Should Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi use both hands to shake Kim Jong Il’s hands if the North Korean leader turns up at the airport in Pyongyang on Tuesday to greet him?

Should he accept a ride from the airport to the city with the North Korean leader alone, without the presence of an interpreter?

The answer to both tricky questions of protocol, according to an informal meeting Koizumi had with his advisers on Sunday, is “no.”

According to people who attended the powwow at a Tokyo hotel Sunday night, Koizumi will also avoid signs of intimacy with Kim, such as a bear hug, if the North Korean leader shows up at Pyongyang airport to welcome him to North Korea.

Koizumi, these people say, intends to make his one-day trip to North Korea, unprecedented for a Japanese government leader, a strictly working visit.

Under the protocols laid out at the meeting Sunday, attended by senior Foreign Ministry officials, Koizumi would use one hand for the handshake if Kim greets him at the airport, an event that will be broadcast live in Japan.

Koizumi would also refuse to take a ride in Kim’s limousine to the city if the North Koreans would not allow the presence of an interpreter.

Some advisers even urged that Koizumi avoid smiling upon seeing Kim at the airport.

Koizumi’s advisers say they are concerned that without the service of an interpreter, anything said between the two leaders might be subject to misunderstanding.

“While in Pyongyang, the prime minister might be separated from his security detail, but he must not be without his interpreter,” one government source said.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.