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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Interview: No Signs Kim Has Eased Control in North Korea

Council on Foreign Relations

Interviewee: Don Oberdorfer, Chairman, U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies
Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor, CFR.org

January 21, 2009

Don Oberdorfer, a leading expert on North and South Korea, says there are no clear signs yet that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is too ill to run the country. "We would know if he were in such a state that he could not function and he couldn't give any instructions," Oberdorfer said. "Things like that trickle out of the North. That's not been the case." He said he believes the Obama administration will step up diplomacy on North Korea but doubts there will be major initiatives in the short term. "The administration has got lots of things on its plate" and this "is not an issue where you can get any early returns. I remain skeptical it's going to be a major item."

What's the status of the North Korean dialogue with the United States? At different times last year, it looked as if we were on the verge of a really significant agreement. Then it sort of fell apart. What happened?

I'm not entirely sure. There was less there than meets the eye. A lot of people expected more than was likely to happen. There are contacts. You have the Six-Party Talks, which basically authorized and legitimatized discussions between the United States and North Korea. That was certainly a positive. But on the other hand, it didn't really go far to settle any of the outstanding issues that are on the table. So, the best thing is that there were contacts, but that didn't itself solve many of the problems involved.

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Copyright 2009 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on GlobalSecurity.org with specific permission from the cfr.org. Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to cfr.org.

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