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North Korea and the Art of the Deal – Lessons in Hands-on Diplomacy

The U.S. and North Korea have faced off in an uneasy truce since the end of the bitter Korean War that caused 1.2 million combat deaths.

Today, Kim Jong Un’s headlong pursuit of nuclear missiles capable of striking the continental U.S. has put him on a collision course with the U.S. and its allies, alienated China and frightened the world.

The Trump administration has sent mixed signals on negotiating with North Korea. In September, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. is exploring talks with Pyongyang, and in December, declared “we’re ready to talk any time North Korea would like to talk,” and “to have the first meeting without preconditions.” However, President Trump has questioned the value of negotiations, saying Tillerson is “wasting his time” exploring possible talks with North Korea.

Washington has never had formal diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.  Occasional high-level visits -- by Secretary of State Madeline Albright in 2000, and former Presidents, Jimmy Carter in 1994 and 2010 and Bill Clinton in 2009 -- produced no lasting improvement in relations.  South Korea’s sunshine policy -- a decade of economic engagement by successive progressive governments -- failed to achieve a lasting thaw in relations with Pyongyang.  And most analysts are skeptical that the North-South “Olympic Talks” and joint women’s hockey team are harbingers of a diplomatic breakthrough on the nuclear issue.

In 1994, as tensions on the Korean Peninsula neared a crisis point, Robert Gallucci negotiated a landmark “Agreed Framework” deal with North Korea that halted its plutonium enrichment program and allowed U.N. inspectors into the country.  

A decade later, after the revelation of a secret North Korean uranium-based nuclear program, Christopher Hill helped negotiate a Six-Party Joint Statement in 2005 that combined a North Korean commitment to abandon its nuclear program with an American security guarantee not to attack or invade North Korea.

Why did these deals not work out?  What is it really like to negotiate with North Korea? Is diplomacy a viable option for dealing with a millennial dictator armed with nuclear weapons? How have recent nuclear negotiations, particularly those with Iran, impacted potential talks with North Korea?

Join us for a special program with two distinguished diplomats who have each negotiated key agreements with North Korea. The Asia Society Policy Institute is pleased to host a discussion with Ambassadors Robert Gallucci and Christopher Hill, moderated by Daniel Russel, who as President Obama’s Special Assistant for Asian Affairs and later Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Pacific Affairs dealt extensively with the North Korea challenge.  Based on their extensive firsthand experience, the panel will discuss lessons learned, and review the prospects and pitfalls of negotiating with North Korea in 2018.