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19:55 18 April 2012

OPINION: Right approach for diplomacy with North Korea

By Charles D. Ferguson
WASHINGTON, April 18, Kyodo

Learning from failure can teach some of the most important lessons in life, diplomacy, and rocketry.With the failed 13 April launch of a North Korean rocket, an opportunity has opened up to form a more realistic and long-term plan to create dialogue and build trust with North Korea. The new North Korean regime may be signaling that it is receptive. In contrast to previous Orwellian-type double speak that described the failed 1998 and 2009 rocket launches as successful, North Korean Central TV announced the more recent failure several hours after the rocket broke apart during its flight.

Could this announcement be a sign that the new regime headed by young Kim Jong Un is open to admitting mistakes? While this is still uncertain, it is clear that he faced enormous pressure to honor his deceased grandfather and ''eternal'' President Kim Il Sung, whose 100th birthday celebration was on 15 April, and to confront increased international pressure from Japan, the United States, and other nations for reneging on the 29 February deal with the United States to suspend missile tests in exchange for food aid.

It seems astounding in hindsight that the Obama administration did not foresee that the deal would fall apart given the special significance of 2012 as the year in which North Korea would become ''a great and prosperous nation'' and knowing that the North Korean regime likes to show off its ''greatness'' with tests of rockets. The United States appeared too eager for a deal that would put the North Korean issue safely tucked away this year to allow U.S. officials to focus more on Iran.

Instead of trying for the quick fix agreement, the United States, Japan, and other nations with interests in a stable Korean Peninsula need to understand that the road to improved relations is a long journey. Science diplomacy has helped take those important steps. In 2007, the U.S.-DPRK Scientific Engagement Consortium was formed and includes the American Association for the Advancement of Science, CRDF Global, the Pacific Century Institute, and Syracuse University. Funded by the Henry Luce Foundation and the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, recent scientific engagement with North Korea has sought for modest advancements such as providing North Korean scientists with access to journals through digital libraries and fostering improvements in agriculture and public health.

Dr. Peter Agre, a Nobel laureate in chemistry and a leader in science diplomacy, has emphasized, ''Scientists have diplomatic immunity. We're not trying to sell anything. It's not controversial. What we're trying to do is improve the lives of the people we visit.'' Building on this approach, the Federation of American Scientists has recently begun the International Science Partnership to bring together scientists from the developed world with their counterparts in the developing world to solve problems by sharing best practices. These endeavors provide opportunities for Japanese and American scientists and engineers to use their technical skills in the pursuit of peaceful relations with North Korea.

(Charles D. Ferguson is the president of the Federation of American Scientists and has traveled twice to North Korea.)




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