expert: kim rebuffed dialogue efforts

Kurt Campbell, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said that North Korea's Kim Jong Un regime repeatedly refused calls from the U.S. government seeking dialogue. He said, "We have tested their willingness for dialogue in a number of ways ... and we have been unsuccessful in those efforts. To those who say, 'The U.S. has not tried talking with North Korea,' that's wrong. We've tried." Campbell, who retired from his post in February, was a key person in crafting U.S. Asia-Pacific policy during President Obama's first term. Here's his take:

Q: What is your reaction to North Korea's announcement that it will restart the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, which was shut down in 2007?

A: I will say that that is not an easy task. The facility has been, in some places, gutted. So the rebuilding of it will be a substantial effort over a significant period of time.

Q: Is this a significant setback in efforts to denuclearize the peninsula?

A: I think even the most optimistic observer, of which there are very few left, cannot help but acknowledge that this is a substantial setback. It's just going to be very difficult to recover in a way that will allow any form of truly productive diplomacy to go forward. ... I think the key, now more than anything else, is to avoid a crisis, number one. Number two, put much more pressure on China to recognize that their strategy, their soft diplomacy toward North Korea has failed and that they need to rethink their entire approach. Third is after we're out of this very difficult period, to sit down with partners like South Korea and Japan and others and reflect on the way forward.

Q: What are your thoughts on the way forward?

A: I think the risk is some effort that's about economic reform that ignores or basically seeks to set aside issues associated with nuclear matters, proliferation or missile issues. That would be unwise from my perspective. In fact, I think that might play substantially into North Korea's hands and may validate, ironically, the approach that they have taken over the course of the last several months. I think the only real strategy that we have, given the fact that the United States, Japan, and South Korea have put in place very substantial sanctions, the one step might be to curtail certain last remaining economic engagements between South Korea and North Korea. And that will be a political decision in the South.

Q: How do you get China to do more in terms of North Korea?

A: They're absolutely furious at what North Korea is doing in terms of raising tensions in Northeast Asia. And it's undercutting their own strategy and, from their perspective, providing a rationale for more military engagement of the U.S. and other countries in Northeast Asia. On the other hand, they do not want to see instability on the Korean Peninsula. And they believe that having some form of buffer state is in their best interests. But ultimately is this a very effective buffer state? It's not buffering them from much. So I think they will likely move to an environment where they put subtly more pressure on North Korea.

Yomiuri Shimbun