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Crisis in Korea: Issues and Prospects

4/13/2003 --

When you’re delivering a tough message, you need to talk to the other side, says former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.

“I have never believed that dialogue is appeasement. The United States should have direct talks with the North Koreans and make very clear that what is going on [resumption of its nuclear weapons program] is unacceptable and work again toward having a larger agreement,” said Albright, speaking at a forum titled “Korea: Issues and Prospects” at the University of Michigan Business School. Yang Sung Chul, South Korea’s ambassador to the United States, and Donald Gregg, former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, joined Albright in the March 18 discussion sponsored by the William Davidson Institute.

Albright, the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government, served as Secretary of State in the Clinton Administration. She is the highest-level American official to have met with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Il. Acknowledging that the major blame for the current U.S.-North Korean crisis rests with Kim Jong Il, Albright also was critical of the Bush Administration for failing to follow through on the Clinton Administration’s efforts to resolve tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Failure to deal with the crisis soon could open up the arms race in Asia and lead to proliferation of nuclear weapons, Albright warned.

The United States should not underestimate North Korea’s resolve to become a nuclear power, Chul said. He described North Korea, which has the world’s fifth-largest military, as a poverty stricken, flood-prone state.

Focusing on the divergent paths the two Koreas have followed since World War II, Chul attributed North Korea’s lack of economic progress and South Korea’s improved standard of living to leadership styles and policy choices. Democratic South Korea, with its market economy, has a highly skilled workforce and, with a per capita annual income of more than $10,000, has become the 11th largest economy in the world. This compares with Communist North Korea’s per capita income of $700.

Gregg, president and chairman of the Korea Society in New York City and a national security adviser to then Vice President George H. W. Bush, said it was a “terrible mistake” for President George W. Bush to lump together Iraq, North Korea and Iran---countries that are more different than similar---and label them the “axis of evil” in his State of the Union message.

North Korea has issued a clear signal that it wants to talk to the United States, said Gregg, who described Kim Jong Il’s escalating threats to develop and test nuclear weapons as attention-getting devices. “Bush has a huge face [saving] problem; so does North Korea. India and Pakistan have the same problem,” Gregg said. They need someone to convene a meeting, perhaps Vladimir Putin or Kofi Annan---a third party---so that one side does not appear to be capitulating to the other.

Working behind the scenes, the United States, South Korea and Japan are trying to find a multinational framework for discussion, Chul said.

To hear the full panel discussion, click here

For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat
Phone: 734.936.1015
E-mail: bernied@umich.edu