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April 2009

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An Interview with Selig Harrison on the North Korean Satellite Launch & U.S.-D.P.R.K. Relations

Interviewed by Paul Liem | Published April 6, 2009 by Korean Policy Institute

Selig S. Harrison is director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy and a senior scholar of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He is the former director of the Century Foundation¹s Project on the United States and the Future of Korea. Specializing in South Asia and East Asia for fifty years as a journalist and scholar, he has visited North Korea over ten times and on two occasions, met with the late Kim Il Sung. He is the author of six books on Asian affairs and U.S. relations with Asia, including Korean Endgame: A Strategy For Reunification and U.S. Disengagement, published by Princeton University Press in May 2002. Dr. Harrison serves as an advisory board member of the Korea Policy Institute (KPI).

With the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) preparing to launch a satellite and the Obama administration preoccupied with reviving the moribund U.S. economy, KPI caught up with Dr. Harrison on March 27 to gather his assessment of current conditions.Selig S. Harrison is director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy and a senior scholar of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He is the former director of the Century Foundation¹s Project on the United States and the Future of Korea. Specializing in South Asia and East Asia for fifty years as a journalist and scholar, he has visited North Korea over ten times and on two occasions, met with the late Kim Il Sung. He is the author of six books on Asian affairs and U.S. relations with Asia, including Korean Endgame: A Strategy For Reunification and U.S. Disengagement, published by Princeton University Press in May 2002. Dr. Harrison serves as an advisory board member of the Korea Policy Institute (KPI).

With the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) preparing to launch a satellite and the Obama administration preoccupied with reviving the moribund U.S. economy, KPI caught up with Dr. Harrison on March 27 to gather his assessment of current conditions.

Paul Liem: Before we talk about current events, I'd like to gather your thoughts on Pyongyang's outlook on the denuclearization issue when you visited North Korea---last January, was it?

Selig Harrison: I visited North Korea from January 13 to 17, 2009.

Paul Liem: In your [February 2009] Washington Post op-ed, you wrote that "Pyongyang is ready to rule out the development of additional nuclear weapons in future negotiations, but when, and whether, it will give up its existing arsenal depends on how relations with Washington evolve." For this to happen, in their view how would they like to see relations with the U.S. evolve?

Selig Harrison: Well they would not like the approach that has been defined by the U.S. all along and that has been first denuclearization and then normalized relations. What North Korea is now saying is that normalized relations must come first and then they will consider denuclearization at that time in the light of what the relations are with the U.S.—whether they continue to feel threatened from the U.S. So I think that it's in the interest of the U.S. and South Korea and Japan to work toward normalized relations with North Korea because that will open up North Korea to more outside influences and strengthen all the pragmatic humane elements in North Korea. Strengthening the pragmatic elements in the leadership will improve the chances that we will get complete denuclearization at some point.

Paul Liem: Regarding the issue of taking samples at their nuclear facilities do you think this is something that they're willing to negotiate if conditions do normalize between the two countries or is this forever going to be off the table?

Selig Harrison: Well no. I think they have outlined in the next phase of negotiations a place for verification—for taking samples from the nuclear waste sites. This issue goes back to 1994 when the U.S. was afraid that before the Agreed Framework North Korea had already accumulated some hidden nuclear material, hidden in nuclear waste sites, and we've been trying to get at those sites ever since. What North Korea is saying is that they are prepared for verification of inspections at these nuclear waste sites, but of course that was only on certain conditions. And now the conditions have become stricter. They want in return for access to those waste sites inspections in the south, of U.S. bases in South Korea, and if necessary, South Korean facilities to make sure that there are no nuclear weapons in South Korea. The U.S. of course said in 1991 that it had withdrawn all nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula but North Korea is saying how do we know that? We want reciprocity in inspections. So that's made things much more difficult.

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Interview with Grace M. Cho -by Uni Park




GRACE M. CHO joined Nodutdol in the summer of 2008 and was a participant on Korea Exposure & Education Program in 2007. She is an associate professor of sociology, anthropology, and women’s studies at the City University of New York, College of Staten Island. She is a contributing performance artist for the art collective Still Present Pasts: Korean Americans and the Forgotten War. Grace’s new book, Haunting the Korean Diaspora: Shame, Secrecy, and the Forgotten War, was recently published in late 2008 by University of Minnesota Press. I finally got a chance to chat with Grace over skype in early April after several emails, coordinating across continents and time zones.

Uni: Grace, first of all, I want to congratulate you on the publication of your new book. I can’t even imagine spending almost a decade on a project. It must have been an arduous process with many ups and downs. What were some of the struggles in writing this book?

Grace: There were many. First of all because it started as my doctoral dissertation, I needed to get institutional support to do this and I faced a lot of criticism because I was doing something quite unorthodox for sociology. I also faced some challenges with a few family members who had objections to me writing this book. And then, it was emotionally taxing to write this book. I found myself holding back a lot because it was so dark sometimes and it was frightening to go into these dark places. But because I was trying to write in a way that also “performed” the trauma I was writing about, I needed to enter those places and feel it myself. I had to face a number of conflicts, both inner and outer. Also, I sometimes wonder if the book is compromised because it is a hybrid between an academic book and a book for a general audience.

Uni: What do you mean precisely by hybrid? Can you elaborate?

Grace: Since it came out of my dissertation, it was shaped a lot by institutional requirements. Then I got a contract with an academic press to publish the book and therefore had to revise it in a way that responded to criticisms of academic reviewers. It was important that I make a new theoretical contribution. The whole time I was very aware that my audience was an academic audience as well as one beyond academia. But I used a lot of different writing styles and research methods, some of them much more akin to creative writing or performance art. That’s what I mean when I call it a hybrid.

Uni: I see. When I read the book, I found it to be a strength that it wasn’t a dry academic read with just a lot of facts and numbers, but that it also had the element of a personal story as well. If it was not published through an academic press, how might you have done things differently?

Grace: I would have written it more for a popular audience rather than an academic audience. Sometimes, to the academics, its not scholarly enough because it includes a personal story. Academia requires a particular process that makes it quite difficult to write primarily to a popular audience.

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