Former North Korean diplomat urges missing colleague in Italy to go to South Korea, not US

This March 20, 2018 photo made available Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019 by the Parish of Farra di Soligo, shows North Korea's acting ambassador to Italy Jo Song Gil, second from right, holding a model of "Bell of Peace of Rovereto" during a cultural event on the occasion of a visit of the North Korean delegation to the Veneto region, in San Pietro di Feletto, near Treviso, northern Italy. (AP)
Updated 06 January 2019
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Former North Korean diplomat urges missing colleague in Italy to go to South Korea, not US

  • To defect to the South is an “obligation, not a choice” for North Korean diplomats committed to unification, Thae said, calling Seoul “the outpost” for that task

SEOUL: A former North Korean diplomat who staged a high-profile defection to the South on Saturday urged an old colleague who has gone missing in Italy to defect to Seoul, following a report that he was seeking asylum in the United States.
Jo Song Gil, the 44-year-old who was until recently North Korea’s acting ambassador to Italy, disappeared with his wife after leaving the embassy without notice in early November, South Korean lawmakers said on Thursday.
Jo has sought asylum in the United States and is under the protection of Italian intelligence, Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper said on Friday, citing an unidentified diplomatic source.
The State Department and the US embassy in Seoul did not immediately respond to a query from Reuters.
In an open letter, Thae Yong Ho, Pyongyang’s former deputy ambassador to Britain, who said he went to the same university and worked with Jo before defecting to South Korea in 2016, urged Jo to follow in his footsteps.
To defect to the South is an “obligation, not a choice” for North Korean diplomats committed to unification, Thae said, calling Seoul “the outpost” for that task.
“If you come to South Korea, the day when our suffering colleagues and North Korean citizens are liberated from the fetters would be moved forward,” Thae said in the letter released on his website.
“If you come to Seoul, even more of our colleagues would follow suit, and the unification would be accomplished by itself.”
Thae said his family visited Jo in Rome in 2008, where the latter was studying from 2006 to 2009. He guided them to sites such as St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
South Korea could not be “heaven on earth” but a place where Jo can realize his wishes, Thae said, highlighting the ardent desire for unification among many of the roughly 32,000 defectors there.
“The defectors may not be as wealthy as South Koreans,” Thae added. “But isn’t it the only thing you and I, as North Korean diplomats, should do the rest of our lives — to bring about unification and hand over a unified nation to our children?“
’SAFER PLACE FOR DEFECTION’
If confirmed to have fled, Jo would be another Europe-based diplomat who has sought to leave the impoverished, oppressive North under the rule of Kim Jong Un.
In 2015, a counsellor in charge of science affairs at the North’s embassy in Germany defected with his wife to an unidentified country, while a secretary-level trade official stationed in Bulgaria and his wife also fled, Thae told South Korean cable news Channel A in an interview this week.
South Korean officials said they could not comment on intelligence matters.
Europe could be a safer place for North Korean diplomats than elsewhere due to its openness to receiving asylum seekers, defectors and experts say.
North Korea has formal diplomatic ties with 26 European nations, as well as Britain and Germany, since 2013, Seoul’s Unification Ministry says.
Pyongyang requires diplomats going overseas to leave at least one child at home, but those from the top echelons or seen as the most loyal to the regime get some exceptions.
Jo hailed from a wealthy family of diplomats, and was able to take his child on his posting to Italy in 2015, Thae said.
“Diplomats in Europe are well-connected and sensitive to political changes at home, which allow them to make a move quickly,” said Ahn Chan-il, a former North Korean military officer and defector.
Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a North Korea specialist at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, said Europe offered a “more open, safer environment” for North Korean officials to discuss sensitive issues and consider defection.
“Also, Western European countries, such as Italy or the United Kingdom, are very likely to approve the asylum application or support the defection of any North Korean official who asks for it,” said Pacheco Pardo, who regularly meets North Korean officials and defectors in Europe.


Shanahan drops bid to lead Pentagon, citing ‘painful’ past

Updated 46 min 16 sec ago
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Shanahan drops bid to lead Pentagon, citing ‘painful’ past

  • The acting defense secretary cited a 'painful' family situation that would hurt his children
  • Donald Trump said Army Secretary Mark Esper would be the new acting Pentagon chief

WASHINGTON: After months of unexplained delays, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan stepped down Tuesday before his formal nomination ever went to the Senate, citing a “painful” family situation that would hurt his children and reopen “wounds we have worked years to heal.”
President Donald Trump announced Shanahan’s departure in a tweet, and said that Army Secretary Mark Esper would be the new acting Pentagon chief.
“It is unfortunate that a painful and deeply personal family situation from long ago is being dredged up and painted in an incomplete and therefore misleading way in the course of this process,” Shanahan said in a statement. “I believe my continuing in the confirmation process would force my three children to relive a traumatic chapter in our family’s life and reopen wounds we have worked years to heal. Ultimately, their safety and well-being is my highest priority.”

The acting defense secretary did not provide specifics about the family situation but media outlets including The Washington Post and USA Today published extensive reports Tuesday about circumstances surrounding his 2011 divorce shortly before Trump tweeted that Shanahan’s nomination would not go forward.
In his statement, Shanahan said he asked to be withdrawn from the nomination process and he resigned from his previous post as deputy defense secretary. He said he would work on an “appropriate transition” but it wasn’t clear how quickly he will leave the job.
Defense officials said that leaders are trying to decide when Esper would take over the job. Officials were meeting Tuesday afternoon to discuss transition plans. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss internal deliberations.
In his tweet, Trump simply said that Shanahan had done “a wonderful job” but would step aside to “devote more time to his family.”
And, in noting Esper’s move, Trump added, “I know Mark, and have no doubt he will do a fantastic job!“
The post atop the Pentagon has not been filled permanently since Gen. James Mattis retired in January following policy differences with Trump.
Trump announced in May that he would nominate Shanahan but the formal nomination process in the Senate had been inexplicably delayed.
Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, has been leading the Pentagon as acting secretary since Jan. 1, a highly unusual arrangement for arguably the most sensitive Cabinet position.
His prospects for confirmation have been spotty due in large part to questions about his lengthy work as former Boeing executive and persistent questions about possible conflicts of interest.
The Defense Department’s Inspector General cleared Shanahan of any wrongdoing in connection with accusations he had shown favoritism toward Boeing during his time as deputy defense secretary, while disparaging Boeing competitors.
In Shanahan’s tenure at the department he’s had to deal with a wide array of international hotspots, ranging from missile launches by North Korea to the sudden shift of military ships and aircraft to the Middle East to deal with potential threats from Iran.
Shanahan, 56, had extensive of experience in the defense industry but little in government. In more than four months as the acting secretary, he focused on implementing the national defense strategy that was developed during Mattis’ tenure and emphasizes a shift from the resources and tactics required to fight small wars against extremist groups to what Shanahan calls “great power” competition with China and Russia.