North Korea Rich Enough for Nukes, Too Poor to Pay for Hotels

Among the stumbling blocks to a DPRK nuclear summit: who's going to pay for Kim Jong Un's hotel room?

From the “You Learn Something New Every Day” department:

WaPo (“The U.S. is trying to find a discreet way to pay for Kim Jong Un’s hotel during the summit“):

At an island resort off the coast of Singapore, U.S. event planners are working day and night with their North Korean counterparts to set up a summit designed to bring an end to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

But a particularly awkward logistical issue remains unresolved, according to two people familiar with the talks. Who’s going to pay for Kim Jong Un’s hotel stay?

The prideful but cash-poor pariah state requires that a foreign country foot the bill at its preferred lodging: the Fullerton, a magnificent neoclassical hotel near the mouth of the Singapore River, where just one presidential suite costs more than $6,000 per night.

This, naturally, brings to mind several questions. How can a country that can’t afford to pay for hotel rooms afford an illicit nuclear program? And, if you’re running a country on a tight budget, have you thought about a cheaper room? Anywho,

When it comes to paying for lodging at North Korea’s preferred five-star luxury hotel, the United States is open to covering the costs, the two people said, but it’s mindful that Pyongyang may view a U.S. payment as insulting. As a result, U.S. planners are considering asking the host country of Singapore to pay for the North Korean delegation’s bill.

The North Koreans apparently have an unusual sense of shame. On the on hand, much like The Temptations, they’re not too proud to beg. Yet they’d get their feelings hurt if they’re negotiating partner paid the bill they were begging someone to pay?

“It is an ironic and telling deviation from North Korea’s insistence on being treated on an ‘equal footing,’ ” said Scott Snyder, a Korea expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.


It would be illegal, anyway, for the US Government to foot the bill:

Any payment for North Korea’s accommodations would run afoul of Treasury Department sanctions, said Elizabeth Rosenberg, a former Treasury official. The transaction would require the Office of Foreign Assets Control to “temporarily suspend the applicability of sanctions” through a waiver, she said.

The United States is expected to request these waivers from the United Nations and Treasury for a range of payments associated with North Korea’s travel, but a long list of exemptions could draw scrutiny.

“There are legitimate mechanisms built in for exemptions depending on the circumstance, but this could run into public and political criticism and send the wrong message to North Korea,” said Duyeon Kim, a visiting fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum, a nonpartisan think tank in Seoul.

It turns out, the Norks do this sort of thing all the time:

During the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea set aside $2.6 million to cover travel accommodations for a North Korean cheering squad, an art troupe and other members of the visiting delegation.

At the same Games, the International Olympic Committee paid for 22 North Korean athletes to travel to the event.

In 2014, when then-U.S. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. visited North Korea to retrieve two prisoners, his North Korean hosts served him an “elaborate 12-course Korean meal,” the veteran intelligence official said, but then insisted that he pay for it.

That’s just rude. And it gets better:

The country’s outdated and underused Soviet-era aircraft may require a landing in China because of concerns it won’t make the 3,000-mile trip — a visit that would probably require a plausible cover story to avoid embarrassment. Alternatively, the North Koreans might travel in a plane provided by another country.

This is a veritable “South Park” sketch.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bill says:

    In addition to the hotel, I’m wondering how Kim is getting to Singapore. Supposedly NK doesn’t have the aircraft. Could China be supplying the transport?

    Twenty years ago right about this very date, Dear wife and I visited Singapore for our 9th wedding anniversary (May 30th). We were in the Philippines visiting her family. To get there we flew Singapore Airlines. I upgraded us to first class. Singpore Airlines rolls out the red carpet for FC customers. I mean they roll out a red carpet. The food the airline served is the only ever I wanted more of.

    While in Singapore, we stayed at a Crowne Plaza off Orchard Road. That’s the big shopping area of Singapore. The hotel we stayed at was a good one but not top notch. Singapore’s most famous hotel is the Raffles. Raffles is supposedly closed right now for renovations . So that’s out for Kim.

