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We Need to Broaden Our Focus on North Korea

Posted: 03/ 2/2012 12:31 pm

North Korea and the US have finally come to an agreement after years of stagnated nuclear talks: the DPRK will disable their nuclear reactor and facilities as well as allow IAEA inspectors to verify and monitor the moratorium. In exchange the US will resume food aid to the impoverished nation, a program which was suspended in early 2009.

To hear this after years of working on North Korea's human rights -- a subject that was consistently overshadowed by the nuclear issue to the dismay of myself and my colleagues -- I have high hopes for the global community to broaden its focus on North Korea. There is no logical reason why we cannot address the regime's nuclear energy goals simultaneously with the country's appalling human rights conditions, which violate every imaginable facet of basic human liberties.

However, despite this development, there is no guarantee of a smooth road ahead for either parties in this issue. Two sides of every story always exist, and such high profile talks and agreements are often advertised in different ways to the world. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement:

The United States, I would be quick to add, still has profound concerns. But on the occasion of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's death, I said that it is our hope that the new leadership will choose to guide their nation onto the path of peace by living up to its obligations.Today's announcement represents a modest first step in the right direction.

North Korea's government-run news agency, KCNA, separately provided a remark by the state's Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman:

The U.S. reaffirmed that it no longer has hostile intent toward the DPRK and that it is prepared to take steps to improve the bilateral relations in the spirit of mutual respect for sovereignty and equality. The U.S. also agreed to take steps to increase people-to-people exchanges, including in the areas of culture, education, and sports.

Despite these divergent interpretations of the agreement, we are clearly in the closest position to establishing improved relations with North Korea than we have been in years. And while diplomacy isn't always the most immediately-effective solution to a crisis -- Syria being a perfect example right now -- deliberate discourse is undoubtedly the most crucial first step to take before ever exploring more serious penalties or interventions.

While the issue at hand is certainly overwhelming, such geostrategic conflicts are not new to us, and frank and deliberate communication is a simple approach that has dissipated fiery cross-cultural dialogues before. For instance, during the Cuban Missile Crisis when the world was on the brink of nuclear war President Kennedy took it upon himself to publicly suggest a path for peace, prompting Khrushchev to express his own desires for a composed solution shortly afterwards. Understandably 1962 is a world of difference from 2012, but one lesson from that incident is clear: it is only through direct, mature, and reasoned communication and diplomacy that nation states even have a chance of avoiding much more harmful ways of "dealing" with global conflicts.

Perhaps with this latest positive development, the world can finally shift and broaden its focus on North Korea. The DPRK's human rights issues still require much more concentration than it receives after years of nearly exclusive nuclear distraction. As the most mysterious and inaccessible nation on our planet, North Korea's complex circumstances now more than ever before urgently require the international community to finally exercise bold compassion within a conscientious plan of action and engagement. Let us not waste this rare and important opportunity.

 

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