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N. Korean leader heeds 'American tastes' in propaganda show: cable

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il told a visiting South Korean businesswoman in 2009 that he had ordered the removal of a missile launch scene from his country's mass propaganda show because "Americans did not like it," according to a U.S. diplomatic cable.

   The cable, found on WikiLeaks and released this week by a New York-based blogger, offered a rare look into how the aging but omnipotent leader views the relationships with the U.S. and South Korea, both of which North Korea remains technically at war with after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce.

   Attributed to the U.S. embassy in Seoul, the cable said Hyundai Asan Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun quoted Kim as saying that some portions of the Arirang show had been altered "to fit American tastes." Kim also told the businesswoman, who has a large stake in inter-Korean businesses, that he had ordered more students to participate in the gymnastics show because he had been told "South Koreans did not like to see so many soldiers in the performance."

   In 2000, Kim saw the show with then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright amid a looming detente between the sides. Its highlight was a giant mosaic displaying a soaring rocket. Kim reportedly told Albright then, "This will be our last missile."

   Kim met with Hyun in August 2009 in Pyongyang as the chairwoman struggled to revive her company's businesses in the North amid soured cross-border relations.

   According to Hyun -- whose late father-in-law and Hyundai Group founder Chung Ju-young helped open the door to inter-Korean reconciliation in the 1990's -- Kim bemoaned that the conservative government in Seoul was not tapping officials from previous liberal administrations with better experience in dealing with North Korea.

   "KJI (Kim Jong-il) groused that the Ministry of Unification...

the DPRK's former 'handler,' had 'lost the driver's seat' to MOFAT (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade), an entity which KJI asserted did not understand North Korea," the cable quoted Hyun as saying. DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official title.

   While her company denied Monday evening that Hyun did not complain of her government's North Korea policy, the cable quoted her as telling U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens that she "faced more obstacles in the South than in the North."

   The U.S. embassy said in the cable that it attached a separate document containing Hyun's comments on Kim's health. Kim, who rules the communist country with an iron fist and is grooming his third son Kim Jong-un as his successor, reportedly suffered a stroke in the summer of 2008.

   "I'm still alive," Kim was quoted as saying by Hyun, according to the cable, as he stressed that the South should honor the 2000 and 2007 summit deals with the North. Both of the South Korean leaders who signed the deals have died.

   "Hyun observed that KJI said little about China, save for a comment about 'not trusting'" China, the North's foremost political and economic benefactor, the cable added.

   In a separate meeting with Hyun, a senior North Korean official argued that his country was developing nuclear arms "to prove to the United States that, while small, North Korea was a powerful country," the cable said.

   North Korea remains deadlocked with the U.S. over its nuclear development programs, which have apparently expanded to a uranium enrichment activity. In its New Year's message, the North reiterated its pledge to push for denuclearization while the U.S.

said this week that Pyongyang should show its commitment through words and actions, as they explore possibilities for resuming stalled denuclearization-for-aid talks that group four other countries.

   Arirang mobilizes tens of thousands of children and is a constant source of outside criticism over the human rights conditions in the North.

   The diplomatic cable can be found at

 (Yonhap News)