Published : 2010-03-30 14:39
Updated : 2010-03-30 14:39
SEOGWIPO, Jeju Island -- The Barack Obama administration is far from switching to a containment policy as Washington is still intent on achieving complete and verifiable denuclearization of North Korea, according to a former U.S. national security aide.
"No, I do not believe that Washington has shifted to containment," said Donald Gregg yesterday in a news conference held on the sidelines of the 5th Jeju Peace Forum that kicked off on Monday.
Gregg, who currently serves as chairman emeritus of the Korea Society, was the U.S. ambassador to Seoul in the early days of the North Korean nuclear crisis. He advocates a so-called two track approach placing equal emphasis on engagement and sanctions.
A slew reports have recently emerged suggesting that Washington may be switching gears to contain the North as it once did towards the former Soviet Union, meaning that Obama may not choose to go down the tougher path towards full denuclearization.
"The Obama administration must be ready for higher-end dialogue," Gregg said, adding that the latest visit by former U.S. president Bill Clinton helped lubricate relations ahead of actual discussions.
He foresaw bilateral talks in the future for the two nations, but on the condition that North Korea returns to the six-party talks.
Pyongyang has since April boycotted the dialogue in a tit-for-tat move against the U.N. denouncement of its rocket launch. In May, the reclusive state further isolated itself form international community with a second nuclear test.
The North appeared to be seeking attention from the seemingly indifferent Obama government, while at the same time securing its regime shaken with rumors of an ill leader.
"My suggestions would be that during the next three years up to the 100th year anniversary of (North Korean founder) Kim Il-sung`s birth in 2012, we have perhaps the last opportunity to get N.K. to give up nuke weapons," Gregg said,
Clinton`s visit, he added, was likely to be a kind of a lubricant to normalize relations with the North.
The former president`s trip to Pyongyang last week sparked speculation that Washington would sit down for a one-on-one with the North. Officials since then have hinted that such a scenario was possible, but again only if Pyongyang returns to the multi-party denuclearization dialogue.
Also speaking in the news conference, William Overholt, a senior research fellow of Kennedy School at Harvard University, said China`s role would be, as expected, critical in molding Washington`s policies toward North Korea.
But he also suggested that China`s influence over North Korea may be exaggerated.
"When China has difficulty giving oil, for instance, North Korea becomes more flexible. But China cannot deliver North Korea in any broad sense in that North Korea is very nationalistic," Overholt said. "The Chinese find dealing with North Korea very difficult."
Sessions of the Jeju forum formally started yesterday, with plenary sessions involving a myriad of regional and global issues under the broader theme of "A Common Vision for Mutual Benefit and Common Prosperity."
The meetings are to last until tomorrow with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon scheduled to deliver a key note speech that day.