- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2008

Gut-wrenching fight

In more than 30 years in the Foreign Service, Christopher Hill has never encountered a more difficult negotiating partner than the secretive, Stalinist government of North Korea.

“These are very difficult negotiations,” Mr. Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told editors and reporters at a luncheon at The Washington Times this week.

“Every issue is a gut-wrenching, cliffhanging fight.”

For three years, Mr. Hill has been the chief U.S. envoy to the six-party talks with North and South Korea, Japan, China and Russia to persuade North Korea to dismantle its nuclear-weapons program.

Negotiators last year succeeded in persuading North Korea to shut down its nuclear plant at Yongbyon, but that was a step in a complicated process of tracking all of the North’s suspected nuclear facilities and verifying the full extent of its program.

Mr. Hill talked about the “always-opaque North Koreans.”

“We need some transparency from a country that prides itself on its opaqueness,” he added.

Mr. Hill has been the U.S. envoy since 2005, but the talks have dragged on since 2003, when North Korea pulled out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which guarantees signatories the right to nuclear power but not nuclear weapons.

Over the years, North Korea has agreed to deadlines only to ignore them and parried and thrusted in a diplomatic fencing match.

Mr. Hill is no stranger to tough assignments, having received high State Department honors for his work in Kosovo and on the Bosnian peace plan. He was ambassador to South Korea, Poland and Macedonia. He also served in the Peace Corps in Cameroon.

However, North Korea is different, a paranoid, obsessed nation fixated on a near God-like worship of its leader, Kim Jong-il. The Bush administration has accused North Korea of sponsoring terrorism, laundering money, counterfeiting U.S. dollars and selling nuclear-weapons technology on the black market.

Israel recently destroyed a Syrian nuclear plant that was suspected to have been supplied by North Korea.

Mr. Hill, himself, sounded a little opaque when asked to comment on the possible link.

“We are confident about why we should be concerned,” he said.

As the talks go on, Mr. Hill predicted, “I would anticipate a few more gray hairs in the process.”

Ever the diplomat, he added, “I try not to get pessimistic or optimistic.”

Tit for tat

The U.S. Embassy in Belarus delivered the latest blow in the diplomatic dispute with a nation that the Bush administration calls the “last dictatorship” in Europe.

The embassy yesterday stopped processing visa applications after the government of President Alexander Lukashenko tried to apply more pressure earlier this week by suggesting that the United States cut its embassy staff in the capital, Minsk.

Earlier this month, Belarus insisted that U.S. Ambassador Karen Stewart, an outspoken critic of Mr. Lukashenko, leave the country. She returned to Washington for consultations.

The embassy yesterday said it stopped processing visas because “our resources are directed to other priorities at the moment.”

Diplomat from Iran

A U.S. diplomat born in Iran took the oath of office yesterday as assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs.

Goli Ameri, who became an American citizen in 1989, has had a “long interest in education and women’s issues,” the State Department said.

In 2004, President Bush appointed her as a member of the U.S. delegation to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and promoted her a year later to lead the U.S. delegation to the U.N. General Assembly.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide