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On Policy: A U.S.-Korea Expert Speaks

Posted January. 12, 2007 06:35,   


What do you want to teach Korean students?-

“As you know, I experienced both Korean and Japanese policies in the State Department. When I was working in Korea, I participated in the first three rounds of six-party talks, and in Japan, I negotiated about transfer of the U.S. military camp stationed in Japan. Based on these experiences, I would like to help young people in Korea better understand the U.S. and Japan. I will teach them with an objective view. I want to tell them that they will lose an important thing when they only try to tell whether the U.S.’ diplomatic policies are good or bad.”

David Straub, former State Department Country Director for Korea, is regarded as a leading expert on both Korea and Japan within the U.S. State Department. He worked in Korea for seven years – from the late 1970s to the early 1980s and from 1999 to 2002 – and learned Korean at Yonsei Korean Language Institute for a year. He also worked in Japan for six years and studied Japanese for two years.

I heard you are deeply interested in modern history between Korea, Japan and the U.S. as well as current diplomatic issues-

“I would like to teach historical issues such as Katsura-Taft Secret Agreement (a secret treaty between Japan and the U.S. The U.S. recognized Japanese control of the Korean peninsula while Japan recognized U.S. rule over the Philippines.), the Korean War, the U.S.-Korea Mutual Defense Treaty, and the establishment of diplomatic relations between Korea and Japan. Those issues show complicated and dynamic relations between these countries. I will ask students to get rid of their self-centered mindset and see the ties between Korean and the U.S. in a comprehensive point of view.”

There are pessimistic views on North Korea this year, when sanctions against the regime due to nuclear tests mark a second year. Do you think Pyongyang will change?-

“As North Korea is a totally isolated regime, it’s hard for us to know about its political climate. The North, however, will suffer a huge change someday. No one knows whether the collapse has already started or will take decades. I think of what William Perry, former Secretary of Defense, said on North Korea in 1999. He said, ‘It is not wise for the U.S. to make policies based on the premise that North Korea will collapse in the near future.’ As the North’s neighbors, including South Korea and China, will not accept political instability caused by Pyongyang’s collapse, they will only partly cooperate with the U.S.’ economic sanctions against the North. After all, the economy is not likely to lead the North to collapse.”

Mr. Straub is also considered as a diplomat who knows North Korea well in the State Department since working for South Korea in the Department is in effect dealing with North Korea. He accompanied Assistant Secretary of State Department James Kelly to Pyongyang in October 2002, and was on the scene when North Korean Deputy Foreign Minster Kang Seok Ju admitted that North Korea had had a uranium nuclear-weapons development program. But he was very careful commenting on North Korea’s power structure.

“It is true that the U.S. knows North Korea better than it did 10 or 15 years ago. Still it doesn’t know many things about the regime. As the North is strictly controlled, I doubt that even the North Korean military knows what happens in every corner of the regime. I don’t know whether the core power in Pyongyang knows what happens in North Korea.”

Some suggest that there will be a coup in the North, led by China and condoned by the U.S.-

“Will it be really possible? The powerful in the North including the military are likely to unite. They will fear punishment from their leader. They will also think that when a South Korea-led reunification is realized due to the division in Pyongyang’s leadership, they will be punished for their wrongdoings in the past. I don’t mean that a regime collapse will not occur in Pyongyang. But I think that based on the information the U.S. has so far, a collapse caused by a coup is not likely.”

Straub visited Seoul with his wife. An official at the Korean embassy in Washington said, “When he worked in the U.S. embassy in Seoul, he was interested in the Korean culture and attended lectures on it in Buddhist temples. That was when he met his wife.”