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Why North Korea Doesn't Want To Pay For Accommodations During Summit With U.S.


OK, the details involved in arranging this U.S.-North Korea summit - the details are many. But one basic question got our attention. Who will pay for Kim Jong Un's hotel room? If you assumed North Korea foots the bill for their supreme leader's accommodations, think again.

The Washington Post's John Hudson reports that the Hermit Kingdom has a history of pleading poverty when it comes to international travel. And he's in our studio now to talk about this. Welcome.

JOHN HUDSON: Great to be here.

KELLY: So where does Kim want to stay? And who might foot the bill for this?

HUDSON: The North Koreans have suggested that they're interested in having Kim Jong Un stay at The Fullerton Hotel, which is a sort of magnificent neoclassical hotel. It's unclear at this point who is going to pay. The U.S. has been considering asking Singapore to cover those costs. Singapore's defense minister has made clear that they are so eager to host this summit that they would be willing to absorb a number of costs for the summit, including the North Koreans.

KELLY: And the cost involved is...

HUDSON: When I was in Singapore, I asked them, how much does a presidential suite go by? They said about $6,000 a night. That would be just for one room. They would of course need the entire delegation. So it's going to be a big bill.

KELLY: So you were just saying Singapore might pay the bill. Another possibility, I gather, is that groups that have an interest in nuclear disarmament, which is at the heart of this summit, might get involved. What's the latest there?

HUDSON: Yeah, well, there's this group called ICAN, which is a nuclear nonproliferation organization. And they have volunteered to cover those costs.

KELLY: This is the group that won the Nobel Peace Prize.

HUDSON: Absolutely. And it's still unclear if the U.S. or the North Koreans will accept an outside contribution of this kind. And the White House told me yesterday when it comes to itself, the U.S. will be paying for its own. It's not going to comment on other outside contributions.

KELLY: If North Korea is not prepared to pay its own hotel bill, are they in any position to demand that they stay at this magnificent $6,000-a-night presidential suite? I mean, is there any question that they might be relegated to, I don't know, a Singapore youth hostel or the Motel 6 or whatever the equivalent is?

HUDSON: (Laughter) I mean, it is fair to say that these summits require a great deal of security, so you can't just pick the next Motel 8 (ph) and say, hey, you know, beggars can't be choosers.

KELLY: Right.

HUDSON: Of course, North Korea does have this history of making very bold financial requests of foreign countries who it decides to do diplomacy with. You know, in 2014, James Clapper visited North Korea in order to retrieve two prisoners.

KELLY: That's the former American director of national intelligence, James Clapper.

HUDSON: He had this elaborate 12-course meal and at the end of it was asked by the North Koreans to pay. It's very unusual to go Dutch in a situation like this...

KELLY: To a meal that you had been invited to.

HUDSON: Of course in the 2018 Winter Olympics, the accommodations of the North Koreans, cheerleaders, athletes - all of those things were paid for by the South Korean government.

KELLY: North Korea appears to have plenty of money to pursue nuclear weapons, to pursue missiles, to pursue computer and cyberhacking. They really don't have the money to foot their hotel bill?

HUDSON: Experts come out on different sides on this. North Korea is the most heavily sanctioned regime in the world, and it has a dearth of hard currency. On the other hand, yeah, nuclear weapons don't come cheap. And if you compare that to a presidential suite for an entire delegation, there's no comparison. You know, a lot of people think this is dating back to South Korea's Sunshine Policy where, in an effort to increase relations between south and the north, the South Koreans did a lot of things that wouldn't be expected. North Korea got used to demanding unusual things of foreign countries. And the supreme leader also has this almost deity-like status where, you know, you should have the pleasure of hosting and paying for his accommodation.

KELLY: That was John Hudson of The Washington Post bringing us up to speed on the latest of one of the many diplomatic details to iron out in advance of the big summit scheduled for Singapore. Thanks so much.

HUDSON: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLACK CAT'S "CAN'T STOP SMILING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.