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Wendy Sherman on Kim Jong Il: Smart, witty, and humorous

Wendy Sherman on Kim Jong Il: Smart, witty, and humorous

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman is one of the very few Obama administration senior officials to have met North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il — and she had lots of interesting praise for the Dear Leader.

Sherman, who served as State Department counselor and North Korea policy coordinator under former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, traveled to Pyongyang with Albright in 2000. Here’s how the NPR obit on Kim, who died this past weekend, described her take on Kim:

Wendy Sherman, a special adviser to President Clinton on North Korea, accompanied then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Pyongyang in 2001, and met Kim along with Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson.

"We shared similar impressions of meeting him. He was smart and a quick problem-solver," Sherman says. "He is also witty and humorous. Our overall impression was very different from the way he was known to the outside world."

Sherman sat next to Kim at a stadium to watch a huge festival of synchronized dancing. She says she turned to Kim and told him she had the sense that in some other life, he was a "great director."

"He clearly took such delight in putting these performances together," she says. "And he says, yes, that he cared about this a great deal and that he owned every Academy Award movie, he had watched them all, and he also had every film of Michael Jordan’s NBA basketball games and had watched them as well."

The New York Times obit has more juicy quotes about Kim from Sherman, comments she made in 2008:

Wendy Sherman, now the No. 3 official in the State Department, who served as counselor to Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and accompanied her to North Korea, said in 2008: "He was smart, engaged, knowledgeable, self-confident, sort of the master-director of all he surveyed."

Ms. Albright met Mr. Kim in October 2000 in what turned out to be a futile effort to strike a deal with North Korea over limiting its missile program before President Bill Clinton left office.

"There was no denying the dictatorial state that he ruled," Ms. Sherman said. "There was no denying the freedoms that didn’t exist. But at the time, there were a lot of questions in the U.S. about whether he was really in control, and we left with no doubt that he was."

When Ms. Albright and Ms. Sherman sat down to talk through a 14-point list of concerns about North Korea’s missile program, "he didn’t know the answers to every question, but he knew a lot more than most leaders would — and he was a conceptual thinker," Ms. Sherman added.