Way back in 1991, when I availed myself of a chance to visit North Korea, the stridently guided tour included a look at gifts given by visiting delegations to the Kim regime — displayed as the trophies the North Korean government evidently perceived them to be. Since then, the American portion of the collection must have swelled considerably. In 2000, when then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright went to Pyongyang, she brought Kim Jong Il a basketball autographed by Michael Jordan. In 2008, a group of congressional staffers brought Kim a plate with the congressional seal. How many more such gifts have been delivered by Americans and received by Kim as tribute, I don’t know, though one might suspect that plates, if not the basketballs, have been stacking up.
Whatever the grand total by now, it’s a good bet that few Americans have offered up as many gifts as has Jimmy Carter, himself a gift to North Korea that just keeps on giving. Carter reportedly brought a gift to Kim when he visited North Korea last year, and brought Kim another gift when he dropped by Pyongyang last week. Presumably Carter also brought a gift to Kim’s father, Kim Il Sung, when he visited North Korea in 1994.
But what are these gifts that Carter has been bringing? North Korea’s state news agency reported only the following snippet:
Gift to Kim Jong Il from Elders’ DelegationPyongyang, April 27 (KCNA) — General Secretary Kim Jong Il received a gift from the visiting elders’ delegation.The gift was handed to Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, by head of the delegation Jimmy Carter, ex-president of the U.S., on Wednesday.
Carter, in his fawning blog from Pyongyang, mentioned nothing of this. Even China’s state news agency, Xinhua, is apparently in the dark, reduced to citing the KCNA report, and noting that no further details of the gift were provided. All that’s clear is that since Kim did not bother to meet personally with Carter, either last year or last week, Carter further abased himself by handing over the gift not to Kim himself, but to one of Kim’s senior minions.
Such personal tribute from Carter may be small potatoes compared to the latest, lavish handout of $200 million worth of free food that the United Nations World Food Program on Friday promised Pyongyang — immediately following Carter’s rant in which he accused South Korea and America of violating human rights if they failed to send yet more free food to North Korea. Nonetheless, gifts from envoys — even self-styled envoys, if they happen to be former American presidents — are tokens of respect.
I can think of a few things that might have been appropriate. Maybe a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or The Black Book of Communism, or — on a lighter note — a video clip from Team America. Somehow, I doubt any of these were even considered. So, we’re left with a small mystery here, and yet I’d like to know: What did Jimmy tote along to North Korea last week as his latest tribute to the Dear Leader?
(And don’t miss “Carter bombs in Pyongyang”at the Tatler.)