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CNN: SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT

Notes from North Korea

Aired May 10, 2008 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Welcome to Pyongyang, the capital of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, also known as North Korea. In fact, very little is known about this country, except that everything happens under the watchful gaze of this man, Kim Il-Sung their Great Leader, the late founder of this nation.
It's a country that has long been resistant to outsiders, as secretive as it is isolated, perhaps, that is, until now.

(voice-over): Something historic is about to happen here. An American treasure, the New York Philharmonic, is coming to play in Pyongyang. To play for the people, and potentially bridge a 60-year divide between two bitter enemies. North Korea accuses the U.S. of invading it. The U.S. accuses the North of being ...

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: An axis of evil.

AMANPOUR: Will music pierce the wall around the world's most secret state?

(on camera): Two of us going to Pyongyang.

Thank you, ladies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bye.

AMANPOUR: I can tell you that it's taken me at least nine years to get this visa. I've been wanting to go to Pyongyang for a long, long, long time.

(voice-over): Our trip begins in Beijing, China.

This North Korean plane is a bit of a relic.

(on camera): I'm sitting here, right?

(voice-over): Built by the former Soviet Union in the 1970s. From the moment you sit down, you get the message, about North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-Il. Two hours later, touchdown in Pyongyang.

(on camera): Nice to meet you

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice to meet you.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): We are greeted by our official minder, Mr. Song, who never leaves our side. (on camera): We're looking forward to seeing. This is my first time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to Korea.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Song gathered up our cell phones and blackberries. To be held until we leave the country.

Visitors, like North Koreans themselves, are cut off from the outside. When we left the airport, another twist.

(on camera): An arm band. On it, it says, "Reporter." it's a little unusual. But here we are.

(voice-over): Another minder, Mr. Jang, tells us what we can ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do not show.

AMANPOUR (on camera): OK.

(voice-over): And what we can't film.

UNIDENTIIFED MALE: You cannot take pictures behind the statues.

AMANPOUR (on camera): Behind, just in front.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just in front we cannot take pictures.

AMANPOUR: And why is that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why is that?

AMANPOUR: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not sure but a principle is principle.

AMANPOOUR: Do you like that?

(voice-over): At first it's hard to strike up a conversation. Maybe it's the arm band and the warning it carries. But then, I plunge in.

(on camera): Hello.

(voice-over): These are visitors from the countryside to the capital. This is the first time you've see this big monument? Their first order of business? To pay homage to their founding father.

All right, yes, lady in the middle. They were wary of us. OK. Smile. But they soon warmed up. Very good. Thank you.

Have you met Americans before?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never.

AMANPOUR (on camera): What should the American people know about you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We respect our Dear Leader. AMANPOUR: And what do you think? Osimidas, that's "I share." Yes, Osimida. That's the only word i know now. You taught me some new words. I'll teach you a word, OK? Friend.

UNIDENTIIFIED FEMALE: Friend.

AMANPOUR: Friend.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Friend.

AMANPOUR: Yes, friend.

(voice-over): In the capital, we saw very few cars. Most are government-owned. There are no traffic lights. Instead, these striking young women in bright blue uniforms direct vehicles like dancers in a precisely choreographed ballet.

The metro is the pride of Pyongyang. Every day, about 700,000 people use it. Despite the crowds, the stations are immaculate and ornate, like the rest of this showcase capital.

In fact, the entire city feels like a movie set, designed in part for foreign consumption. North Korea is a police state, a dictatorship. Its economy is in collapse. And in the 1990s, widespread famine killed millions of people.

But this is not the face the government wants to project. This is. Pyongyang is studded with gigantic sculpture sculptures commemorating their leaders and the 1950s war against the United States. Devotion to the nation is taught early on.

This young teenager is singing about her Dear Leader. The song about Kim Jong-Il.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

AMANPOUR: Yes.

We got a rare invitation to her small apartment, where she lives with her parents and grandmother. The family points with pride to their most cherished possession. Where is your father, your father? Pictures of the grandfather, with the country's Great and Dear Leaders.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I'll do my best, and I bring joy to our Dear Leader. I want to bring a smile to the Great Leader.

AMANPOUR: She was raised to love her country and hate its enemies.

