Ambassadors Weigh U.S.-Korea Relations, Relations with North Korea

Ambassadors Weigh U.S.-Korea Relations, Relations with North Korea

Thomas C. Hubbard, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea (left); Sung Chul Yang, Korean Ambassador to the United States (right) at UCLA meeting.

President Bush's Axis of Evil speech criticized by South Korean Ambassador, defended by U.S. Ambassador to South Korea in friendly exchange.

Sung Chul Yang, South Korea's Ambassador to the United States, and Thomas C. Hubbard, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, shared the platform for a well-attended meeting at UCLA on Tuesday, September 24, sponsored by the Center for Korean Studies to discuss the current state of U.S.-Korean relations and the current warming of relations between South and North Korea.

The two have been traveling together in a West Coast tour from Seattle southward. The most striking thing about both of their presentations was the dramatic improvement in relations between South and North Korea. In the question period almost every speaker demanded to know how this squared with President Bush's designation of North Korea as one of the three most dangerous states on the planet in the "Axis of Evil." Ambassador Yang said that this question had dominated their joint appearances everywhere they had spoken thus far.

In their handling of this touchy issue both Ambassadors were, so to speak, diplomatic. Sung Chul Yang, without referring to North Korea's menace, reported as a historic event comparable to the fall of the Berlin Wall the September 18 groundbreaking for the reconnection of Korea's two major north-south railroads. These have been severed between the two states for more than 50 years. The east coast line, after the reconnection, will run from South Korea through North Korea to Vladivostock, where it will link to the Trans-Siberian for a ride straight through to Europe. On the west coast the rail line will run from Seoul through the North Korean capital at Pyongyang to North Korea's special economic zone at Shinuiju.

Ambassador Yang also hailed the mid-September visit to North Korea of Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, saying "Talks have begun. We hope the outstanding issues will be resolved quickly, leading to a normalization of relations."

Ambassador Hubbard was more prepared to call attention to the negatives in the North Korean regime. While calling the North-South dialogue "positive," he reminded his audience of "the death of young Japanese kidnap victims" revealed by Kim Jong Il during Koizumi's visit. He backed Bush's characterization of the North Koreans by declaring that "The North Korean military threat has not changed. North Korea continues to engage in dangerous activities. It is the most prolific purveyor of missile technology and has been developing weapons of mass destruction. We want to see North Korea cease developing nuclear weapons."

In the question period several members of the audience asked Ambassador Hubbard if, as President Bush has urged, the evils of Iraq require preparation for war, whether the American government contemplated war against North Korea? And if not, in what sense was North Korea similar to Iraq?

Ambassador Hubbard replied that President Bush gave explicit assurances last June that "We have no intention of invading North Korea," and Hubbard added that "We are looking forward to engaging in dialogue. We are cautiously optimistic." He said that the American government supported the North-South dialogue and the re-linking of the railroads. Some questioners said they thought this attitude inconsistent with the "Axis of Evil" label.

Ambassador Yang said more bluntly, "My government is not happy about President Bush's [Axis of Evil] phrase." He added that the future of the two Koreas could be better prepared by acting on an old Korean proverb that says "Gentle words can open the iron gate."

The meeting was held at the UCLA Faculty Center. It was chaired by Professor John Duncan, director of the Center for Korean Studies. The meeting was opened with greetings from Geoffrey Garrett, vice provost of the UCLA International Institute, the parent body of many of UCLA's international studies centers and programs.

Published: Tuesday, September 24, 2002