North Korea's Barbecue Diplomat

There was a fascinating story on NPR that got lost in the shuffle in the days leading up to the holidays. On December 22, the network aired a piece on Bobby Egan, a Hackensack, New Jersey, barbecue-joint owner who for many years has been an unofficial go-between for North Korea and the United States.

20070103nko.jpgAccording to the story by Adam Davidson, Mr. Egan, owner of Cubby's BBQ Ribs, fell into the role in the 1980s, when some friends of his, Vietnam veterans, asked for his help in dealing with POW-MIA issues. Mr. Egan began assisting them, traveling to Vietnam several times and eventually making friends with the country's Communist officials. The Vietnamese took a shine to Egan and mentioned him to the North Koreans, who sought him out as a liaison.

The North Koreans only rely on him when talks between it and the U.S. have broken down completely, the story says, but Egan hasn't been as influential during the George W. Bush administration as he was during Clinton's. Still, the government of Kim Jong Il has "twice authorized Mr. Egan to offer a full end to their nuclear programs in exchange for money and diplomatic relations with the U.S." The reporter says Egan often takes calls from the North Koreans while working the front counter at Cubby's.

Says North Korean U.N. representative Kim Yong Il, "Bobby Egan is one of our good friends. He's trying to make bridges between the people of my country and the people of the U.S."

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