Past Events


Date/Time: October 30, 2014, 9:00am-10:20am
Venue: 4F Conference Room, The Asan Institute for Policy Studies


On Thursday, October 30, 2014, the Asan Institute for Policy Studies hosted a roundtable discussion with Mr. Sydney Seiler, US State Department Special Envoy for the Six-Party Talks. S/E Seiler coordinates U.S. efforts on denuclearization of North Korea through the Six-Party Talks framework and leads day-to-day engagement with Six-Party partners.


Mr. Sydney Seiler, US State Department Special Envoy for the Six-Party Talks, began by noting that the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Agreed Framework presents an opportunity for retrospection, to review progress made and consider future prospects for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. “We have twenty years of empirical evidence” he said “of North Korea’s strategic goals, threat perceptions, what it wants, what it does not want, red herring demands, and real concerns” from which to glean lessons and make better informed risk assessments moving forward.

Mr. Seiler devoted his presentation at the Asan Institute to outlining six key principles that drive United States policy regarding North Korea, which, he said, are often misunderstood yet can form the basis for understanding developments as they occur and can also act as predictive indicators of what direction US policy might take in the future.

First and foremost is “pursuing a negotiated settlement of the denuclearization issue.” He stressed that to characterize the US approach as “not talking for the sake of not talking” with North Korea, or even as “strategic patience,” undervalues the various ways the Obama administration has engaged with North Korea since Obama took office in 2009. “The Agreed Framework, the Six-Party Talks, and the February 29 deal, rather than saying these are failures,” he argued, are looked at “as experiences to be learned from dispassionately.”

Second is establishing a defined “road map with conditions, timelines, and consequences spelled out.” He emphasized that the Six-Party Talks work best “when we have clearly defined goals” and when it is clear what is expected of North Korea, and what alternative paths to pursuing nuclear capabilities are possible. Talks with North Korea will be neither authentic nor credible unless North Korea takes concrete steps to halt its nuclear weapons program.

Third is “focusing on the alliances,” particularly the US alliances with the Republic of Korea and Japan; “through bilateral and trilateral cooperation.” Mr. Seiler emphasized that strong, close, and transparent alliances “show resolve and form the core of growing consensus internationally for the DPRK to denuclearize.” A united front within the Six Party-Talks framework is also necessary “to convince the DPRK that there is an alternative path to prosperity and security.”

Fourth is the “importance of sanctions,” not merely as punitive measures or to cripple the North Korean economy, as is often mistakenly understood, but “targeted to impede the growth of North Korea’s WMD program, deny them access to advanced technology from abroad, reduce availability of resources for their program, and block their ability to repatriate illicit funds.” Mr. Seiler stressed that the purpose of sanctions is to “sharpen choices” for the DPRK leadership.

Fifth is maintaining a robust deterrence capability to respond to threats and guarantee the security and prosperity of the Republic of Korea. Mr. Seiler highlighted how this is “why we do joint exercises, joint training and planning, and missile defense, to deter and respond and, if necessary, defeat any DPRK threat.”

Sixth is concern for the welfare of the North Korean people. “The United States has taken an active posture in trying to raise international awareness of the human rights situation in North Korea, based on the COI report,” Mr. Seiler stated, “to ensure the DPRK’s human rights violations are known, to seek to hold the regime accountable, and looking toward the DPRK acknowledging its violations and shutting down its gulags.” He concluded that we need to remind the North Korean people that “the suffering and cruelty they’ve endured is known to the outside world.”

During the question-and-answer session, Mr. Seiler responded to a question from Asan Institute President Dr. Hahm Chaibong on Chinese perspectives regarding US policy by stating that, since North Korea’s three nuclear tests, the United States and China have a consensus in their view on North Korea’s intentions, “which has enabled closer diplomatic cooperation.” Mr. Seiler characterized this cooperation as “strong and solid” and that, as the chair of the Six-Party Talks and a key stakeholder, “China’s commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is unwavering.” He highlighted that this is not a matter for a “G2 solution” because this issue is of international concern. In response to a later question by Dr. Kim Chong Woo on Russia’s involvement, he added that Russia is also committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and maintaining the nonproliferation regime.

Replying to a question by Dr. Bong Youngshik on how current policy on DPRK denuclearization has evolved most recently and how it might be more successful, Mr. Seiler highlighted that the key development in the last two to three years has been the internationalization and multilateralization of this issue. “The United States does not own this issue,” he said, “the threat is to the region and to the globe, particularly in terms of proliferation potential.”

Mr. Seiler, in response to a question of how positive steps by the DPRK might be received, stated that if the DPRK were to approach the international community tomorrow to say they are interested in exploring a path to denuclearization, resolving inter-Korea tensions, picking up the pieces from 2008 and returning to the Six-Party Talks, “they would find the diplomatic, economic, and security environment almost immediately transformed. I believe the international community would respond in a very positive way.” He expressed his confidence that “the benefits are quite clear. The regime is well aware of this but think they face an environment where they simply aren’t sufficiently attracted to choosing this path.” He opined that the challenge for the international community is how best to package North Korea’s options in such a way that gives them the confidence that this is the path that they want to pursue—an “oranger carrot with a thornier stick.”

In conclusion, Mr. Seiler stressed that the United States is and will remain “relentless in its determination to find a settlement to the denuclearization issue” and in continuing to assure the security and prosperity of the Republic of Korea.