  2. Kit says:

    This is certainly ridiculous and worth an eye roll, but in the end it is chump change. It’s a rounding error of a rounding error of the amount we spend in Korea (perhaps $1.5 billion). We might as well consider the money we spend in Korea to be a rounding error (0.06%) given our total budget ($2.5 trillion). Assuming that we can avoid some sort of own-goal blunder, these talks come cheap. Even if the current Kim proves no more trustworthy than his predecessors, at least we will know.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Kit: I certainly agree that the cost is negligible. It’s just that the contrasts are surreal.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The prideful but cash-poor pariah state requires that a foreign country foot the bill at its preferred lodging: the Fullerton, a magnificent neoclassical hotel near the mouth of the Singapore River, where just one presidential suite costs more than $6,000 per night.

    Sounds just like some of my old neighbors on the South Side.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    We are witnessing a Grifter-on-Grifter crime. Little Rocket Man is trying to stick The Dotard with the tab. But it will still work out for Don when Xi hands him his next payoff. He’s up 500 million in Chinese loans plus whatever his incest-lust daughter earns from her Chinese government-supplied trademarks.

    Trump will give Kim everything he wants, we’ll get another smoke bomb set off for the enjoyment of the western media, and Don will get a Trump Tower Shanghai. As long as Trump can earn the applause of deplorables and line his pocket he’ll count it as a win.

  6. Mr. Prosser says:

    Talk on other blogs about how the U.S. is willing to foot the bill but that would violate sanctions so we are asking Singapore to pick up the tab. Sheesh.

  7. Kathy says:

    Is anyone else reminded of The Mouse That Roared?

  8. teve tory says:

    I remember reading, years ago, about some North Korea defectors who had chemical burns on their forearms. Turns out they’d been ordered to shovel fertilizer all day, and they didn’t have shovels. They’re essentially a medieval country.

  9. Andy says:

    It’s not actually that surprising. We’ve known for a long time that North Korea’s nuclear program is prioritized above almost everything else.

    It also reminds me of the famous quote by one of the Bhutto clan in Pakistan:

    Pakistan will fight, fight for a thousand years. If India builds the bomb we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own. We have no alternative.

  10. MarkedMan says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Trump Tower Shanghai

    Judging by my conversations with my former colleagues in Shanghai, I’m not so sure putting “Trump” on a building would fare any better there than here nowadays. They tell me that most people with money recognize him as a complete buffoon.

  11. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    Pakistan for a time had far better missile technology than India, and it looked like at the time that they got a lot of technology from North Korea. The biggest problem is precisely that they are poor so that they can’t afford a hotel for the Head of State, but rich enough for long range missiles.

    On the other hand part of the problem is that Trump is playing on North Korea’s hand. It’s bizarre.

  12. JKB says:

    An interesting move by WaPo and others seeking to derail the possibility that Trump and Kim will come to an agreement ending the 60 years of conflict with North Korea.

    Now this is hilarious

    The United States is expected to request these waivers from the United Nations and Treasury for a range of payments associated with North Korea’s travel, but a long list of exemptions could draw scrutiny.

    The POTUS does not request a waiver from the Treasury. They may do paperwork, but the ultimate decision maker on any waiver is the President of the United States. Same with the United Nations. Perhaps something is submitted to help the UN feel relevant, but that they have some right of denial is hilarious. The UN might try some media sabotage, but then they can also be evicted to a new headquarters in Mogadishu (assuming the UN wants continued US financial support).

    But it is good to see so many really think the bureaucrats have the power. It will go well in the growing sentiment that the bureaucracies need to be routed and elected representational government restored.

  13. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Joyner: From what I was able to gather while I was living in Daegu, Seoul, Yongin and Daejeon, almost everything about North Korea is surreal.

  14. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: No, but thanks for the image. Got a good laugh from that one!

  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JKB: I see that you don’t understand that the word “request” does not automatically presume a right to refuse (as in the sequence of getting a rebate for making a purchase begins with a “request for rebate” form), but keep trying; eventually, you’ll get the hang of English and be as good at using it as you are at whatever your native language is.

  16. CSK says:


    This would be the very dark remake, I think.

  17. Pylon says:

    it’s hard to think of another point of history where one of the negotiating parties demonstrated so much gullibility in the face of all conflicting evidence.

    Unless you consider the last election a negotiation between candidates and the public and the Republican voters as on of the negotiating parties.