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Taking North Korea seriously

Taking North Korea seriously
Published 12 Jan 2016   Follow @SamRoggeveen

Great insight here from Joel Wit, who spent 20 years negotiating with North Korea and is the founder of the North Korea website, 38North:

Americans and the international community have a comic book image of North Korea. We simply don’t take them seriously...

...I have been meeting with North Korean government officials for more than two decades in their country, Europe and Asia, and I can tell you that they are neither nutcases nor comic book characters. They are a diverse group, from hidebound apparatchiks to bureaucrats who teach themselves English by listening to foreign radio broadcasts. Some of them, military men especially, are hard-line, patriotic and, above all, anti-American.

I found that out firsthand in the 1990s, while leading a team on an inspection of a military-run underground facility that we thought might violate the 1994 United States-North Korea denuclearization agreement. My team was locked in a room surrounded by soldiers with bayonets drawn after one member of our team violated the inspection procedures. Many of us thought we were going to be killed. Eventually, we managed to extricate ourselves, but as we left the base in an old school bus, the military men followed us in a truck with a loudspeaker blaring anti-American slogans. I asked our North Korean civilian escort if they were going to follow us for the whole ride back to our hotel — two hours over bumpy roads. He responded with a smile: “Do you want them to?”

Americans might find it surprising that many North Korean officials take a nonideological view of foreign affairs. Indeed, we would call them realists. They are well aware of their national interests and are dedicated to safeguarding them, a dedication that is based on a keen understanding of the outside world.

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