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Sunday, June 12, 2005 - Page updated at 12:14 AM

UW professor holds North Korea talks

Seattle Times staff reporter

A University of Washington professor has done what U.S. political leaders have failed to do for more than a year: hold talks in North Korea aimed at averting a nuclear crisis.

While official negotiations have been stalled since last June, veteran East Asia professor Donald Hellmann visited North Korea for three days last week to conduct what he called the first international academic conference ever held there.

Hellmann said he was moved to help organize the conference out of frustration over the stalemate between the United States and North Korea over North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

"Our policy regarding North Korea has simply not worked," he said by phone from South Korea.

"I wanted to do by example what I thought ought to be done: to assemble people from the negotiating parties and get their views on the table."

Hellmann, 70, teaches in the Jackson School of International Studies and directs the UW's Institute for International Policy. He specializes in East Asian politics and economics, and has taught at the UW for more than three decades.

Thursday through yesterday, he and more than 20 scholars from the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea met in a North Korean mountain resort not far from the South Korean border. In a compound surrounded by armed North Korean soldiers, they discussed the North Korean nuclear stance and what it would take to make future talks successful.


Institute for International Policy:

No U.S. government representatives or North Koreans took part, but the North Koreans listened in on the proceedings.

The conference arose out of a partnership between the UW and the Peace and Reunification Project at Seoul National University in South Korea.

It coincided with President Bush's meeting with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun on Friday to discuss efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weaponry.

Hellmann criticized what he sees as a narrow U.S. focus on terrorism that has ignored the long-term economic and security efforts necessary to resolve the crisis on the Korean peninsula.

Dealing with North Korea, a rogue state with a collapsed economy led by paranoid dictator, he said, calls for skilled leadership, not name-calling. Economic problems such as energy and transportation need to be addressed, along with talks on the nuclear issue.

Requiring North Korea to give up nuclear weapons before the U.S. agrees to talk "makes it improbable that they will ever talk," Hellmann said.

Others who traveled into North Korea for the conference included Clark Sorensen, UW associate professor of international studies; Darryl Johnson, former U.S. ambassador to Thailand who also teaches at the UW; and Melvin Gurtov, a professor from Portland State University.

Tensions over North Korea's nuclear ambitions have intensified over the past several years. In 2002, the United States accused North Korea of having a secret nuclear-weapons program and stopped shipping oil to the country. North Korea responded by restarting its nuclear reactor, throwing out international inspectors and withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Six-nation talks have been held off and on since early 2003 without any significant progress. North Korea has said it has the material to make nuclear bombs and may soon move to test a nuclear weapon.

The last round of six-party negotiations ended a year ago. Since then, North Korea has refused to resume talks because it says the United States is trying to antagonize it with hostile rhetoric.

Bush, who three years ago called North Korea part of an "axis of evil" with Iraq and Iran, changed his tone recently, referring to the North Korean leader as "Mr." Kim Jong Il.

Anand Yang, director of the Jackson School of International Studies, called Hellmann's project "an attempt to keep [the same] engagement going at an academic level that we're struggling to do diplomatically."

Yang said the school is moving toward engaging in foreign policy outside the classroom.

"Academic institutions in general have to be more involved in the wider world," he said.

Kristi Heim: 206-464-2718 or

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