(on camera): Do you think America is your sworn enemy?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

AMANPOUR: Why?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My family went through the hardship of the Korean War. The U.S. brought suffering to the Korean people.

AMANPOUR: We heard this fear and loathing of America nearly everywhere we went. People here are taught that the Korean War which divided their country and their families was launched by the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We learned the U.S. imperialist is the sworn enemy of Korea.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I don't have good feelings towards the U.S.

AMANPOUR (on camera): To understand North Korea's state of mind, you have to understand that it is still technically at war with the United States. It only ever signed an armistice, not a peace treaty, after the end of the Korean War, and indeed the policy of the current leader, Kim Jong-Il, is called "Songun" the army first.

(voice-over): Army first, it is more than just a slogan, it's a national ideal. North Korea has more than 1 million men and women under arms. It is the fourth largest military in the world.

And as you walk the streets, you sense people in a permanent state of alert. Waiting for what we are told is the next great event. The state newspaper carries reports of annual war games with the United States and the South Korean Army.

(on camera): So basically you read this as a plan for war against the North?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

AMANPOUR: Really?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): But on the same page, news of a different kind of American invasion. Something they hadn't bargained for. The New York Philharmonic is coming to town. Could cultural diplomacy break down the monumental wall of mistrust between the United States and North Korea?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: Even in high school, Lisa Kim dreamt of being a world class violinist. A Korean American phenomenon. She played with major U.S. orchestras. Until she got the job of a lifetime with the renowned New York philharmonic.

LISA KIM, VIOLINIST: To be able to travel all around the world with the philharmonic is like the biggest, biggest gift.

AMANPOUR: But last summer, when she learned that the philharmonic was considering an invitation to perform in North Korea, Lisa was shocked. That was the last place she wanted to go. L. KIM: My instant reaction was, no way. We're not going. I actually sought a couple of other members who actually felt that maybe we might get kidnapped.

AMANPOUR: In fact, other artists have been kidnapped by North Korea, like this South Korean director and his actress wife, who were abducted in 1978. Eight years later, they managed to escape.

Lisa had more to fear than most, because of her own family history. When the communist North invaded the South in 1950, hundreds of thousands of people fled in fear. Lisa's father was a 20-year-old college student in Seoul. He was the target because North Korea kidnapped men like him to serve in their army.

CHONG HE KIM, LISA KIM'S FATHER: I was a draft at age 18 years old. They tried to take me to the army. I hided in the attics or someplace. Finally, I went to the mountain near the graveyard, cemetery, and I stayed there, and sleeping on the mountain.

AMANPOUR: After the war, he married, and moved to the United States, where Lisa was born, and raised on the stories her father told her about a brutal North Korean dictator whose regime starved and tortured its own people. So when her father heard about the plan to perform in Pyongyang, he begged Lisa not to go.

L. KIN: He just felt that North Korea can never change, and it will always remain the way it was back 60 some years ago."

AMANPOUR: Lisa and some of the others considered a boycott.

CHRISTOPHER HILL, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: I can't tell you how emotional an issue the division of the Korean Peninsula is for Korean people, for Korean Americans.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador Christopher Hill who, negotiates nuclear disarm amount with North Korea, decided to meet the musicians, to stress the importance of this kind of people to people diplomacy.

(on camera): What did you tell them to allay their fears?

HILL: Well I wasn't giving a pep talk to the New York Philharmonic. I was giving them information, and I was telling them essentially what we're trying to do with these negotiations.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): It was enough to convince Lisa and the others to go, but no sooner was the concert announced, then a chorus of criticism rang out. There were these headlines, "Serenading a Tyrant," "Symphony for the Devil," "orchestra president Zarin Mehta was immediately defensively.

(on camera): So what do you say when some of the critics say you're being played for a patsy, you're a dupe, you're going to go there and show this amazing American philharmonic orchestra to one of the most brutal regimes that exists today.

ZARIN MEHTA, PRESIDENT, NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC: It's the first step towards helping to open that up. We're going there to play a concert, which is going to show and bring more attention to that country and the problems it has. We all know that.

AMANPOUR: Many of the philharmonic's musicians shared his optimism. For Lisa Kim, it was eventually a triumph of hope over fear.

