Feb. 15 – North Korean diplomats met with the former South Korean ambassador to the Holy See in Rome in 2019, according to sources, at a time when Pope Francis was interested in visiting North Korea.In an article published in Firenze’s Table, a South Korean magazine, former Ambassador Lee Baek-man said he met with the North Korean ambassador to Italy at St. John Lateran’s Basilica on Feb. 10, 2019, ahead of Vietnam’s second U.S.-North Korea summit.
For the first time, after leaving his post, Lee will share details of the meeting. The meeting also came after President Moon Jae-in of South Korea met with Francis in 2018. Reportedly, the pope expressed an interest in visiting North Korea.Before the coronavirus pandemic, the Pontiff had never visited North Korea and North Korea had never extended an invitation.
But Marco Impagliazzo, president of the Sant’Egidio Church, a lay Catholic organization in Rome, visited North Korea for humanitarian cooperation in December 2018 and met Kim Yong Nam, president of the Supreme People’s Assembly Presidium.EDaily announced Monday that, according to Lee, the meeting was “very unusual” and a sign of North Korean involvement in the Vatican.
The former South Korean ambassador also listed Moon and the U.S. in his post.
On their first phone call, President Joe Biden questioned their common identity as Roman Catholics. The debate also dealt with the pope, Lee said.After the failed summit in Vietnam in February 2019, Lee also said that the U.S. decision to impose North Korean sanctions contributed to new restrictions. According to News 1, the former Trump administration limited humanitarian assistance to the North, Lee said.
Lee said the pope continued to show interest in visiting North Korea in November last year.North Korea has historically ranked among the most religiously repressive communities in the world. The U.S. non-profit Open Doors said the regime ranks No. 1 for religious discrimination in the world, an assertion refuted by Pyongyang.