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VOA-TV Interview With Dr. Nicholas Eberstadt - 2003-01-15

NewsLine host David Borgida chats with Dr. Nicholas Eberstadt, an author and expert on the North Korean famine and other Korean issues.

Joining us now to discuss the situation with regard to North Korea, Nicholas Eberstadt, of the American Enterprise Institute here in Washington. Thanks for joining us.

Thanks for having me.

A very complicated situation. Let's begin first, Mr. Eberstadt, with where we are diplomatically. Any closer to a resolution, in your view?

I don't think that we are much closer to a resolution, because we have two very difficult negotiating problems. The first is how to get to a win-win situation for Pyongyang and the outside world, including Washington.

North Korea would like to get some benefits out of this. For the outside world, that means rewarding blackmail. That is kind of a hard one to get by.

The other problem is that North Korea has poisoned the negotiations by the way they confronted Assistant Secretary of State Kelly in October.

North Korea chose to have the very official who signed the Agreed Framework announce that North Korea had been violating the Agreed Framework.

And that means, in terms of human capital, there just aren't a lot of credible people on the North Korean side to negotiate with.

Let's talk a little bit about the tactics of President Kim Jong-Il. Brinkmanship is the word that is often used for his strategy. What is your take on what he is after and what he hopes to gain?

Not surprisingly, the North Korean state is interested in its own survival. Every state is. But the conditions for North Korean survival are rather different from the conditions for other states' security and survival.

Part of the objective, I believe, is to break the U.S.-South Korean military alliance, to get the United States out of South Korea. Because part of North Korean doctrine is the absorption of South Korea by the North.

It is hard for outsiders to believe that the DPRK might seriously entertain this idea, but they may well indeed. The other objective may be to get aid and tribute from the rest of the world through the nuclear threat. In the past, the North Korean Government has been successful at this.

Let me just follow up on what you just said. If North Korea wants to absorb the South, how do you then square that with efforts to reunite families and so forth, which certainly appears to be an effort to get closer to the South?

There have been some efforts on family reunions. Of course, they have been rather limited. There have been a couple of hundred families out of the 10 million separated Koreans – estimated, claimed -- separated people on the Peninsula.

The North Korean Government wishes to have advantage in its relations with the South. And part of that is strategic deception. Remember that just a week before the North Korean Government launched the Korean War in 1950 it had put a peace proposal to the South Korean Government on the table. These are, unfortunately, familiar forensics.

The tactics of President Kim we've just discussed, but he is also working allies. He is talking to China and Russia, for example.

They are making some effort to be intermediaries here. Which of those two countries can be most influential here? There have been some reports that President Kim has reached out more to Russia in the last year or so.

Yes. Well, I suppose we could describe Moscow as an ex-ally for the DPRK. Under the Soviet Union times, it was a big aid supplier to DPRK. Under President Yeltsin there were almost no relations, very frosty.

Now, with President Putin, they are trying to reestablish some sort of modus vivendi. North Korea has very little to gain from Moscow. Moscow is not an aid supplier. And it has yet to establish close confidence with Washington on the DPRK issue.

China is probably a better bet for North Korea. It is still North Korea's largest aid-giver. And the whole history of fighting together in the Korean War against the United States at least has some memory plastic in the relationship.

It is a very difficult and complicated situation. Hopefully it will be resolved in the next few weeks. We can keep our fingers crossed.

Nicholas Eberstadt, of the American Enterprise Institute here in Washington, thanks so much for being our guest. We appreciate it.

Thanks for inviting me.