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[Herald Interview] Former New Zealand P.M. calls for inter-Korean talks

While ramping up global pressure is key to hampering Pyongyang’s nuclear development, Seoul should chart a path to restart denuclearization talks to defuse tension and move toward an ultimate reunification, former New Zealand Prime Minister Jim Bolger said Friday.

“The crucial question is, what are the circumstances of starting dialogue? My observation is that it’s always sooner rather than later,” he told the Korea Herald in an interview on the sidelines of the Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity on Jejudo Island.
Former prime minister of New Zealand Jim Bolger (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)
Former prime minister of New Zealand Jim Bolger (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)
Bolger, 80, served as New Zealand’s 35th prime minister from 1990 to 1997. He delivered a keynote speech and took part in a discussion with other former premiers on the forum’s theme of “Asia’s new order and cooperative leadership” on Thursday.

He joined U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in expressing regret over the prolonged freezing of talks with Pyongyang. In his own address earlier, Ban stressed the need for a “path back to dialogue,” while slamming the communist state’s unabated nuclear ambitions.

“There is no magical point where everything just happens. Every resolution to an issue like North Korea is proceeded by dialogue, discussion. That has to start sometime,” Bolger said.

“Find the circumstances where you can start with small things. That would probably be the family issues between the two Koreas,” he added, pointing to unification as the final destination.

As a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, New Zealand is dedicated to shoring up international efforts to induce North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, he noted.

“We strongly support the additional sanctions that were imposed after the fourth nuclear test, and we will continue to work with other members in the international community in that space,” he said.

Highlighting the devastating effects of nuclear weapons, Bolger urged the U.S. and Russia -- which together possess over 95 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons today -- to swiftly reduce their nuclear stockpiles.

The potential of nuclear devastation is increasing with the two countries spending trillions of dollars in upgrading their nuclear weapons, making them more effective yet damaging and dangerous, he said.

“The world has to face (the fact) that this is not the way to go,” Bolger said, noting that the world remains “unsafe” with atomic bombs and their possessors. “The only safe number of nuclear weapons is zero.”

On the economic front, the former prime minister also expressed high optimism for the future expansion of trade and other business ties between South Korea and New Zealand, lauding the free trade pact that took effect last December.

South Korea could greatly benefit from New Zealand’s expertise in agriculture while New Zealand could learn from Korea’s advanced information technology and computing sectors through the agreement, among other positive outcomes, he said.

“New Zealand’s friendship with Korea has existed for long time, but having a free trade agreement I think adds depth to the relationship. I have confidence that we will deepen our relations much further,” Bolger said.

He also welcomed Seoul’s joining of the International Antarctic Center in Christchurch, New Zealand last November, underlining the importance of scientific research there in responding to global warming.

“What’s happening in the Antarctic is the key to knowing what will happen to the rest of the world (in terms of climate change),” Bolger added. “I look forward to New Zealand and Korea cooperating considerably in Antarctic research.”

By Sohn Ji-young (jys@heraldcorp.com)
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