President Trump’s national security adviser is a trusted source of counsel when dealing with adversaries like North Korea. Surprisingly, knowing the name of the North Korean leader doesn’t seem to be a job requirement.
Despite a series of high-profile meetings between President Donald Trump and chairman Kim Jong-un, tensions between the US and North Korea are returning to old highs. Pyongyang wants Washington to drop its calls for denuclearization, and Kim has given the US a year-end deadline to meet this request, while issuing cryptic threats of a “christmas gift” for America.
Against this background, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien sat down with ABC’s Jonathan Karl on Sunday to talk about the future of diplomacy with the Hermit Kingdom.
Asked about the “christmas gift,” O’Brien responded: “Chairman un has said that there would be something over Christmas.”
The problem? “Chairman un” is not the North Korean leader’s name. ‘Kim’ is his family name, ‘Jong’ is his given name, shared by his male siblings, while ‘un’ is a syllable added to his given name to distinguish him from his brothers. Hence, O’Brien should have called him “Chairman Kim.”
Perhaps the DPRK national security advisor will retaliate by referring to US President John.
— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) December 29, 2019
While North Korean naming conventions may seem strange to Westerners, O’Brien is paid not to make such mistakes. After all, he is the president’s right hand man on all things war and peace, and nuclear diplomacy is sensitive business. Yet, in an unconventional diplomatic process that’s seen Trump call Kim “Little Rocket Man,” and threaten to rain “fire and fury” upon Pyongyang, O’Brien’s slip-up is a relatively minor one.
Trump himself has a history of messing up important people’s names much closer to home. The president has referred to Defense Secretary Mark Esper as “Mark Esperanto” and Apple CEO Tim Cook as “Tim Apple.” Trump also announced sanctions on Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini this summer, despite Khomeini being dead since 1989, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ruling Iran today.
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