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Kerry Challenges Obama on North Korea

A rift seems to have opened between the Obama administration and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on the ever-sensitive topic of North Korea. Sen. Kerry convened a hearing today on the subject, and previewed his own views in a press statement released this morning:

[T]he best option is to consult closely with South Korea and launch bilateral talks with North Korea when we decide the time is appropriate. Fruitful talks between the U.S. and North Korea can lay the groundwork for resumption of the Six Party Talks. Right now, we simply cannot afford to cede the initiative to North Korea and China because neither country’s interests fully coincide with ours.

Let me be clear: We must get beyond the political talking point that engaging North Korea is somehow “rewarding bad behavior.” It is not. [bold mine]

This differs from what Kurt Campbell, President Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State for Asia, had to say on the issue as he spoke during Sen. Kerry’s hearing:

The United States remains committed to meaningful dialogue, but we will not reward North Korea for shattering the peace or defying the international community. If North Korea improves relations with South Korea and demonstrates a change in behavior … the United States will stand ready to move toward normalization of our relationship. However, if it maintains its path of defiance and provocative behavior and fails to comply with its obligations and commitments, it stands no chance of becoming a strong and prosperous nation. [again, bold is mine]

Kerry seems ready to tango, Obama isn’t. Which is it? I could write a diatribe with my own analysis and recommendations, or I could take the easy way out and suggest you attend PPI’s event on North Korea tomorrow. We’ll have Assistant Secretary Campbell and a panel of experts there to answer your questions and see just where the US — and China — should do to defuse tensions on the peninsula. Click here to register. Details below.

Defusing Tensions on the Korean Peninsula:

What America—and China—Should Do

Keynote Address:

The Honorable Kurt Campbell

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs

Featured Panelists:

Scott Snyder, Director, Center for U.S.-Korea Policy at the Asia Foundation

Karin Lee, Executive Director, The National Committee on North Korea

Gordon Flake, Executive Director, The Mansfield Foundation

Date:

Wednesday, March 2, 2011, 2 p.m.

Location:

University of California Washington Center

First Floor Auditorium

1608 Rhode Island Ave. NW

Washington, DC

Click here to register


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