L. KIM: Now I just try to think more positive that maybe things will be changing and this step is actually a big step towards a big change maybe.

AMANPOUR: And so here she is, preparing to land in the one place she said she had never wanted to go.

The one place in North Korea we never thought we'd be allowed to se see, the top secret nuclear site, when we come back.

(on camera): (Inaudible). It's scary as hell.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR (voice-over): On a cold winter morning, hours before the New York Philharmonic Orchestra's historic touchdown in North Korea, we are 60 miles outside the capital Pyongyang.

Driving down a long, bumpy road, on the way to a tightly-shuttered outpost at the center of worldwide controversy.

(on camera): Thank you for having us. We're very interested to see what's going on here.

(voice-over): This is the top secret Yongbyon nuclear plant, where North Korea used to make energy, and has made plutonium for nuclear weapons.

(on camera): May we? OK.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): This is the last place we thought the North koreans would ever let us film, but they want to make a point to CNN and to the world.

(on camera): It's black as anything in there. It's scary as hell.

(voice-over): In February, 2007, North Korea agreed to disable Yongbyon in exchange for fuel oil, trade, and being removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Is it strange for you to have press here?

Though some might call this a carefully choreographed show -- the heart has been removed and only the shell remains -- the tour appeared to be a sincere effort to prove that they have shut the plant down.

(on camera): So this old what, looks like a rusty pipe is part of disablement?

(voice-over): It is. Inside the plant, it is cold and dark, dismantled nuclear equipment is wrapped in plastic. It's stacked on a basement floor. The once buzzing central control room is now offline.

Behind this window, the heart of the reactor. Thousands of nuclear fuel rods, they contain plutonium which can be extracted to make nuclear bombs. While men, dressed in protective suits, carefully remove the rods, others vacuum up radioactive contamination from the floor.

(on camera): So the rods would go down here.

(voice-over): And this is the reprocessing plant, where plutonium was being extracted from the rods.

(on camera): Plutonium that can be used for weapons.

(voice-over): Yes, it can, the chief engineer tells us, but today, it, too, has been disabled. UN cameras and U.S. experts monitor the dismantling process, which the North koreans say is 90 percent complete.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This will all become contaminated, on your feet.

AMANPOUR: U.S. observers prepared us to enter the room where the removed nuclear fuel rods are stored and neutralized.

(on camera): How many fuel rods are in the pond now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About 1,600.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): What troubles the U.S. is that there are still more than 6,000 active fuel rods, and North Korea has slowed down the dismantling process.

LI YONG SON, CHIEF ENGINEER, YONGBYON PROCESSING PLANT (through translator): The U.S. did not carry out their commitment, so we have to slow down our removing action of the fuel rods.

AMANPOUR: The power-starved North koreans say the United States has not delivered the heavy fuel oil it promised, and on any given night, a satellite image shows the difference, between a blacked out North Korea, and South Korea, ablaze in lights.

HILL: It's taken a little longer than we expected, we've shipped something like 20 percent of the heavy fuel oil they're expecting.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador Christopher Hill is the chief U.S. nuclear negotiator. In a rare interview before we left for Pyongyang, he explained that the U.S. not only wants North Korea to disable Yongbyon, but also to account for its nuclear program, and any nuclear secret it may have passed on.

(on camera): And do you think they will?

HILL: We shouldn't make -- that's about games you play in, but I will say it makes a lot of sense for them to come clean.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Two long time enemies, seemingly at a crossroads.

HILL: Those talks are at a critical juncture.

AMANPOUR: But while the diplomats are struggling to find a solution an unlikely band of cultural ambassadors. Is about to jump into the tray. Zarin Mehta is president of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He told us about an astonishing secret fax he received last summer.

MEHTA: Saying we invite the New York Philharmonic to perform in North Korea.

AMANPOUR: About the same time the North Koreans began dismantling the Yongbyon facility.

(on camera): Is that just a coincidence?

