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Panel Debates U.S. Role In N. Korea

The U.S. has been irresponsible in its handling of North Korea’s drive for nuclear weapons, according to diplomats and defense experts who discussed the issue last night at the Kennedy School of Government’s Arco Forum.

The panel discussion, which drew over 600 people, came a year after the President identified North Korea as part of the “axis of evil” along with Iraq and Iran in his 2002 State of the Union address. In this year’s address, Bush declared that the U.S. would not be “blackmailed” by North Korea’s nuclear program.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Stephen W. Bosworth said the Bush administration’s current practice of name calling and “simply waiting” was irresponsible. Currently, Bosworth is dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Ford Foundation Professor of Science and International Affairs Ashton B. Carter moderated the discussion. He characterized North Korea’s nuclear aspirations and its potential to produce enough plutonium for five to six bombs as one of the greatest threats to global security.

Last fall, North Korea asserted its “right” to possess nuclear weapons and has withdrawn from nuclear weapons control agreements.

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“The North Koreans’ number one demand is formal assurance that we are not going to attack them,” Bosworth said.

“No one could explain what ‘axis of evil’ meant.”

According to Bosworth, the phrase may have provoked North Korea to take extreme measures against the possible threat of a U.S. attack.

Sung Chul Yang, the South Korean ambassador to the U.S., spoke of a “consistent signal” from North Korea that he said indicated the nation’s desire to emerge from isolation and gain international respect. Yang said these signals included a failed attempt last summer to introduce market systems in the communist country and formal, amicable communications with regional powers.

General John H. Tilelli, Jr., the former commander in chief of the U.N. and U.S. forces in Korea, said it would be “foolhardy” to try to assess how close North Korea is to developing the capability to strike the U.S. nuclear-armed missiles.

—Staff writer Sarah L. Park can be reached at slpark@fas.harvard.edu.

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