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How U.S. should handle North Korea, according to a diplomat who fled the state

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Thae Yong Ho — the highest-ranking diplomat to defect from North Korea — offered insight on how the United States can better handle its tense relationship with the reclusive state.

Thae spoke before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee in Congress Wednesday morning, urging officials to focus on making information more accessible. His appearance in Washington, D.C., comes just a week before U.S. President Donald Trump heads to South Korea.

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“We cannot change the policy of terror of the Kim Jong Un regime. But we can educate North Korean population to stand up by disseminating outside information,” he said.

Thae, who has lived in foreign countries such as China, Denmark and the United Kingdom as a North Korean diplomat, left the state in 2016. Since then, he’s spoken out on how the North Korean nuclear threat can be addressed.

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The ex-diplomat explained that North Korean civilians are brainwashed to believe that Kim Jong Un is a god, and education is needed to bust that perception.

Thae said that civilians don’t know basic information about the Kim dynasty — things like birth dates, where they were educated, and who they lived with.

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“Majority of North Koreans do not know that his father Kim Jong Il had several ladies to live with,” he said.

“So we should tell North Korean people that Kim Jong Un, and his father Kim Jong Il, and his grandfather Kim Il Sung, the whole member of Kim dynasty, are not the gods.”

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While making information accessible to the regime, which is notorious for its propaganda, is key, Thae added there are other important things the U.S. can do. One is continuing to stress that the western world won’t accept North Korea as a nuclear power.

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“I think first Kim Jong Un still believes he can achieve this goal,” he said.

“We should continue to tell the North Korean leadership, and if possible with Kim Jong Un himself, that America will not accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state.”

He noted that a meeting with Kim Jong Un is necessary — “at least once”— before any military action is taken.

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Thae added that economic sanctions are important.

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“We have to wait and see to witness the effectiveness of current economic sanctions.”

He explained that the country is used to having such sanctions placed on them, and has stockpiles of supplies in case of war.

“When North Korea starts to open its war stockpiles of food and oil, then we may see how long North Korea is sustained.”

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Thae also appeared before a Washington think-tank Tuesday, where he explained that there is rising anxiety among the North Korean leadership that there will be a revolt. He said Kim Jong Un’s weapons development is driven in part by anxiety following Arab Spring uprisings against authoritarian governments.

If there are street protests inside North Korea, he said, “there is no doubt that Kim Jong Un would stamp it out mercilessly with his forces, even tanks.”

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Thae said Kim Jong Un believes that with a nuclear-tipped missile, he can address these threats.

READ MORE: North Korea nuclear test site tunnel reportedly collapsed days after test, killing 200

Thae’s comments on the inner workings of the North Korean regime offer some rare insight into what life is like in the country. And he has received some harsh reaction.

North Korea has called him “human scum” and accused him of embezzling government money and committing other crimes.

— With files from The Associated Press

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