HILL: There are coincidences in life. I think what gave a possibility to reaching out on this cultural side was the idea that finally we got that reactor shut down.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Suddenly, there were parallel complicated negotiations. It took Mehta and his team months to overcome the massive logistical hurdles. First, they would need a special charted jet to carry more than 280 musicians, support staff and press, and 25,000 pounds of gear, including priceless instruments. They wanted a concert hall to fit 1,500 people, an international press contingent, and the freedom to play what they wanted. Those demands were nonnegotiable.

(on camera): The big question is why did they want the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in their secret kingdom?

ZEHTA: I would guess that they don't want to be as secretive anymore.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): A guessing game that leads directly to this man, the world's most secretive leader. Coming up, the highest- ranking U.S. official ever to meet Kim Jong-Il.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: What is interesting is his interest in theU.S.

AMANPOUR: Has some answers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR (voice over): February 26th, 2008. Pyongyang prepares for an American invasion. After months of heated negotiations, the New York Philharmonic has arrived in North Korea, the first cultural visit from the United States since the Korean War.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello and welcome.

AMANPOUR: Despite the bitter nuclear standoff between the U.S. and North Korea, this moment is filled with optimism and excitement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you feel?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really feel something good's going to come off of it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I will never forget this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to take a photo of everybody.

AMANPOUR: North Korea has rarely seen an international delegation of this size, including more than 75 reporters. For two days, this secret city was besieged by foreign camera crew crews.

The man they call their dear leader, Kim Jong Il, keeps his country under tight lock and key. Notoriously reclusive, he has never granted an interview. Understand the mysterious man, who controls this secret state, and you might understand why he would allow this media and musical invasion.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: We're about the same height. I knew that I had on high heels and then I looked over and so did he.

AMANPOUR: Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is the highest-ranking U.S. official to ever meet Kim Jong Il. It happened in October, 2000 in the capital Pyongyang.

(On camera): Did you have real political talks with him?

ALBRIGHT: We did and not only political for sure, but technical.

AMANPOUR: Do you think it will be possible to have some kind of a deal, a peace deal, a normalization deal with him as the head of North Korea?

ALBRIGHT: I think it's possible to have verifiable agreements with them, and I think that the negotiations need to be pursued actively.

AMANPOUR: What was he like as a person to talk to?

ALBRIGHT: What is interesting is his interest in the U.S. He was interested in American basketball, and he certainly knew all about the movies and who had gotten Oscars.

AMANPOUR (voice over): Albright says that, with his keen interest in all things American, it's not surprising that Kim Jong Il would have chosen the New York Philharmonic for this cultural overture.

Musical events are important in North Korea. Not just for their entertainment value, but because of the political message they convey.

Kim Jong Il treated Albright to a command performance of one of their legendary mass dances.

ALBRIGHT: They were all dancing in these incredible costumes, and 100,000 gymnasts and people in perfect synchronization as only a dictator can make 100,000 people dance in step. AMANPOUR: Like everything here in North Korea, music is controlled by the state. It is everywhere, and it either praises the dear leader or promotes communist ideals. All other music is forbidden. And those who stray risk their lives.

CHEOL WOONG KIM, NORTH KOREAN DEFECTOR (Through translator): Music in North Korea is not pure.

AMANPOUR: Kim Cho wun is a North Korean piano prodigy who used to play for Pyongyang's prestigious state symphony. He now lives in South Korea.

CHEOL WOONG (Through translator): Even if you're a great musician, if you're not loyal to the leader, you may have to leave the music field and to work elsewhere, such as in coal mines.

AMANPOUR: So Kim, obediently played government-sanctioned music, that is, until he got a taste of musical freedom on a trip to Russia. He fell in love with jazz. A day after returning to Pyongyang a security official caught him practicing. Kim was forced to write a ten-page apology. Then he decided to defect.

(On camera): So you left North Korea not because you didn't have enough to eat, not because of political reasons, but for artistic reasons.

CHEOL WOONG (Through translator): I was not hungry. I had a comfortable life there. I lived and ate well enough. I was hungry for music. I left the country because of a cultural hunger.

AMANPOUR (voice over): Like Kim, Ji Hae Nam also fled Pyongyang.

JI HAE NAM, NORTH KOREAN DEFECTOR (Through translator): In North Korea, you have been brainwashed since you were young. You can only sing songs about the party, Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong Il.

