Brussels headquarters, where he sought to reassure allies about America’s commitment to the alliance.
But Mattis quit last month, and observers see a shrinking coterie of advisers around Trump willing to push back against him.
The US Congress, including Trump’s own Republican Party, would likely push back against any effort to withdraw from NATO.
The only country to have ever invoke Article 5, NATO’s collective defense principle, was America following the September 11, 2001 attacks.