South Korean ambassador discussed nuclear conflict

The South Korean ambassador to the United Nations told a packed house in Sinclair Auditorium in November 2004, that there is only one solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis.

“In order for negotiations to succeed in the years to come, North Korea must commit to the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear program. There is no middle ground,” said Sam-Hoon Kim.

Kim was the inaugural speaker for Lehigh’s United Nations Ambassadorial Speaker Series, which resulted from Lehigh being named the sixth university in the world to hold Non-Governmental Organizational status this past July. The university hopes to bring a United Nations ambassador to campus at least once a year.

“Lehigh students got the opportunity to hear from one of the senior-most delegates involved in the North Korean nuclear issue,” said William Hunter, director of the office of international students and scholars and Lehigh University Representative to the United Nations. “The negotiations the Ambassador leads have an impact on the whole world and certainly came to the forefront during the recent presidential debate.”

In introducing Kim, Gregory Farrington, Lehigh president, predicted that in the coming decade the issue of nuclear proliferation “will become more and more in the forefront and not less and less. It’s tragic, but probably true.”

Not just a Korean problem

During his talk, which was jointly sponsored by the Korean Student Association and the Global Union, Kim stressed the international threat posed by the crisis.

“The topic before us today is of great concern to all of us—the North Korean nuclear issue is not just a Korean problem,” Kim said. “North Korea’s control and development of nuclear weapons programs threatens the peace and stability of the northeast Asian region and has far-reaching implications for international peace and security. As long as the issue remains unresolved, the door is left open for nuclear weapons and materials to fall into the wrong hands.”

Kim went through a detailed history of the nuclear crisis in North Korea, which first kicked off with the country’s nuclear cooperation with the Soviets in 1956. “North Korea received a small research vehicle called the ILT 2000 from the Soviet Union in June 1963 and then began construction of the nuclear complex that still stands today. At the time, these facilities were thought to be purely for peaceful research purposes and were not viewed as an international threat.”

But it turned out that North Korea was busy autonomously developing a reactor that could be used to manufacture plutonium for nuclear weapons programs. This secretive nuclear activity became apparent to the international community in the early 1980s and has continued to be an international threat ever since, compounded by North Korea’s refusal to comply with regulations and inspections from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Since North Korea’s nuclear threat became apparent, the United States, South Korea and the United Nations have attempted and failed to diffuse the situation peacefully with talks and more aggressively, with sanctions. The most recent round of talks, which included six countries—North and South Korea, Japan, the United States, China and Russia—were suspended until after the U.S. presidential election.

Hopes for a united Korea

As the world waits for talks to resume, Kim says he’s optimistic about the impending outcome. “Despite the significant challenges we face, I’m cautiously optimistic about the prospect for a peaceful and final resolution based on the need for the issue to be resolved peacefully, the positive role China has undertaken in finding a resolution, the increasing leverage South Korea has over North Korea, and the realization by North Korea that it cannot survive on its own.”

In reference to the upcoming presidential election and the differing policies on how to deal with the North Korean crisis by the opposing candidates, Kim said that President George W. Bush and U.S. Sen. John Kerry fundamentally agree on how to proceed.

“Both are saying that talks between the U.S. and North Korea should continue and that some of the contact should be bilateral,” Kim said. The only difference, he said, is that Kerry is saying the talks should be bilateral only and not include the other four nations previously included in the six-party negotiations.

In the question and answer session that followed, Kim was asked about his opinion of North Korean president Kim Jong Il, what South Korea thinks of the U.S. presence in their country, and whether he thinks Korea will ever be rejoined as a united country.

In regards to North Korea’s leader, Kim said, “One thing is clear—he is a very inclusive leader in a country that is extremely unexposed to the international community. I do hope he thinks about the well-being of the people in the North. That is my wish.”

In response to the question of South Koreans’ attitudes about the U.S. presence there, Kim admitted there is some anti-American sentiment, but for the most part, South Koreans are thankful for the sacrifice American soldiers made in the 1950s and continue to make on their behalf.

“The U.S. and South Korea are close partners—both in terms of security and economics,” he said. “As with any partnership, there is some friction, which is natural, and we’re on our way to overcoming it.”

And Kim expressed hope that Korea—which was one nation for 1,300 years—will be joined once again.

“All people of Korea—both North and South—are dreaming of a peaceful reunification, hopefully in the near future, some people say in 10, 30, maybe 50 years,” he said. “But realistically, it’s impossible right now because the two Koreas are extremely confrontational. My policy is live peacefully and the time will come.”

In addition to Kim’s talk, Lehigh’s UN-related activities continue to occur frequently. “Just last week, we took a group of students for a high-level UN briefing on weapons of mass destruction, and then we took a tour of the UN building and expect to do the same at least two more times this semester,” Hunter said.

--Elizabeth Shimer