Restaurateur wages BBQ diplomacy with N. Korea

Wed Apr 21, 2010 4:59pm EDT
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By Edith Honan

HACKENSACK, New Jersey (Reuters) - New Jersey restaurateur Robert Egan barbecues meat for a living, except when he acts as a self-appointed, unofficial conduit between the United States and North Korea.

In his book "Eating with the Enemy: How I Waged Peace with North Korea from my BBQ Shack in Hackensack," which will be released on April 27, Egan recounts how he forged an unlikely friendship with North Korean diplomats at the United Nations.

For a decade, he courted them with racks of ribs, hunting trips and by making occasional trips to help deliver humanitarian aid to Pyongyang, the capital of the impoverished, reclusive communist state that harbors nuclear ambitions.

"With diplomacy, sometimes everyone takes themselves so seriously," Egan told Reuters during an interview at his restaurant Cubby's BBQ, located a short drive from Midtown Manhattan. "You know, you have to let your hair down every once in a while."

The decor of Cubby's pays tribute to its owner's second life. The walls are lined with framed photographs of Egan, a gregarious, broad-shouldered 52-year-old man with mixed Irish and Italian ancestry, posing with North Korean diplomats and newspaper articles that document their friendship.

"On a local, personal level there was a breakthrough. That's a good thing," said John McCreary, a retired analyst for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency and a North Korea expert, who counts Egan as a friend. But McCreary said it was not clear Egan had accomplished more than that.

A representative reached at North Korea's U.N. mission who declined to give his name said he understood Egan had ties with the mission in the past, but "at the present time there are no people here with a connection to Bobby Egan."

Egan describes himself as an adrenaline junkie who became preoccupied as a young man with U.S. prisoners of war unaccounted for in North Korea and Vietnam. Egan's father is a Korean War veteran.   Continued...

<p>Robert Egan, the owner of Cubby's BBQ in Hackensack, New Jersey, poses for a photograph at Cubby's in this picture taken April 16, 2010. Egan is the Author of "Eating with the Enemy" a memoir of his unlikely friendship with North Korean diplomats. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton</p>