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Assistant Secretary of State Harold Hongju Koh on North Korea

(Op-ed from The Washington Post 11/02/00) (650)

(This column by Assistant Secretary of State for democracy, human
rights and labor Harold Hongju Koh first appeared in The Washington
Post November 02 and is in the public domain. No republication

A Breakthrough in North Korea
By Harold Hongju Koh

(The author is Assistant Secretary of State for democracy, human
rights and labor.)

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's recent visit to Pyongyang was
a landmark step toward ending the half-century of estrangement and
tension that has clouded America's relationship with the Democratic
People's Republic of Korea since the Korean War.

This summer, North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Il signaled a new openness
toward dialogue, holding a historic summit in Pyongyang with South
Korean President Kim Dae Jung. In October he invited Secretary
Albright to be the highest-ranking American official ever to visit
North Korea. The secretary accepted that invitation fully mindful of
North Korea's dismal human rights record, which has been
comprehensively detailed in the State Department's human rights and
international religious freedom reports. Kim Dae Jung, a longtime
advocate of democracy and human rights in his own country and
worldwide, strongly encouraged the secretary to travel to Pyongyang.

During her two-day visit, the secretary raised with her hosts the full
range of American concerns, emphasizing missile restraints and other
security issues, while also discussing global issues and compliance
with international norms on such matters as terrorism and human
rights. Not only was the secretary the first American Cabinet official
ever to raise the issue of human rights with the highest-ranking North
Koreans, she also pursued directly with Kim Jong Il in-depth
discussions of issues obviously critical to the reduction of tensions
and expansion of freedom on the peninsula.

Critics have chided the secretary not for the substance of her trip
but for the images of clinking champagne glasses with Kim Jong Il and
attending a mass performance in honor of the founding of the 55th
anniversary of the Korean Workers Party. But while publicly discussing
the performance in Pyongyang, the secretary told the North Koreans and
the world press, "I wasn't born yesterday, and I have been a student
of communist affairs all my life, and so one knows perfectly well how
these performances are put together.... I just can assure you that
these glasses that I have on are not rose-colored."

In public statements, she told the North Koreans that the "American
people care about humanitarian issues. We always have, and we always
will." While toasting "to all Koreans, a future marked by prosperity,
reconciliation and peace," she urged North Korea to participate in the
international system and to observe global norms.

As we now pursue broader human rights discussions with North Korea, we
must stay focused on substance. From Beijing to Bosnia, from East
Timor to Kosovo, Madeleine Albright has spoken and acted for human
rights and democracy more forcefully and consistently than any
previous American secretary of state. She has pursued a global policy
of principled, purposeful engagement on human rights issues, using
diplomatic dialogue with authoritarian governments to press for
greater freedom for oppressed peoples. Her trip to North Korea was an
important breakthrough in fostering greater North Korean openness to
the outside world.

As a Korean American, I have spent my whole life waiting for the day
when North Korea would end its isolation and begin a process of
rapprochement with South Korea and the United States. Opening dialogue
-- particularly on the issues of weapons of mass destruction and
ending hostility - is obviously critical to advancing any human
rights agenda in North Korea. If vigorous diplomacy brings closer the
day that 23 million North Koreans can enjoy genuine freedom, then let
us have more of it.

(end text)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site:

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