Photo of North Korean nuclear negotiators fishing in Sandy Hook, New Jersey, courtesy of Kurt Pitzer.
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Read Part II: Hamburg Diplomacy.
Author's note: When I first met Bobby Egan at his restaurant in Hackensack, New Jersey, he placed a plate of barbecue in front of me, sat down, and began the most incredible story I've ever heard. For 13 years, Egan asserted, he has meddled in a dangerous and high-stakes political game between Washington and Pyongyang. I shook my head as he told me, among other incredible stories, how he was subjected to a truth serum interrogation on his first trip to Pyongyang, collected samples of North Korean hair for the FBI, and became a fishing buddy. Han. Song Ryol.
The stories turned out to be true. In the early 1990s, after North Korean efforts to reach Washington were rebuffed, they turned to Egan, a high school dropout from a besieged Jersey town who had worked as an activist prisoner of war with authorities. vietnamese. Egan's wild stories are retold in our new book,eat with the enemy:How I Made Peace With North Korea From My Hackensack Grill, published this week by St. Martin's Press. The following excerpt, narrated in Bobby's voice, takes place in 2002, shortly after President Bush declared North Korea part of the "axis of evil".
"INFECTED GUMS," HAN SAID.She flinched as she lifted her lip and poked her cheek. His front teeth looked like an old cemetery. I looked deeper. The flesh around her molars was purple and swollen. "They can't do anything," he said. "A lot of money."
It was bad for world peace that the North Korean ambassador was in terrible pain. And I couldn't bear to see my partner suffer.
"We're going to fix this," I told him. "I have that guy."
John "The Greek" Kallis was the leading oral surgeon in northern New Jersey. He once had Tom Cruise's wisdom tooth removed, and the photos in his office showed the other famous mouths he had worked on: Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lopez, Patrick Ewing of the Knicks, Doug Gilmore of the New Jersey Devils, figure skater Silvia Fontana . , and John Zimmerman and cast membersThe Sopranos.
More importantly, the Greek was my friend. He was a street kid like me, born to immigrants in Hell's Kitchen and raised in a tough neighborhood in Fort Lee, New Jersey, which was important because I needed someone who was willing to take some risks, who wouldn't ask me to . many questions.
I told The Greek that the North Korean tasked with dealing with the nuclear crisis has a bad toothache and that alleviating his pain is vital for world stability. He immediately agreed to help. And he believed me when I said we were trying to get some money from a charity to pay his bill.
I told him the FBI knew he was arranging dental work for Han, which he was, although my contact, Special Agent Tom Marakovits, tried to talk me out of the idea. "Dentistry can be dangerous," he said when we discussed the idea at Cubby's. "What if something bad happens, God forbid? Or what if he alleges wrongdoing? We're at war with these guys."
"What if his infection gets worse and he dies because we don't give him access to medical care?"
"Do not say that!"
"You're right. God forbid."
Marakovits shifted in his chair. “Anyway, I checked. We are not responsible for it."
"You mean cool," I told him.
"If you are sick, you must return to your place of origin."
I looked at Marakovits. “You have never seen a medical center in North Korea. If I had, I wouldn't say that."
"I am looking out for your well-being," he said. "You don't have to take unnecessary risks."
I took a long drink of my coffee. "Of course I will."
"What do you mean,they do?”
"If we just tookrequiredrisking it, we wouldn't get very far,” I said.
"You know if you get in trouble, I get in trouble."
"I guess that makes us partners then." I smiled.
"Think of your family." Marakovits glanced at the kitchen door. "If something happens to you, it will be bad for her too."
"Now you look like a North Korean."
He shook his head from side to side. "If something goes wrong, the biggest feet in the office will kick in," he said. "Can't help you."
I liked marakovits. I did. Deep down, a part of him probably wanted to do what I did, mistake him for the enemy. But he was shy. He had a badge, a cheap suit, and a pension to protect. "Let's just knock him out." hit, pull out a tooth or two.” Said. "When you see someone suffering, don't you want to help them?"
Marakovits straightened. "Tell me you are not going to put the North Korean ambassador under general anesthesia." He folded his hands on the table and played with his thumb.
"Who's the dentist? Is he licensed?
"It's better if you don't know," I told him.
I accompanied Marakovits to his car and lied to him. I said I would call before doing any dental work on Han.
The Greek canceled his schedule for the second Saturday in November, when his training would normally be closed. I arranged with Han to meet at a nearby side street at 8am. m., where we could be sure no one from the FBI was following us. The less the FBI knew about it, the better. Han arrived with two guys, a security officer and one of his assistants, in a Chrysler sedan, which they used when they wanted to travel undercover. I came with Mike "O'D" O'Donovan, an old hunting buddy who used to be in Special Forces and had just returned from a coffee demonstration.fincaLandowners in El Salvador on how to protect their land. With his short gray haircut, crazy-looking blue eyes, and questionable table manners (he enjoyed annoying my daughters with live maggots), O'D wasn't exactly what you'd call sophisticated society. But he was one of the best private security guards in the business, and it seemed like a good idea to have someone connected to the law in case something went wrong.
The dental office was on the first floor of a beautiful residential tower on the side of the George Washington Bridge, overlooking Manhattan across the Hudson. We parked in the alley beside the building to avoid the garage's surveillance cameras, leaving the cars to Han's younger colleagues.
