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A group of leading North Korea experts met Monday at the Kennedy School on the eve of the resumption of six-party talks in Beijing. The talks, featuring negotiators from the United States, Japan, China, Russia, and North and South Korea, are focused on identifying a peaceful resolution to the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs.
Speakers at the Kennedy School conference, co-sponsored by the Korea Economic Institute (KEI) and the Belfer Center’s Managing the Atom Project (MTA), analyzed both the economic and security issues involved in the crisis. Funding for the conference “North Korea: How Close to Engagement?” was generously provided by the Korea Foundation and the Korea Economic Institute.
Conference speakers included Daniel Poneman (Scowcroft Group), Robert Armstrong (State Department), Bradley Babson (North Korean economy specialist), Scott Rembrandt (KEI), Jim Walsh (MTA) and John Park (MTA).
Dean David Ellwood, who provided opening remarks, lauded the conferees for their efforts. “We are fortunate to have a group of speakers who have been closely following the North Korean issue in their respective government, international organization and policy research positions,” he said. “A core strength of the Kennedy School is the ability to gather such a group of experts to present their insights on a highly complex issue.”
Keynote remarks were delivered by Peter Yeo, Democratic Party deputy staff director on the House Committee on International Relations. He spoke optimistically about the prospects for the current talks.
“In my most recent trip to Pyongyang as a member of a Congressional delegation, the tone of the meetings was noticeably different,” he said. “Anti-American rhetoric did not appear in the discussions as it had in previous visits.”
Yet Yeo also warned about the potential negative fallout if an agreement is not reached in Beijing. “A statement of principles would provide a set of guiding principles for future rounds of six-party talks. However, if a statement of principles does not emerge, then it is hard to see the United States returning to the talks,” he concluded.
Several speakers agreed that the Bush administration has recently demonstrated a more flexible and engaging stance towards North Korea. All eyes are now fixed on discerning whether such a stance will be sufficient to entice North Korea to accept a statement of principles — a feat that was elusive in the first phase of the current fourth round of talks.
More information about KEI and MTA can be found on their websites.