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What role is Reverend Sun Myung Moon -- major media mogul and motivating force behind the Washington Times daily newspaper, the United Press International news service, and many other journalistic properties - playing in the ongoing nuclear negotiations between North Korea's leaders and the Bush Administration?
Although the evidence is circumstantial, it appears as if Moon -- a self-styled "Messiah" who has called America "Satan's Harvest," and who has given speeches titled "The Last Days are Coming to America" -- may also be functioning as a middleman between George W. Bush and Korean dictator and junior Axis of Evil member Kim Jong Il.
Moon's idiosyncratic politics and theology have long identified six countries -- the United States, Russia, China, Japan, and North and South Korea -- at the center of an anticipated apocalyptic confrontation, a final Armageddon-like battle, in which Moon and his Unification Church would play a key role.
Those same six countries, of course, are at the center of the ongoing multi-lateral negotiations over North Korea's nuclear capabilities.
The Bush Administration has loudly resisted North Korea's repeated efforts to abandon the six-country negotiations and engage in direct, bilateral talks. But a channel for direct communications between the two countries already exists. The so-called "New York channel" is the U.S. State Department's back door conduit for one-on-one, face-to face bilateral meetings with North Korea, and both governments acknowledge its existence.
During a March 15, 2002 press briefing, for example, a U.S. State Department spokesman acknowledged the existence of the "New York Channel" in response to a question about meetings between U.S. and North Korean Ambassadors:
"Our discussions through the New York channel have continued at the working level since the outset of the administration, with occasional face-to-face meetings ... "
And North Korea's government acknowledged the New York channel at least as far back as March 31, 1999, when a Foreign Ministry spokesman, speaking of missile negotiations with the U.S held in Pyongyang the day before, told the official news agency KCNA:
"It was agreed that the venue and date for next negotiations would be confirmed through a contact channel in New York."
Three years later, in June 2002, KCNA reported that the US had informed the North Koreans "through the New York contact channel that it would send a special envoy of the State Department to Pyongyang to explain its stand toward the restart of the dialogue." By July 2003, the North Koreans were saying that they would "recognize the 'New York channel' as the only official route to dialogue between the North and the United States."
South Korean press accounts are also plentiful. The English language Korea Times reported on Nov. 29, 2002 that the "channel" had been closed since North Korea announced its weapons program had restarted, but the administration was trying to reopen it:
"U.S.-North Korea dialogue through the so-called 'New York channel' has remained idle since the North's alleged confession to running a nuclear weapons program and is showing no signs of recovering in the near future, government sources said yesterday. The New York channel served as a behind-the-scenes communication line between the two countries in the absence of diplomatic ties, involving U.S. officials in charge of Korean affairs and North Koreans working with the United Nations. ... This conflicts with the earlier pledge by the U.S. that it would 'press ahead with contacts with North Korea via the New York channel' despite the tension caused by the North's surprise nuclear confession."
By April 15, 2003, the channel was again open: "There have been contacts between the two sides since North Korea expressed its willingness to join the multilateral talks, which the U.S. positively assessed," the official said on condition of anonymity. "'The New York channel ... is always open,'" U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker said.
A few months later the Korean Herald reported that the North Koreans would recognize the "New York channel" as the only official route to dialogue between the North and the United States.
So the existence of a "New York channel" for direct discussion is clear. Less so is the role Reverend Moon may play in it. But given Moon's intimate contact with leaders of both countries for decades, it would be surprising if he hadn't attempted to insert himself in some way into the negotiations. He maintained close ties with the Reagan and Bush I administrations and their conservative allies, for example, and currently enjoys a similar relationship with the current Bush administration. At the same time he has carefully cultivated the North Korean dictatorship with gifts and investments, as detailed by the South Korean newspaper JoonAng Daily in an article headlined " Pyonghwa Motors, Unification Church Do a Deal":
"Who thinks it is a good idea to build cars in North Korea where almost no one knows how to drive? Would it even be possible to open a profitable factory in the communist state?" the paper asked. "The answer, those familiar with the deal say, is the strong relationship between the North Korean government and the Unification Church, or Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. The church, which owns Pyonghwa and such companies as the Tongil Group, the Washington Times , and UPI news service, among others, has had close ties with the North. The church and its business empire have engaged in not only North Korean business projects, but also many inter-Korean cultural exchange programs since the early 1990s. They have held inter-Korean art exhibitions, scholarly exchange programs and sports exchange programs. Recently, the Moon empire has established a hotel, a park and a church in the North.
