Accessibility links

Breaking News

High-level North Korean Defector Urges Engagement With Pyongyang

FILE - Former North Korean deputy ambassador to the U.K., Thae Yong-ho speaks with media at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 25, 2017.

The highest-level North Korean defector to make it out of the country in 20 years says the West must use "maximum engagement" with the Kim Jong Un regime.

Thae Yong-ho is making his first visit to Washington. The former deputy chief of mission at the North Korean embassy in London defected to South Korea with his family last year.

"I decided that the best gift which I may give to my son is the freedom which is so common to everyone here," Thae told the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, on Tuesday.

"I strongly believe if we educate the North Korean population, we can change North Korea."

He said nothing can stop what he called Kim Jong Un's "reign of terror," saying Kim would use soldiers and tanks against North Korean street protesters.

He said much more can be done to spread information about the outside in the North, including the use of what young North Koreans call "nose cards" — secure digital cards small enough to smuggle inside a nostril to avoid a body search.

Thae said he believes Kim's intense need to launch missiles and build nuclear weapons came out of his own insecurities and a need to prove his legitimacy after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il.

"Whenever he watched senior leaders' attitude around him, he thought there was a little looking down upon from the senior leaders because he was the third son. A lot of the North Korean population don't know that he is the third son."

Thae says Kim has yet to publicly reveal his birth date or show childhood photos.

North Korean officials call Thae "human scum," and have accused him of numerous crimes, including embezzlement.

Thae plans to speak before a U.S. congressional committee Wednesday.