Diplomacy with Cole Slaw

October 1, 2007

Meet Robert Egan — roughneck son of Fairfield, N.J.; owner of Cubby’s, a barbecue place in Hackensack; and, for something like 15 years, America’s unofficial liaison with North Korea.

This New Yorker profile will catch you up on how North Korea (and, before that, Vietnam) came to appreciate Egan’s diplomatic skills. Meanwhile, some choice excerpts on Egan and his worldview are in order.

So, Mr. Egan, how does Kim Jong Il compare with, say, George W. Bush as a world leader?

Put it this way, O.K.? I’d rather have George Bush mad at me than Kim Jong Il,” Egan said one day at Cubby’s, leaning confidentially over the table. “I have no problem with George Bush coming in the restaurant and yelling and screaming at me. I would sleep real good that night. I wouldn’t want to get His Excellency Kim Jong Il angry. I wouldn’t sleep well that night.

Huh!

So, Mr. Egan, how has your working relationship with Pyongyang been? Has it always run smoothly? How about that time four years ago when the North Korean women’s soccer team was in the U.S. to compete in the Women’s World Cup, and you suggested a commercial showing a nuclear explosion when one of the players kicked a soccer ball?

When the story appeared, the soccer team was practicing at a camp in rural Pennsylvania, and Ambassador Han was visiting. “My father called me and said, ‘You had better get every New York Times in that town out of there,’ ” Egan recalled. “So we went around and got all the Timeses. Usually, the Ambassador reads the New York Times on Sunday, and he said to me, ‘I can’t find the Times anywhere.’ I had them all stacked up in my room—a hundred of them.” Egan was, however, unable to pull off a complete coverup. “Two days later, Ambassador Han comes up to me at the soccer camp and said, ‘A nuclear explosion with a soccer ball? In the middle of a nuclear crisis?’ And he just looked at me. He said, ‘I sent the paper back to Pyongyang,’ and walked away. Two days later, I am sitting on the side of a scrimmage, and here comes Han. I thought, I’m getting my walking papers. But he said, ‘Pyongyang and our generals loved it. You stand for strength, and that’s strength. Let everybody know we have nuclear weapons!’ They thought it was great.”

Well!

There’s plenty more to read. I suggest you check it out over a lunch of, I dunno, baby back ribs or something.

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One Response to “Diplomacy with Cole Slaw”


  1. […] stevenhart wrote a fantastic post today on “Diplomacy with Cole Slaw”Here’s ONLY a quick extractHow about that time four years ago when the North Korean women’s soccer team was in the US to compete in the Women’s World Cup, and you suggested a commercial showing a nuclear explosion when one of the players kicked a soccer ball? … […]


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