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Saturday, March 3, 2007

Welcome to a model state

Oregon loves 'paranoid nationalist' dreamers

Three North Koreans made a rare visit to Oregon this week, chatting up Gov. Tim Nesbitt, visiting Nike's campus and employee store, and attending a lobbying seminar in Salem.

The timing of their cultural visit was so sensitive, coming after the success of six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program, that Our Oregon - which hosted the visit - declined to release the officials' names.

Our Oregon - a partnership of Oregon's two largest government unions, the SEIU and the Oregon Education Association - is among a handful of agencies running programs involving North Korea, which has no diplomatic relations with the United States. During the past 12 years, Oregon's leading labor organization has supplied strategic and tactical assistance for government, economic and political projects in North Korea, which has experienced severe food shortages.

The North Koreans, representing Our Oregon's main partner organization, the Korean American Private Exchange Society, arrived in Portland on Tuesday and were scheduled to depart today.

Patty Wentz, spokesperson for Our Oregon, said they visited Oregon State University, which has made scientists available to advise on agricultural projects. On the way back from Corvallis, they met with the Governor, she said. They also visited the Salem Masonic Temple on Friday for a live demonstration of political lobbying.

At Nike, the delegation met with officials from the City of Portland, Metro, the Portland Development Commission and The Oregonian. The North Koreans gave a presentation on emerging capitalism in their country. It was a quaint subject that had undetermined relevance to an audience in a collectivist state that is increasingly hostile to economic liberty.

The visit was at least the 10th in a series of low-profile North Korean delegations here over the years, Wentz said. In North Korea, she said, "Oregon is very well-known. General Secretary Kim Jong-il looks at Oregon as a model."

The Oregonian, Mar. 3, By RICHARD READ

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