North Korea pulled out of a U.N. summit in New York and a hoped-for meeting with South Korea’s president because of “rude and provocative” treatment by U.S. security on Tuesday at Frankfurt airport, North Korea said.
The delegation to the U.N. Millennium Summit was led by Kim Yong-nam, chairman of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly, who in North Korean protocol is head of state and No. 2 in the government hierarchy.
There had been hopes that he would meet South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung in New York to follow up the June summit between the two Koreas.
The delegation had been due to fly on American Airlines on Monday to join more than 100 heads of state gathering in New York for the summit, which begins today.
‘Hooligans and Rogues’
Deputy Foreign Minister Choe Su Hon told a news conference that the delegation had decided to return home because of its “rude and provocative” treatment by U.S. security staff.
“U.S. air security officials … opened suitcases and handbags of each member of the presidential entourage, forced them to take off clothes and shoes and thoroughly searched even the sensitive parts of the body,” he said.
North Korea warned of retaliation against “an unbearable mockery of the sovereignty of an independent state and a grave challenge to the United Nations and the summit organized by it” in a Foreign Ministry statement published by the North Korean news agency KCNA.
“The recent happening goes to prove that the U.S. is the world’s biggest state of hooligans and rogues. It is an entirely legitimate exercise of our sovereignty for us to take a strong measure against the brigandish and brazen-faced act of the U.S.
“The U.S. will come to know what a dear price it will have to pay for having hurt our people’s dignity,” it said.
Choe said there could obviously be no meeting with South Korean officials in New York, but North Korea did not blame its neighbor in any way for the incident and he stressed that talks had been going well.
“I think there will be a chance for a meeting [in the future]. The chance is lost this time,” he told reporters, referring to the dialogue between the two Koreas, which began in June after almost 50 years of hostility.
Airline Expresses Regret
American Airlines separately expressed regret at the inconvenience caused the diplomats, but said staff members were only doing their jobs.
“As a U.S. carrier we are obliged under Federal Aviation Administration regulations to carry out stringent security procedures for all passengers traveling on our international flights,” it said in a statement.
The airline said the North Koreans would have been able to continue their journey to New York on another carrier.
The North Koreans said that U.S. security staff told them they were carrying out orders on how to deal with nationals of “rogue states” and claimed the United States was being “double faced” after President Clinton invited them into the country.
“The U.S. side should make an official apology for its act committed against the president,” it said.
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said the search, including a pat-down of the diplomats and a luggage check, was partially a result of misunderstandings.
“It was a combination of unfamiliarity with our procedures and I think some unfamiliarity on the part there [in Frankfurt] with the delegation coming through,” he said.
Lockhart said the United States had looked forward to North Korean participation in the U.N. summit. “We regret that they got on a plane and headed back home,” he said.
Lockhart denied that the North Korean delegation was strip searched.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.