"The church says it follows its religious precepts in helping North Korea. 'It is our principle to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula by promoting mutual prosperity,' says Ahn Ho-yeol, a senior church official.
"Still, how could the church successfully approach the tightly-closed North more than a decade ago? Hwang Sun-jo, chairman of the Tongil Group, the largest business operation of the church, says, 'The West during the Cold War saw the North as a more closed and problematic country than it actually was. Mr. Moon then worked to improve the image of the North. He, for example, sent a Washington Times reporter to the North and made the country known to the West with a better image. Since then, the North has confided in the church.'"
Further evidence of Reverend Moon's confidential coziness with the North Koreans came from partially declassified documents U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by reporter Robert Parry, which indicate that Moon funneled tens of millions of dollars to that country's Communist leaders dating back to the early 1990s, when the isolated North Korean regime needed hard currency to finance its weapons programs.
As detailed by Parry, "the payments included a $3 million 'birthday present' to current communist leader Kim Jong Il and offshore payments amounting to 'several tens of million dollars' to the previous communist dictator, Kim Il Sung."
Besides the payments to North Korea's leaders, Moon also has funneled large sums of money to American leaders, including former President George H.W. Bush for speeches and other services in Asia, the United States and South America.
In return the former President has declared, "I want to salute Reverend Moon," and praised him as "the man with the vision." George H.W. Bush made his paid speeches at a time when Moon was expressing intensely anti-American views.
Oddly, for someone who has embraced the North Koreans, Moon made his reputation in this country as a fervent anti-Communist. But he has often also been virulently anti-American as well. As a 1970s congressional investigation explained, "Anti-communism is one key reason for Moon's espousal of a worldwide theocracy and rejection of some of the most fundamental tenets of American democracy. Moon finds 'American-style to be a "good nursery for the growth of Communism.'"
Has Reverend Moon -- who has vast holdings in New York, including headquarters at the New Yorker Hotel -- insinuated himself between the US and North Korea as part of the "New York channel?" Neither the Messiah nor his minions are commenting, of course. But an article posted on one of his group's websites, written by Antonio Betancourt, one of his leading followers (Executive Director, Summit Council for World Peace; Secretary General, IIFWP-North America) claims the Unificationists play "an important facilitating role in the resolution of the current crisis."
"Since 1991, as executive director of the Summit Council," writes Betancourt," I have traveled to the DPRK 17 times, and met five times with the late President Kim Il Sung and twice with Chairman Kim Jong Il, as well as many other senior North Korean officials."
The work began, according to Betancourt, with "a roundtable of renowned scholars, Asian affairs experts and senior U.S. officials in December 1992, chaired by President Clinton's chief military advisor, Admiral William J. Crowe, USN (Ret.), former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff."
Another roundtable, also chaired by Admiral Crowe, was held in March 1993, during the first North Korean nuclear crisis. "These conferences were followed by subsequent trips to Pyongyang with not only former presidents and prime ministers," Betancourt notes, "But with key American leaders, and opinion and policymakers who could help shape a more positive American policy towards North Korea."
Since that time, as Betancourt writes, Moon and his followers: "have continued to help and nourish constructive dialogue and diplomacy between North Korea and the U.S."
Perhaps someone should inquire of our current President Bush what advice he is getting on how to handle North Korean affairs from Sun Myung Moon -- that regime's confidant and his father's paymaster. After all, Moon has long made clear that one of his long-range goals is the destruction of America's democratic form of government.
"History will make the position of Reverend Moon clear, and his enemies, the American population and government will bow down to him." Moon has said, speaking of himself in the third person. "That is Father's tactic, the natural subjugation of the American government and population."
(Full disclosure: I directed, produced and wrote a 1992 PBS Frontline documentary "The Resurrection of Reverend Moon." http://www.mediachannel.org/originals/moontranscript.shtml
In addition, I am indebted to Phillip Wentz for his excellent research on this topic, and his invaluable blog.)