May 12, 2024

A Day in the Life of Sunim, Washington D.C., Day 2 (May 7, 2024)

May 7, 2024: Washington D.C., Day 2, Meetings in the U.S. State Department & Others

Hello. Today is the second day of Venerable Pomnyun Sunim’s meetings in Washington D.C. with officials from the U.S. government, Congress, and think tanks to discuss peace on the Korean peninsula.

Sunim started his day with morning practice and meditation at 5 AM at the Washington Jungto Center. Since he had a breakfast meeting, he skipped breakfast and left for Washington D.C. at 6:45 AM.

At 8 AM, he met with Ambassador Joseph DeTrani and Mr. Keith Luse, Executive Director of the National Committee on North Korea (NCNK), at a hotel in downtown Washington D.C.

Ambassador DeTrani was the Special Envoy for the Six-Party Talks with North Korea and, based on Sunim’s advice, he played a key role in reaching a joint declaration agreement between North Korea and the U.S. on September 19, 2005. Mr. Luse has had a long-standing relationship with Sunim since his days as a senior advisor to Senator Richard Lugar, then Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Both gentlemen are old friends of Sunim. They have listened to his advice and worked hard to improve North Korea-U.S. relations.

After a warm greeting, they had an extensive discussion on how to resolve the North Korea-U.S. relations. Ambassador DeTrani first asked Sunim a question:

“From Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-il, and Kim Jong-un, the three generations of leaders of North Korea have always wanted to normalize relations with the U.S. However, the nuclear program has always been the issue. The U.S. stance is that nuclear development is absolutely unacceptable, while North Korea has the opposite stance. I think that the joint declaration on September 19, 2005 was the highest level of agreement ever reached between the two countries. Since then, it has been a downhill path, and now they are far from that point of agreement. The possibility of war on the Korean peninsula is higher than ever, and the current military cooperation between North Korea and Russia is also a significant problem. Is there a way for North Korea and the U.S. to sit down at the negotiation table again? I would like to hear Venerable Pomnyun Sunim’s insight.”

Sunim first expressed his gratitude to Ambassador DeTrani:

“Yes, I remember it vividly.”

How should the United States deal with North Korea?”

“If diplomatic relations between the U.S. and North Korea are established without nuclear dismantlement, the U.S. will show itself as weak, and wouldn’t that make the situation worse? Then I think public opinion in the U.S. will also worsen.”

Mr. Keith Luse, the Executive Director, also expressed his opinion.

“However, it is not appropriate to lift the current economic sanctions against North Korea.”

“I think diplomatic relations between North Korea and the United States will be difficult.”

“I think it’s a good suggestion.”

“From the U.S. perspective, it won’t be easy to follow my suggestion. Because politicians have to be concerned about domestic public opinion. Therefore, a president who is actively trying to improve relations with North Korea or doesn’t care much about domestic public opinion will be able to implement changes at the beginning of their term.” (laughter)

Sunim’s suggestions continued. He explained how improving relations with North Korea would help the U.S. from both military and economic perspectives. After discussing the current food situation in North Korea, how much the people are suffering, and humanitarian aid, the meeting ended.

As they left the restaurant after an hour and a half of conversation, Sunim thanked Ambassador DeTrani once again.

“Thank you so much for what you do. Peace is so important. I really admire what you do. You have significant influence because people see you as objective and dedicated to the common good. Thank you so much for what you do.”

Ambassador DeTrani thanked Sunim several times and firmly shook his hand. After promising to meet again, Sunim moved to the next meeting location. On the way, Sunim recalled the day the 2005 Agreement was reached 19 years ago.

In Washington D.C., there are not only U.S. government agencies but also numerous NGOs and think tanks. After a 30-minute car ride, Sunim met with another old friend, Frank Jannuzi, at the Mansfield Foundation office.

“Nice to meet you. You look very good.”

Director Frank Jannuzi, who worked for a long time in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as an aide to President Biden of the Democratic Party, is actively providing policy advice to the Democratic Party. After a warm greeting, they moved to another place and began a serious discussion. Sunim explained how U.S. policy toward North Korea should change to improve North Korea-U.S. relations.

After listening to Sunim’s explanation, Director Frank Jannuzi pointed out that the nuclear freeze proposed by Sunim might be too much for the American people to accept.

“The American people fear that agreeing to a nuclear freeze with North Korea ultimately means accepting their nuclear program. I agree that demanding nuclear dismantlement from North Korea is too excessive. What I’m curious about is what North Korea wants. Will North Korea agree to a nuclear freeze and the improvement of North Korea-U.S. relations?”

Sunim answered:

Director Jannuzi expressed another concern:

“From the Biden administration’s standpoint, even if they succeed in an agreement with North Korea, it won’t be a showy achievement. It’s too minor a success. Besides the North Korean issue, there are many other urgent problems.”

Sunim responded:

Sunim also spoke in detail about the way to approach the specific process from both North Korean and American perspectives to improve North Korea-U.S. relations.