AMANPOUR: For 15 years, her government job was to spread the word of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong Il through song. But it never occurred to Ji that singing a song in the privacy of her own home would be considered a crime.

HAE NAM (Through Translator): I sang a South Korean song.

AMANPOUR (on camera): And what happened when you got caught?

HAE NAM (Through Translator): I was interrogated for five months. I was sentenced to jail.

AMANPOUR (voice over): She says she was starved and tortured for three years.

(On camera): All of this for singing an unsanctioned Korean folk song?

HAE NAM (Through Translator): I was charged with a crime of spreading punk ideology to a healthy society. AMANPOUR (voice over): Ji Hae Nam was released from prison in 1995 and made a desperate escape to China. She eventually found her way to South Korea, where today, 13 years later, nobody could be more amazed about what's about to happen just 150 miles north in Pyongyang.

HAE NAM (Through Translator): This is an opportunity for North Korean people to realize that America is not as bad as they've learned.

AMANPOUR: When we come -- the hand of friendship reaches out, as the baton comes down.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR (voice over): North Korea is putting on quite a show for its American guests. There's excitement in the air. The government has flipped the switch on its power-starved capital. The lights are on, the curtain is up, and the audience stands, as the New York Philharmonic plays North Korea's national anthem.

But who could have imagined this? The "Star-Spangled Banner" played in public in Pyongyang, ringing out through this concert hall and through these North Korean homes -- an important political breakthrough, said one top North Korean official, since both countries are technically still at war.

ZARIN MEHTA, PRESIDENT, NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC: I think that this can help to create peace, we still have a lot to go but I think it's something that needs to be done.

AMANPOUR: New York Philharmonic president Zarin Mehta knows that tonight all eyes will be on the musicians and all ears on every note.

(On camera): It may just be another concert, with no ramifications at all.

In which case we've done another free concert.

AMANPOUR (voice over): The philharmonic picked this program. Wagner's opera "Lohengrin," Dvorak's "New World" Symphony, and George Gershwin's classic.

LORIN MAAZEL, CONDUCTOR, NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC: It is entitled "An American in Paris." Someday a composer may write a work entitled "Americans in Pyongyang."

AMANPOUR: The audience got the joke.

For conductor Lorin Maazel this was a pivotal moment.

MAAZEL: There seemed to be like a feeling of camaraderie practically, so it was not them and us.

AMANPOUR: Those who couldn't attend the concert could watch it on live television.

JON YU SONG, FORMER OFFICIAL N. KOREAN STATE SYMPHONY (Through translator): To be honest with you, I never thought that it would be possible.

AMANPOUR: Jon Yu Song is a former high-ranking official with North Korea's state symphony. He and his family watched from their living room.

YU SONG (Through translator): These events show the will to improve the relations between our countries.

AMANPOUR: But it wasn't until the encore that the ice finally melted. This is "Arirang," a famous and favorite folk song for all Koreans. It's the story of a man and a woman separated by circumstances beyond their control, a musical metaphor perhaps for Korean reunification and tonight these Koreans loved this American gesture. Neither the orchestra nor the audience wanted it to end.

JEAN LEBLANC, MUSICIAN, NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC: We got an overwhelming emotional feeling from them. I mean we didn't really want to leave the stage. They were still applauding.

AMANPOUR: Jean Leblanc and Robert Reinhardt of two of the Philharmonic's musicians.

ROBERT REINHARDT, MUSICIAN, NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC: Whenever we perform, I mean, we're trying to give something of our human being to the audience and we felt it given back here which was just an amazing and very emotional experience. It's really incredible.

LEBLANC: We weren't expecting that.

WILLIAM PERRY, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: This philharmonic concert tonight was a magic moment, I think.

AMANPOUR: Former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry came here for the concert, and to help speed up the nuclear negotiation.

PERRY: Now instead of our government talking to their government it was the American people talking to the Korean people in a universal language, music.

AMANPOUR: When we come back, an exclusive with Pyongyang's top nuclear negotiator.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR (voice over): For those who were there, it was an overture that breached 60 years of mistrust. Korean-American violinist Lisa Kim, who had just a few days ago feared playing here, now felt a wall come down.

