President Barack Obama has written a private letter to North Korea leader Kim Jong-il, presented by U.S. special envoy Stephen Bosworth to North Korea's First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju on Dec. 9 during his visit to the North.
Time magazine mused the response of the North Korean leader, with the satirical reply published below:
Dear President Obama,
So nice to hear from you, and let me just say that it's an honor to be pen pals with a third American President. (Your letter has joined the ones I received from Bush and Clinton in pride of place on my office bulletin board.) I know you guys all personally took the time to write me, but it's kind of funny - all your letters say more or less the same thing. Dear President Kim, before you stands a historic choice: you can either (A) join the family of nations, opening the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to economic benefits, new trading relationships and diplomatic recognition from Washington, or (B) you can continue down the road of isolation and penury if you continue to develop nuclear weapons.
One of my aides tells me that some psychiatrist in the West once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting to get a different result. I thought that was pretty good, though I imagine in your State Department there are some folks who probably don't get the joke. But never mind. As you guys like to say, let me cut to the chase: In response to the choices you offer me, I choose B. Isolation. Penury. And nukes. (Most of all, nukes.)
Now I know that you think that makes me insane. After all, I run one of the most impoverished countries in the world. Here, a boom year is any one in which we manage to avoid a famine that kills thousands. But you have to understand, what I value most is control. That's what my father, our country's heroic founder, the Great Leader Kim il-Sung, desired; it's what I desire; and I've pretty much bet the family jewels that my 26-year-old son, Kim Jong-Un, will want the same thing when he takes over in a few years. Absolute, total control over pretty much everything.
I recently changed the denominations of our currency to wipe out the savings of anyone who possessed over 300,000 won (basically a few hundred of your dollars). Why did I do this? Because a lot of those people had earned that money in private markets - which the Party here didn't control - and that made us nervous. Was that beneficial for our economy? No. But it kept us in control.
So, by your standards, we are not rational. I mean, look, we just had a planeload of missile parts intercepted in Thailand. I think you know where that plane was headed. Why in the world would we be shipping parts for our glorious Taepodong 2 missile to Iran, when the entire world is worried about their nuclear program? Because some of my close comrades here in the Party run the trading company that sells the missiles, and the way I keep them loyal is to let them make some money.
Now don't me wrong. It's a problem that the plane was intercepted, mostly because it puts the comrades in Beijing in a difficult spot. You could lobby them for more restrictive economic sanctions against us, just as you are now doing with Iran, and they are not comfortable with either - even though they might go along, at least part ways, in order not to seem out of step with the rest of you.
But as far as we're concerned, this will blow over. If we've learned anything over the last decade, it's that China is never really going to isolate us economically. They don't want a repeat of the starvation of the late 1990s, which flooded the northeastern part of their country with our refugees. Without Beijing's help, you're never going to muster enough economic pressure to change our ways. And my nuclear ace-in-the-hole ensures that no one will really mess with us. Why in the world would I ever give that up?
So here's what I suggest: Let's take the three steps you guys always propose in your letters - denuclearization, leading to economic benefits, leading to diplomatic recognition - and flip them: Recognize the DPRK and normalize relations first, because it should be obvious to you guys by now that our regime is not going anywhere. Then, lend us some money, build a power plant or two, maybe help us with agriculture and food production. And then, after a while - a decade, perhaps? - if enough trust has been built up, then maybe we'd start to think about getting rid of our nukes.
Anyway, thanks for writing, Barack. Always good to hear from you U.S. Presidents, even if you do always say the same thing.
The Dear Leader
Kim Jong Il