An assistant took X-rays of Hans Kiefer, and while we waited for the results, Han looked at a framed photograph of James Gandolfini sitting at the dining table with a napkin, a plate of pasta, and a glass of wine. "The Greek worked on Tony Soprano?" asked Han.
I could tell he was nervous so I walked over and put my hand on his shoulder. "It's the best of the best."
The North Korean security official sat in an armchair in the waiting room, where he remained for the rest of the day. O'D was leaning against the opposite wall. They put on sunglasses and pretended to ignore each other.
The Greek called Han and me into his office. "It's Panorex," he said as a technician placed Han's X-ray in a light box. We leaned over to get a better look. "The immediate situation is the infection around the lower left bicuspid that needs to come out immediately," he said. “The biggest problem is that you have trouble fermenting in all four quadrants. There is some really primitive dentistry out there. These can explode at any moment."
Later, when Han was under general anesthesia, the Greek told me he had never seen anything like it. "Have you looked at those bridges?" he said. "They're made of aluminum. Hollow. Curly. They used to be called ashtray bridges. You hear about those things in school, but nobody's worked like that since the 1940s."
We agreed to extract six teeth and replace them with implants. "I'll do this in stages," he told Han. "It's safer. Some things we can do today and then next month..."
"No," Han said. “All at once. He feared that if war broke out, he might be recalled to Pyongyang with his mouth partially repaired.
The Greek warned that being under anesthesia for most of the day would increase the risk of heart or breathing problems. But Han persisted, and a technician hooked him up to an IV drip and a machine to monitor his vital signs.
"I want Bobby in the room all the time," Han said.
Two dental assistants came in and got ready. O'Donovan followed them to watch. As the Greek sedated him, Han grabbed my hand and relaxed as he passed out. O'D watched with a mixture of curiosity and disgust.
“Do you want to be heroes?” he said with a cynical smile. "Don't reject him, hit himfora.“
The dental assistants exchanged a look. O'D seemed overly enthusiastic about the idea of blood and bones being carved from an enemy ambassador. But he just expressed how many Americans felt after 9/11: looking black and white, good and bad. Anyone from an enemy country was an enemy. Everything was easier that way.
The Greek and his assistants set to work on the drill, and soon the room was filled with the sound of metal shattering on bone and the acrid smell of tooth enamel evaporating into dust and smoke. Sometimes it felt like they were chopping wood. One of the attendants injected Han with steroids and antibiotics to fight the swelling and infection. The Greek's gloves were speckled with red. The second attendant sucked the blood and spat it out as it pooled in Han's mouth. Another served an assortment of what appeared to be instruments of torture. I've disemboweled many animals with my own knife and seen some horrible things in my time, but nothing like what was done to Hans Kiefer that afternoon. I was proud of him for what happened. I don't care if he was unconscious, he was brave.
They pushed back his gums, removed his teeth and placed them in a metal container. The Greek cut a window in the upper jaw, lifted the membrane covering Han's sinuses, and bagged pieces of bone to allow the new bone to take root.
The operating hours passed. Outside the window, the autumn sky was a clean slate. I thought back to my first trip to Manhattan as a kid and all the flags. They hung from tall poles, high up, out of reach, rustling here and there in the wind, but most of the time they were just soft lumps of green and blue and red and yellow. Behind them, the mirrored windows of the UN building reflected the clear sky and dark city below. Our colleagues took us from the school bus to the General Assembly Hall. We stood on an observation deck and watched the strange-looking people: Africans in floor-length robes, Asians in business suits. I had contact with blacks and Hispanics. He'd seen a few in Fairfield and on television. Dad warned me to stay away from them when they were in groups. But the UN was like landing on another planet. A caramel-colored man with a wedge-shaped face shook hands with a man with a round head, gold-rimmed glasses, and a small goatee. Flat faces and long faces together. One wore a white headdress with a black ring around its forehead. What were the names of these people?
Our teachers had the eighth graders take turns listening to the general assembly with headphones. Most children listened for a few seconds and then passed them on. I was the last one and when I put my headphones on I couldn't understand a word. One of the children in front of me had changed the dial. I sat down at the small desk, turned the handle and listened to the French, Russian, Spanish, Chinese and Arabic translations. I didn't know what the sounds were supposed to be. Where I come from, there was English, the northern New Jersey variety, and that was it. Children from Hoboken, 15 miles to the south, talked funny to us. I couldn't stop turning the knob back and forth. A voice sounded like soap bubbles. Another sounded like knives. The world was full of people who understood what those sounds meant. But I would never know, and I felt small. I tried to imagine all these people, true to their own flag and their own language, far beyond Fairfield and Roseland and Hackensack.
"Cake!" The Greek shouted to one of his assistants. He started to sweat. He looked at the monitor and shouted code words at his assistants. "Appreciate!" shout out.
"What's up?" I approached.
"Arrhythmia. We gave atropine to dry out the mouth, but it makes the heart beat differently."
"This is dangerous?" I tried to make out the swirling lines on the monitor as the anesthesiologist pumped more medication into the IV. Han's mouth dropped open. He looked like a vulnerable child. Across the room, O'D waved at me, put two fingers to his lips, and mouthed the words, "I'm going to smoke."
The Greek and his team continued to snoop on Han's mouth. I took that as a good sign. Then, suddenly, they turned around. "He stopped breathing," whispered one of the participants.
Part II: "Hamburg Diplomacy".„An agent from Pyongyang, someone like Cranky, knocked on my door and killed my whole family. And so he went after the Greek... Then a worse scenario occurred to me: what if Han died and that led to a war?