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Concert: Pyongyang cheers, Washington cool

Feb 28,2008
The historic concert this week of the New York Philharmonic orchestra in Pyongyang received a mixed reaction yesterday. In Washington, the White House played down the event as “a concert, not a diplomatic coup.” Meanwhile in Pyongyang, North Korea’s state-run news agency praised the event.
“The world-renowned Philharmonic with a long history displayed exquisite and refined execution and high representation under chief conductor Lorin Maazel,” the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported late Tuesday after the 90-minute concert.
The report was in sharp contrast to the North Korean media’s routine blasts against the United States, which it often depicts as an “imperialist aggressor” while calling Americans “war mongrels.”
The audience of 1,500 North Koreans received the performance effusively, giving the orchestra a long standing ovation afterward. Several in the audience were seen recording the event with camcorders and digital cameras.
However, the much-heralded event was met with a more reserved response from the White House, which said the communist country’s human rights abuses and nuclear weapons remain big concerns.
“I think at the end of the day, we consider this concert to be a concert; it was not a diplomatic coup,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in a briefing yesterday. Perino stressed the White House views the event as “politically neutral.”
“We have had problems with the regime, which has hidden its nuclear programs... North Korea made promises that they need to keep in terms of fully denuclearizing the peninsula and giving us a full and accurate accounting of their proliferation activities,” she said. “And you have to remember how many people in North Korea weren’t able to come and experience the New York Philharmonic. We can’t help but think about those people and the terrible conditions that they are living under.”
Tom Casey, the U.S. State Department spokesman, also downplayed the event, characterizing it as a “private culture exchange” arranged independent of the U.S. government.
He stressed that progress in Washington’s relations with North Korea is “very much tied to the progress that has been made on the nuclear question.”
The orchestra left Pyongyang and arrived in Seoul yesterday. A concert is scheduled this afternoon at the Seoul Arts Center.


By E Choong-hyung JoongAng Ilbo/ Park Sang-woo Staff Reporter [hawon@joongang.co.kr]



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