In 2002, after a hiatus from the mission, Han returned to New York, where he served two stints as the envoy responsible for U.S. relations, the first of which ended after North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, in 2006. Over the past few years, the New York channel’s role, however, has been limited.
“One has to wonder whether and to what degree the channel is able to report back fully and frankly on developments in the United States, and also the extent to which the leadership in Pyongyang is actually listening to what the channel is reporting,” Revere said.
A portrait of Han emerges in the book “Eating With the Enemy,” by Robert Egan, a New Jersey restaurant owner and POW advocate who befriended the North Korean diplomat. Acting as an informal fixer, Egan took Han and his colleagues fishing and pheasant hunting, and to New York Giants and New Jersey Nets games.
In Egan’s telling, Han revealed himself as a former North Korean soldier who professed admiration for billionaire developer Donald Trump, passed on a proposal through Egan to sell North Korean nuclear weapons for billions in cash, and once tried to help Egan negotiate the return of the USS Pueblo, a naval intelligence vessel that was captured by the North Koreans in 1968. When the book was published, Han exploded with anger, telling Egan that the revelations could serve as a “death sentence” back home, the author recalled in an interview.
Since then, Egan said, he has had relatively little contact with the North Korean mission. As for Han, U.S. officials and other North Korea watchers say that he has maintained his position as Pyongyang’s key link with American officials but that he has become far more cautious.
Diplomats close to Han say that his latest posting will end soon and that he is likely to depart New York in the summer, with little to show for his efforts.
“I have found him and his colleagues to be lacking in ideas and ambitions, and I think that is a reflection of their assessment of the overall state of affairs — that things are not good and not going to get better anytime soon,” said a former senior State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to offend Han.
“They are lacking a level of energy and enthusiasm that I have seen them manifest in the past. They really are at the end of the trail here in New York, and Pyongyang is a long way away.”