Accessibility links

Interview with Joshua Kurlantzick - 2003-05-08


MR. BORGIDA
Now joining us to discuss this very issue, the issue of North Korea's reported role in drug trafficking, Joshua Kurlantzick, the Foreign Editor of The New Republic magazine. Thanks so much for joining us.

We've been doing a lot of reporting on this issue. It hasn't quite gotten probably the level of attention that the nuclear issue has gotten. Why do you suspect that's the case?

MR. KURLANTZICK
I think it hasn't gotten the level that the nuclear issue has gotten because this issue has been going on for 10 to 15 years. And every time it reoccurs, with North Korean diplomats being busted for drug smuggling or other illegal activity, there is interest and then it filters away. Now the fact that they could possibly have nuclear weapons and have this network of smuggling, suddenly people realize that they could be smuggling materials that are highly dangerous and they have become a lot more worried.

MR. BORGIDA
What's the incentive for the smuggling?

MR. KURLANTZICK
I think the incentive mostly is the North Korean regime is pretty much bankrupt. So, guys in the embassies, if you think about it, they have no money at all, they have no experience in a capitalist society, the easiest way to make money and raise hard currency is any sort of criminal activity you can get involved in.

MR. BORGIDA
What has Pyongyang been saying about this? We want to be as fair and balanced as we can be here, but it's not easy to find a lot of official comment on these allegations out of the North.

MR. KURLANTZICK
Pyongyang doesn't usually comment on allegations other than things about diplomatic situations. They've had diplomats in the past who were arrested for smuggling drugs, smuggling even ivory and rhinoceros horns, other endangered species. And normally what happens is the diplomats leave the country and go home without a statement. They're not known for reading the international press or even really just generally responding to any allegations.

MR. BORGIDA
Has your magazine made an effort to get in touch with them to find out?

MR. KURLANTZICK
Yes. I called, basically, the people you can get in touch with to make a liaison with North Korean officials. They have a mission at the U.N. They refused. Sometimes in Asia, the North Korean embassy will issue a statement, but generally they don't respond.

MR. BORGIDA
There is a lot that we've been hearing about North Korea. The President of the United States included it in its axis of evil. Does all of this add to the perception of North Korea as the rogue regime, not commenting on charges against it and continuing to work on a nuclear weapon program, the mystique of this rogue country, North Korea?

MR. KURLANTZICK
I think in some ways Kim Jong-Il revels in that mystique, so it's actually in his interest, in some ways, not to comment on it, because the less we know about them, the more capable they are as negotiators. Certainly a part of their negotiating strategy is not to reveal any information and to maintain this sort of mythic status as much as possible. So, in my opinion, it's not really even in their interest to comment anyway. So, it certainly adds to that mystique.

MR. BORGIDA
Mr. Kurlantzick, there have been a number of incidents where diplomats have been linked to this. Give us just a quick broad brush, a few and different places, where mostly.

MR. KURLANTZICK
Other than the Australian incident, North Koreans were arrested off Taiwan with heroin. A number of North Korean diplomats were arrested in Bangkok for trying to basically silence and kidnap another diplomat. No one really knows why. North Korean diplomats in Africa were arrested for trafficking in endangered species. North Koreans have been arrested in Russia, in the Russian Far East, for trafficking in drugs. It's a pretty wide range of places.

MR. BORGIDA
A wide range of places. Well, it paints an interesting picture of Pyongyang, and we thank you very much for painting that picture for us.

MR. KURLANTZICK
Thanks a lot.

MR. BORGIDA
Joshua Kurlantzick, Foreign Editor of The New Republic magazine. Thanks for being with us.

MR. KURLANTZICK
Thank you.

XS
SM
MD
LG