Newswise — More than 20 foreign relations experts from the United States, China and other nations are completing what is believed to be the first broadly international academic conference ever to be held on North Korean soil.
The topic? The long-stalled Six-Party talks on North Korea's nuclear arsenal, and political and economic initiatives to make them successful if they resume.
The three-day conference -- with no official government participation by either the United States or North Korea -- took place partly at North Korea's Mount Kumgang resort, a picturesque enclave inside an authoritarian nation that rarely invites debate.
Donald Hellmann, a University of Washington East Asia scholar, said he did not know why the North Korean leaders permitted the unprecedented international gathering but said that they assuredly paid attention to what was going on inside.
"We came from precisely the nations represented at the Six Party Talks," Hellmann said, "to pose the critical questions necessary to break the stalemate and to lay the foundation for the long term solution."
As director of the University of Washington's Asia Strategic Forum, Hellmann organized the conference in partnership with Seoul National University's Peace and Unification Forum.
Although North Korea declined an invitation to send its own scholars, all five other "Six-Party" nations were represented: China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and the United States.
The multinational group of experts exchanged perspectives amid concern that North Korea may soon test a nuclear weapon and as South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun met with President Bush at the White House.
Hellmann, who teaches at the UW's Jackson School of International Studies, criticized what he called a "narrow" U.S. focus on terrorism and nuclear proliferation that blocked consideration of the long-term economic and security issues essential to the resolution of the crisis.
"No settlement of the Six Party Talks is conceivable," he said, "without agreement on an economic package for North Korea, which would involve considerations such as energy, transportation (especially railroads) and the expansion of economic zones to begin the process of integrating North Korea into broader regional economic arrangements.
"Moreover, any discussion of security must focus not only on proliferation," he added, "but on laying the foundation for a new framework for security that goes beyond the bilateral alliances between the U.S. and South Korea and the U.S. and Japan."
Hellmann added that the conference in North Korea, and subsequent meetings of the Asia Strategic Forum, will consider these larger issues.
The Asia Strategic Forum is a project of the UW's Institute for International Policy, whose Web address is http://www.iip.washington.edu