The acting North Korean ambassador to Rome, reportedly missing since November, may have requested U.S. asylum, according to an Italian press report. Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported Friday that Ambassador Jo Song Gil is seeking entry into the United States and is under the protection of Italian intelligence.
The Italian foreign ministry has denied it has received an asylum application from Jo, and stated it is not protecting the North Korean envoy. But an Italian diplomatic source who spoke to La Repubblica on the condition of anonymity said Jo is receiving assistance from Italian intelligence while his U.S. asylum application is under review.
Jo reached out to the Italian government as early as mid-November, according to La Repubblica. Chiefs of Italian agencies and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte have been in contact with U.S. authorities to discuss Jo’s case, the report says.
Jo’s possible defection comes at a sensitive time for U.S.-North Korea relations. CNN reports the Trump administration is scouting locations for a second summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un.Trump has expressed enthusiasm for talks, and has said he received a “great letter” from Kim.
South Korean news service News 1 reported Friday Ambassador Jo was appointed to the North Korean embassy in Rome in May 2015, and then assumed the acting ambassador position after Italy expelled then-Ambassador Mun Jong Nam in 2017.