LISA KIM, KOREAN-AMERICAN VIOLINIST: At first, I felt a little distance, you smile but they don't really smile back. But I think they started to open up more as we played along.

AMANPOUR: Indeed, almost everyone we spoke to said the music changed something. When we first met Kim Gon Sun and her family, they all echoed the prevailing view that America is the enemy. She told me that she was angry about President Bush's description of North Korea.

"Do I look like the Axis of Evil," she asked me. The Philharmonic's music has softened her.

KIM GO SUN, NORTH KOREAN (Through translator): This is a wonderful concert. I think the American people are not bad people.

AMANPOUR: And that's precisely what Ambassador Christopher Hill had hoped would happen -- that something would cut through the diplomatic stalemate.

AMBASSADOR CHRISTOPHER HILL, ASST. SEC. OF STATE-EAST ASIAN AND PACIFIC AFFAIRS: It's very much in the framework of trying to encourage the North Koreans to open up. Sometimes they don't like our words. Let them listen to our music.

AMANPOUR (on camera): Hello, Minister Kim. How are you? It's very, very nice to see you.

(Voice over): After the concert, a surprise. I was called in to an exclusive meeting with Minister Kim Gye Gwan, North Korea's nuclear negotiator.

(On camera): Thank you very much.

(Voice over): He said the concert was a political breakthrough, an act of courage by both nations.

(On camera): Do you think it could be an historic moment?

KIM GYE GWAN, NORTH KOREA'S NUCLEAR NEGOTIATOR (Through translator): Of course. This is the opportunity for the people in both countries to understand each other.

AMANPOUR: Do you think it's an opportunity that could make a difference on the nuclear negotiations, the important issues between your two nations?

KIM (Through translator): Did you hear the applause? The applause carried the sincerity of our people.

AMANPOUR (voice over): There are, of course, critics who disagree, who see the concert as nothing more than a smoke screen.

JAY LEFKOWITZ, U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY TO NORTH KOREA: You can take a very ugly picture and you can Photoshop it and it coup k look pretty nice, but behind that, if you go and you look at the negative, it's still a really bad picture.

AMANPOUR: Jay Lefkowitz is the U.S. special envoy to North Korea on human rights. He's been reprimanded by his own administration for not towing the party line. Lefkowitz insists the concert is a PR stunt by Pyongyang. LEFKOWITZ: The average person in North Korea really lives in almost blackout conditions, very, very little in the way of nutrition.

AMANPOUR: And indeed, much of what the musicians and the media saw was an extravagant facade, a bountiful banquet with more food than most North Koreans will ever see in a lifetime. A high-tech press center, with telephone and Internet service, and a city partly lit up.

North Korea was putting on its best face for its American guests. We were told that when we all left, the lights would go off again, and the Internet would be disconnected, and that everything here would revert to normal. And in fact, there was a fresh volley of verbal warfare across the DMZ. South Korea's new president came into office harshly criticizing the North. Pyongyang responded by calling him a traitor, and threatening to reduce South Korea to ashes.

And just weeks after the concert, the United Nations warned of another looming food shortage in North Korea, which could develop into a humanitarian crisis if the North remains locked in its standoff with the rest of the world.

So did the concert make a difference? Diplomacy did inch forward after the music faded. Nuclear envoys from both countries talked of real progress in their negotiations. North Korea has turned over an important cache of its nuclear weapons documents to the United States. And in a dramatic gesture that will render Yongbyang virtually incapable of producing plutonium, its promise to blow up this cooling tower that we visited, once the U.S. removes it from its list of states that sponsor terrorism.

And the leader, Kim Jong Il, held a very public meeting with China's ambassador in what was widely seen as a boost to that nuclear diplomacy.

No one can say for sure where all this will lead. But on this night, for these few hours, the notes from North Korea were notes of harmony.

(On camera): The divide between the United States and North Korea is based on hatred, fear and ignorance, and trying to chip away at that has been a challenge for the past 60 years. But for a few hours at least, these sworn enemies shared the love of beautiful music, and the hope perhaps that a few notes might signal a new beginning.

(Voice over): From Pyongyang in North Korea, I'm Christiane Amanpour.

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