A Day in the Life of Sunim, Washington D.C., Day 4 (May 9, 2024)

May 9, 2024: Washington D.C., Day 4, Meetings at the World Food Programme (WFP), White House National Security Council (NSC)

Hello. Today is the fourth day of  Venerable Pomnyun Sunim’s meetings in Washington D.C. with U.S. government officials, members of Congress, and think tank representatives for peace on the Korean peninsula.

Sunim started his day at 5 AM with the 1000-Day Practice and meditation at the Washington Jungto Center.

After breakfast, he did some paperwork and left for Washington D.C. at 9:40 AM. He had a morning meeting with Congressman Andy Kim’s policy advisor to discuss issues related to peace on the Korean peninsula.

Andy Kim, a second-generation Korean-American, has worked at the U.S. State Department and Department of Defense before being elected to the House of Representatives in 2018, and he is likely to become the first Korean-American U.S. Senator. If he becomes a senator, he could significantly influence U.S. foreign policy. Sunim visited his office to request that he take actions that contribute to peace on the Korean peninsula.

Upon arrival at the office, the policy advisor warmly welcomed Sunim. Sunim suggested that to stop the proliferation of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. must actively improve its relations with North Korea, starting with a nuclear freeze rather than the approach taken so far.

Has Economic Sanctions on North Korea Prevented Nuclear Development? 

After hearing Sunim’s proposal, the policy advisor responded, “Yes, the congressman is also very interested in peace on the Korean peninsula. I will make sure to convey your wishes well.”

Finally, Sunim emphasized the need for efforts to alleviate the pain of separated families, such as promoting reunions of separated families from the North and South, and the Pyongyang Tree Burial project, which allows those who weren’t able to meet their separated families during their lifetime to at least to have their bones buried in their hometown after death. The advisor expressed strong agreement with Sunim’s suggestions.

“I am Indian-American. Because my family experienced separation during the independence of India and Pakistan, I deeply empathize with the issue of separated families in North and South Korea.”

After an hour-long discussion, they left Congressman Andy Kim’s office at noon.

On the way to the next meeting, Sunim once again had his box lunch on a bench in front of the botanical garden, enjoying a leisurely meal today.

After finishing the meal, he headed to the World Food Programme (WFP) office in Washington D.C. Upon entering the office, Jon Brause, the director, warmly welcomed Sunim.

Jon Brause, who has long been involved in humanitarian aid to North Korea as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) officer in charge, is also an old friend of Sunim. Initially, Director Brause reflected on the past 30 years.

“I’m getting ready to retire from this office, and I was hoping that after 30 years, the world would be a little bit better than when I started, but it’s getting worse and worse. I hope it’s not my fault.”

Sunim responded with a smile,

Sunim then asked which regions currently have the most critical food issues. Director Brause replied,

“We desperately need peace before food. Peace is needed in Gaza, Sudan, Yemen, and many other places.”

Sunim agreed with the director’s perspective,

Sunim sought advice from the director on how to assist many countries currently facing difficulties, such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Haiti, Sudan, Libya, and Syria. There are many people struggling to survive around the world.

Director Brause then asked Sunim about the current situation in North Korea.

“What is the situation with our favorite country?”

Sunim answered,

“Economic sanctions have not been effective, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is proceeding by securing funds. So how can we prevent North Korea’s proliferation of weapons of mass destruction? Wouldn’t China oppose this?”

“I think so. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past. Once economic development progresses to a certain level, North Korea’s need for nuclear weapons will gradually decrease. But if they continue to be under pressure like they are now, nuclear weapons will become a necessity.”

“Let us pray together for America to think in new ways.”

“It’s the same with all the problems happening around the world.”

“You’re right. We need to change our thinking like you to solve the problem.”

Sunim then detailed his sustainable development projects currently underway in Bhutan. Director Brause was very supportive of these significant projects.

After an hour and thirty minutes of conversation, they said their goodbyes. Director Brause shared that he would soon be retiring.

“I am retiring in July. If you come to America then, you will be able to see me taking care of plants in my yard.”

“Maybe so.”

“I felt hope every time I met you. I could feel hope today too.”

They took a commemorative photo together, possibly for the last time at the WFP office.

Sunim had planned to visit Dr. John Merrill at this time, but Dr. Merrill asked to postpone the appointment by an hour, giving Sunim some free time. He took this opportunity to stroll around the White House, which is located right next to the WFP office.

It would be truly beneficial if Sunim’s earnest appeals could be directly conveyed to the White House. However, since that is difficult, Sunim must meet many people in person and persuade them. Despite this challenge, Sunim’s face was full of smiles, and his steps were energetic.

While Sunim was walking, he unexpectedly received a call from the White House. He had requested a meeting with the National Security Council (NSC) the previous day, without expecting any results. Surprisingly, Drew Albisthes, the East Asia and Mongolia Director at the NSC, responded today, proposing a meeting at 4 PM.

Sunim then went to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House and passed through the security checkpoint.

Drew Albisthes, the NSC Director for East Asia and Mongolia, came out to the security checkpoint to warmly welcome Sunim.

“I took over from Victor Cha, who was the Asian Affairs Advisor at the NSC during the Bush administration.”

Sunim first discussed the reason for his visit to the White House.

Drew agreed with Sunim’s proposal.

“I think your visit to the White House is at a very opportune time. This is because we were considering policy changes because our previous policy toward North Korea had not been effective. Thank you for your great suggestion.”

“Next time I get the chance, I would like to ask how we can make humanitarian aid available to North Korean people.”

After an hour and thirty minutes of conversation, they agreed to meet again and concluded the meeting.

Sunim got in the car to go and meet with Dr. John Merrill in Fairfax, VA, located west of Washington D.C. He decided to visit Dr. Merrill to check on his health and seek advice on issues related to the Korean peninsula.

After an hour’s drive, they arrived at Dr. Merrill’s residence. Dr. Merrill, who has difficulty moving, was seated and greeted Sunim with a handshake. He was very pleased to see Sunim.

“Great to see you! How have you been?”

“I wish I could say the same, but these days I’m kind of laid up so to speak.”

Dr. John Merrill formerly served as the Director of Northeast Asian Affairs at the State Department and has been a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, writing numerous journal articles since retiring. He has maintained a long-standing friendship with Sunim.

Sunim had an extensive discussion with Dr. Merrill about improving North Korea-U.S. relations and achieving peace on the Korean peninsula.

“Have you met DeTraney?”

“It is too late for America to do anything. North Korea is probably waiting for Trump to come out with something.”

“You’re right. But most Americans won’t understand you. That’s just a pity.”

“Thank you.”

After an hour of conversation, Sunim wished Dr. Merrill good health and left his home.

Upon getting back in the car and returning to the Washington Jungto Center, it was 8 PM.

Tomorrow morning, Sunim will host a live broadcast for Korean viewers and then go to the Department of Defense to discuss peace on the Korean peninsula. After a luncheon meeting with Washington correspondents, he will conclude his visit to the U.S. Then, In the afternoon, he will head to the airport and depart for Korea on the 6 PM flight.