Asst. Secretary of State optimistic on North Korea


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Christopher Hill, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, spoke at Harvard on Monday, February 2nd about his experience as chief U.S. envoy to the Six-Party talks with North Korea and the hope for a negotiated agreement for that country’s nuclear disarmament. Hill, who has previously served as ambassador in Korea, Poland, and Macedonia as well as Special Envoy to Kosovo, has been chosen by President Barack Obama ’91 as the next ambassador to Iraq. During his service as U.S. envoy to the six-party talks, which involve North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, Hill helped negotiate the first steps toward halting North Korean uranium enrichment and the dismantlement of its nuclear facilities.

Assistant Secretary Hill talked about the incremental steps forward and the setbacks which have occurred in the Six-party dialogue, and confessed that sitting down to negotiate with North Korean officials can be very difficult. Despite the ongoing negotiations, North Korea tested its first nuclear weapon in 2006 and has continued developing ballistic missile technology. At the same time, the United States has seized North Korean bank accounts, causing flaring tensions.

Nonetheless, the Six-party talks have resulted in North Korea agreeing to the deactivation of a key nuclear facility and demolition of a cooling tower to show its commitment to halting uranium enrichment. In exchange for these steps, North Korea has been provided with shipments of fuel oil and other relief and has been removed from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. The next steps, according to Hill, are the implementation of a verification protocol which can ensure that no further weapons development activities are taking place, the sale of North Korea’s remaining nuclear fuel to commercial users, and ultimately the negotiation of a package deal in exchange for the thirty kilograms of weapons grade plutonium North Korea possesses.

Despite the challenges of negotiating a lasting agreement, Hill expressed confidence that the Six-party talks are the right architecture for moving forward dialogue on the issue of North Korean nuclear weapons. Multilateral talks, according to Hill, allow close U.S. allies like Japan and South Korea, to be involved in a way which reassures them that any agreement with Pyongyang will be acceptable for all parties and not put bilateral relations with the United States at risk. Hill believes that Secretary Clinton will continue working within the Six-party structure, and he is confident that despite recent aggressive rhetoric from North Korea, such talks can succeed in achieving the goal of nuclear disarmament.

When asked about his most effective negotiation tactics, Hill admitted, “I don’t have very many arrows in my quiver.” He said a diplomat must be determinated to work hard toward an agreement and be able to move on when the other party is being difficult. “I always want our delegation to be the one that works the hardest. When they say we will resume at nine in the morning, I ask if we can start at eight.” Most of all, he said it is critical to maintain sustained pressure for change. Hill found during his experience negotiating with Slobodan Milosevic that he could create real progress by maintaining pressure, whereas prolonged periods of silence would only allow Milosevic’s advisors to reinforce bad ideas and set back diplomatic progress. For this reason he said that President Obama should not fear to open diplomatic dialogue with the enemies of the U.S. and that concerns that direct dialogue would make the other side seem stronger are ridiculous.

Hill stressed that the situation in North Korea must remain a top priority for U.S. diplomacy, given that it is already in possession of the technology to produce nuclear weapons. He also expressed concern over the human rights abuses of North Korea, and agreed that there are many areas besides nuclear weapons, such as the reunification of Korean families and normalization of relations with South Korea, that should be included in the ongoing dialogue at the Six-party talks.

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