After two hours of conversation, Director Jannuzi expressed his gratitude to Sunim:

“The part where you talked about the importance of the North Korean issue within the context of the Korean peninsula and neighboring countries seems really important. I will spread Sunim’s opinions widely so that many officials in Washington D.C. can embrace them. I will also try to ensure that the next U.S. administration makes preparations in advance.”

Director Jannuzi will be visiting South Korea in June, so Sunim promised to meet again then. The meeting ended at 12 PM.

Sunim immediately headed to the U.S. State Department. There was no time for lunch, so he had a quick box lunch in the car that had been packed in the morning.

Upon arriving at the federal government building, Dr. Son Minseo from the State Department warmly welcomed Sunim.

Sunim entered the State Department and had a conversation about peace on the Korean peninsula with Dr. Son Minseo and the intelligence agency staff. He also had a conversation with Julie Turner, the Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights, and other State Department East Asia-Pacific staff. Sunim suggested to Special Envoy Julie Turner that efforts should be made to promote universal human rights of North Korean people.

“Yes, that’s a good offer. It was very helpful.”

Lastly, Sunim urged the Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights to play even a small role for peace on the Korean peninsula. After a two-hour conversation, Sunim left the federal government building after 3 PM. In front of the federal government building, citizens were gathered to protest against Israel’s bombing of Gaza. Sunim bowed to the protesters with his hands together and headed toward the U.S. Congress.

At 4 PM, Sunim met with Rep. Michelle Park Steel. Rep. Steel is a Korean-American politician. A member of the Republican Party, she has been a representative for a Californian district since 2021, was reelected last year, and is now preparing for her third term.

After a warm greeting, Sunim made two suggestions:

“I will work hard to push this forward. My father’s hometown is Pyongyang, and my mother’s is Sinuiju. They met in Busan during the Korean War and had me.”

Rep. Steel gladly accepted Sunim’s suggestions. They took a commemorative photo together and Sunim left the office.

Next, Sunim moved to a restaurant to meet peace activists Annabel Park and Reverend Richard Tafel. In the restaurant, both welcomed Sunim warmly.

“It’s been a while. How have you been?”

movements but also in driving policy changes to make society more peaceful, and they have maintained a long relationship with Sunim because they share similar purposes.

Annabel Park asked Sunim a question:

“What achievements have you had during this visit to Washington D.C.?”

Sunim and the two discussed the U.S. presidential election over dinner.

Annabel Park responded:

“That’s right. He has become a social phenomenon. Americans seem to want someone with strong power to stabilize the world because it’s so unstable right now. That’s why Trump’s popularity seems to be rising. However, Biden has an image of being a decent person without disqualifying issues. To win the election, Biden needs to appeal that he is a person with greater power.”

Sunim provided a detailed explanation on how to improve North Korea-U.S. relations and solve the North Korean nuclear issue. Reverend Richard Tafel then expressed his concerns:

“Right now, the U.S. is ahead of an election, so the North Korean issue isn’t a priority. Even if you make suggestions, it might be hard for U.S. politicians to show interest.”

“Yes, I will.”

After two hours of conversation, they left the restaurant at 7 PM and took a commemorative photo together.

Having completed all the meeting schedules for today, we headed to the Washington Jungto Society. Sunim fell into a deep sleep in the car. The sun had already set when we arrived at the center at 8 PM. 

After a brief rest, Sunim conducted a live broadcast of the Wednesday Dharma Meeting at 9 PM. Since the Dharma Meeting was regularly held at 10 AM Korean time, Sunim had to do a late-night broadcast.

Once all Jungto Society members had joined the live broadcast, Sunim shared his activities from the past week.

From April 29 to May 6, Sunim conducted a Dharma Q&A tour in 8 cities in the northeastern U.S. Thanks to Jungto practitioners and volunteers worldwide, the Dharma Q&A tour was successfully concluded. Many people attended the Dharma Q&A in each city, listening to Sunim’s words and becoming a little bit happier. Sunim once again expressed his gratitude and started the conversation.

Four people had registered to ask questions and have a conversation with Sunim. One of them mentioned that their deceased mother had suddenly appeared in a dream, and since then, the image of their mother kept coming to mind, and they sought advice on how to view this situation.

“My mother passed away a year ago. Until recently, she hadn’t appeared in my dreams, but she has appeared twice recently. I had been feeling bad because I hadn’t been able to say goodbye to her because she died suddenly, but in my dream, she spoke to me. While I think it’s just a dream, the image of my mother from the dream keeps coming to mind. How should I view this?”

“Yes, thank you. After hearing your words, I feel at ease.”

The questions continued. After an hour of Q&A, the live broadcast ended at 10 PM. It had been another long day.

Tomorrow morning, Sunim will have a meeting at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). At lunch, he will meet with Rep. Brad Sherman and talk with the aides of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In the afternoon, he will visit the Brookings Institution for a meeting, and in the evening, he will have a meeting related to the Bhutan Sustainable Development Project.