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International solidarity, consistency crucial on N.K. issues: Steinberg

Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg called on the international community to maintain its solidarity and consistent policy toward North Korea so that it can realize its continued provocations will only result in deeper isolation.

“The most important thing for us is to make clear is the day after all this (rocket launch), actually, they are worse off. The regime is worse off, more isolated and more unstable,” James Steinberg told The Korea Herald.

“The (North’s) military over the long term will begin to realize that their position is eroded by continuing to do these things. That is why we have to be firm and patient in terms of how we deal with this and have to sustain the solidarity with the international community.”
James Steinberg
James Steinberg

Steinberg was in Seoul last week to attend the 2012 Asan Plenum, a three-day international forum on global challenges that kicked off Wednesday. The annual forum was organized by South Korean think tank Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

He is now dean of Social Science, International Affairs, and Law at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.

Steinberg said that Washington’s recent renewed focus on the Asia-Pacific region will have consequences in terms of the long-term resolution of North Korean issues.

“What it (the renewed focus) means is U.S. commitment to its traditional allies will remain, to South Korea and Japan, and the U.S. will work more closely with China to try to resolve these things,” he said.

“They (North Koreans) have two choices ― they can either develop a better relationship with the U.S., which will be here by changing its policies or have to deal with the fact that the U.S. will not tolerate provocations either against the U.S. or against our friends in Asia. I think it reinforces the choices to North Koreans.”

Asked whether the possible transition of power from the conservatives to the liberals here in South Korea would affect the bilateral alliance and policy coordination concerning Pyongyang, he said it is unlikely.

South Korea’s main opposition United Democratic Party has long demanded a renegotiation of the Korea-U.S. free trade pact and more balanced relationship with Washington and stressed the need for more engagement with the North.

“I think the relationship goes deeper than parties or party platforms. I think we have seen changes of government in Japan, Yet their alliance remains steady. I believe that I have a lot of confidence irrespective of who is in power here,” he said.

“We had differences in the past with different governments in South Korea, but the core commitment has been the same. So I don’t want to anticipate difficulties. We will see whoever is elected and what comes out of that.”

Regarding concerns over whether Washington will immediately intervene militarily should a war break out on the peninsula, he said the U.S. can be relied on given its decades-old security ties with the South.

Given deepening public fatigue in the U.S. after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its recent show of reluctance to engage in a Syrian conflict, some here showed apprehension over how the U.S. would move in case of a war here.

Washington’s reported abandonment of a two-war strategy has also sparked concerns here that it may not send ground troops here if it should engage in another conflict, for example one in the Middle East.

“The US can be relied on here. We have such a long tradition and such a close security relationship. Syria is in a very complicated situation. A lot of the reluctance to do more active role in Syria is that it is unclear who we would support,” he said.

“There are a lot of the opposition groups, but it is not a well organized opposition. In terms of South Korea, they should give more confidence that the U.S. is not unwilling to help.”

By Song Sang-ho (
Korea Herald Youtube