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[Opinion] Obama’s Chief of Korea Policy

Posted November. 12, 2008 08:20,   


Korean media introduced Frank Januzzi as the Korea policy chief of the Barack Obama campaign in the U.S. presidential election. Januzzi’s official position, however, is East Asia specialist for the Democratic staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

It was the Korean media who tentatively named Januzzi the Korea policy chief because of his role within the Obama camp. In this same vein, Jeffrey Bader, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, was named Obama’s most influential China policy adviser, and Michael Schiffer, a program officer of policy analysis and dialogue at the Stanley Foundation, as Japan policy team leader.

Given Januzzi’s background, it is more appropriate to call him the North Korea nuclear policy chief. He showed deep interest in the first North Korea nuclear crisis in 1993 and visited Pyongyang several times, despite having a deeper understanding of China and Japan. He is fluent in Chinese and spent a sabbatical year at Keio University in Japan under the auspices of the Hitachi Corp. Januzzi taught once a week on U.S. policy toward Asia and his last lecture was a simulation of the six-party talks. This shows that the next Obama administration will maintain the six-party process in its term.

Last year, the U.S-Korea Committee of the Mansfield Foundation invited seven experts each from Korea and the United States to an intense discussion on U.S. policy toward Korea in the post-Bush and post-Roh Moo-hyun era. They drew up a report afterwards and delivered it to the presidents-elects of both countries. Januzzi was the one who delivered the report to President-elect Obama. Catholic University of Korea professor Park Geon-young, who attended the forum, regretfully said, “It would’ve been better had you been on sabbatical leave in Korea…”. Januzzi replied that having profound knowledge of all three major countries in Northeast Asia was more important. With Obama to take over Washington, Januzzi is certain to become the administration’s Korea policy chief.

Hwang Joon-kook, director-general of the Korean Foreign Ministry’s North Korean nuclear affairs bureau, recently held talks with Januzzi in Washington. “I had the impression that Januzzi had similar perceptions on North Korea issues as South Korea does,” Hwang said. The ministry official was probably cautious in his words since Januzzi has not been appointed to an official position yet. Januzzi, however, was a solid Korea policy chief to the Obama campaign, so it seems absurd that Hwang has no clear idea of what Januzzi’s stance is on North Korea.

Editorial Writer Kim Chang-hyeok (chang@donga.com)