The Cable

Wendy Sherman on Kim Jong Il: Smart, witty, and humorous

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman is one of the very few Obama administration senior officials to have met North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il -- and she had lots of interesting praise for the Dear Leader.

Sherman, who served as State Department counselor and North Korea policy coordinator under former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, traveled to Pyongyang with Albright in 2000. Here's how the NPR obit on Kim, who died this past weekend, described her take on Kim:

Wendy Sherman, a special adviser to President Clinton on North Korea, accompanied then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Pyongyang in 2001, and met Kim along with Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson.

"We shared similar impressions of meeting him. He was smart and a quick problem-solver," Sherman says. "He is also witty and humorous. Our overall impression was very different from the way he was known to the outside world."

Sherman sat next to Kim at a stadium to watch a huge festival of synchronized dancing. She says she turned to Kim and told him she had the sense that in some other life, he was a "great director."

"He clearly took such delight in putting these performances together," she says. "And he says, yes, that he cared about this a great deal and that he owned every Academy Award movie, he had watched them all, and he also had every film of Michael Jordan's NBA basketball games and had watched them as well."

The New York Times obit has more juicy quotes about Kim from Sherman, comments she made in 2008:

Wendy Sherman, now the No. 3 official in the State Department, who served as counselor to Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and accompanied her to North Korea, said in 2008: "He was smart, engaged, knowledgeable, self-confident, sort of the master-director of all he surveyed."

Ms. Albright met Mr. Kim in October 2000 in what turned out to be a futile effort to strike a deal with North Korea over limiting its missile program before President Bill Clinton left office.

"There was no denying the dictatorial state that he ruled," Ms. Sherman said. "There was no denying the freedoms that didn't exist. But at the time, there were a lot of questions in the U.S. about whether he was really in control, and we left with no doubt that he was."

When Ms. Albright and Ms. Sherman sat down to talk through a 14-point list of concerns about North Korea's missile program, "he didn't know the answers to every question, but he knew a lot more than most leaders would -- and he was a conceptual thinker," Ms. Sherman added.

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The Cable

Romney pushes for regime change in North Korea

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Monday called on the United States to take the opportunity of dictator Kim Jong-Il's death to push for regime change in North Korea, a distinctly different message than the calls for stability and caution coming from President Barack Obama's administration

"Kim Jong-il was a ruthless tyrant who lived a life of luxury while the North Korean people starved. He recklessly pursued nuclear weapons, sold nuclear and missile technology to other rogue regimes, and committed acts of military aggression against our ally South Korea. He will not be missed," Romney said in a Monday morning statement. "His death represents an opportunity for America to work with our friends to turn North Korea off the treacherous course it is on and ensure security in the region. America must show leadership at this time. The North Korean people are suffering through a long and brutal national nightmare. I hope the death of Kim Jong-il hastens its end."

The Obama administration has taken a different tone, urging caution and patience as power transfers to Kim's third son, Kim Jong Un. Obama was informed of the reports of the North Korean leader's death at 10:30 p.m. last night, and spoke at midnight with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

"The President reaffirmed the United States' strong commitment to the stability of the Korean Peninsula and the security of our close ally, the Republic of Korea" White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in statement. "The two leaders agreed to stay in close touch as the situation develops and agreed they would direct their national security teams to continue close coordination."

The administration's stance is to not provoke the new leader, out of concern that he may take aggressive actions to demonstrate his strength both externally and within the top echelons of North Korea's political system.

"There's concern that Kim Jong-Un may now try to prove himself," a senior government official told ABC News. "He's young, inexperienced, brash and untested. And while he had the support of his father, it's unclear if he has the respect of his generals."

North Korea fired a short-range missile off of its east coast immediately following Kim's death, in a move some analysts believe was meant as a message to the South Korean security establishment and the 28,500 U.S. troops that are stationed on the Korean Peninsula.

White House Communications Director Dan Pfieffer said Monday morning that the White House has been in close contact with its allies, Japan and South Korea. He said he was not aware of any direct, high-level talks between White House officials and top leadership in Beijing. The State Department has yet to comment.

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