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Obama and North Korea

Author: Scott A. Snyder, Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy
November 19, 2008
Asia Foundation

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There's a lot of speculation about how President-elect Obama will organize his administration to address a truly daunting list of security challenges, including a global economic crisis, Iraq, and Afghanistan. On the list of potential crises that the Obama administration will inherit come January 20th will be the task of achieving the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

There's already been considerable speculation regarding how an Obama administration will approach the North Korean issue, especially in Seoul, Tokyo, and Beijing.† Much of that has tended toward the dramatic idea that Mr. Obama himself would seek an early breakthrough with North Korea through personal diplomacy at the highest levels.†

However, given the challenges he faces, it's more likely the first task will be to choose advisors who are likely to affirm the willingness of a new administration to normalize diplomatic relations with a denuclearized North Korea and chart a path that addresses North Korea holistically, as both a regional security and a non-proliferation challenge, and that also seeks to utilize North Korea as an opportunity to remake a stable Korean peninsula and a stable Northeast Asia.

There are arguably three somewhat different approaches represented on the North Korea issue among those who seem most likely to be directly engaged in an Obama administration.† These schools may be overlapping and are not necessarily distinct, but each of these approaches will have to be reconciled and possibly incorporated into an overall policy approach among Obama's key advisors.

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