Former US ambassador: Idea to invite Kim Jong Un to US for 'orientation trip' was rejected

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UNITED NATIONS — A former ambassador to South Korea says he once suggested that Kim Jong Un be invited to the United States for an "orientation trip" when Kim's father still led North Korea, but the idea was rejected — which he calls a mistake.

Donald Gregg spoke to reporters Friday about his new memoir. He said he wrote to Vice President Joe Biden when Biden was still leading the Senate's foreign relations committee, saying the young Kim should be invited because he was educated abroad, spoke some English and would be in power for decades.

But Gregg said the idea was brushed aside amid worries about what Republicans might think, "so we missed doing something. I think there was a chance for us to act early on and make a huge difference in a young man who's going to be around for a long, long time."

The former ambassador led the Korea Society at the time and now chairs the Pacific Century Institute. Kim took power of nuclear-armed North Korea after his father, Kim Jong Il, died in late 2011.

Gregg is highly critical of U.S. policy on North Korea under presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, saying he once hand-carried an offer to re-start North Korea-U.S. talks into the Bush White House and was told that talks would only reward "bad behavior."

Obama has never had anyone close to him who understands what's going on in North Korea and there's "no political support whatsoever" for changing the current chilly situation, said Gregg, who has visited the country six times, most recently last year.

"Most of our Korea experts are under the misapprehension that North Korea is going to collapse," he said.

Gregg said Kim Jong Un is willing to be like his gregarious grandfather, Kim Il Sung, instead of his more withdrawn father. "So here's a guy who wants to talk, and we need to start talking with him." He said Secretary of State John Kerry and top U.S. nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman have the intelligence to do it but must be exhausted from marathon talks with Iran over nuclear issues.

"So I don't see any major changes coming, I regret to say," Gregg said. "I'd love to be surprised." He said the country playing its card most adeptly right now with North Korea is Russia, which has invited Kim Jong Un to Moscow next month for what would be his first official foreign visit as leader.

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