Dean Stephen Bosworth of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy will oversee the United States’ North Korea policy in a newly created position, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced on Friday in Seoul during a four-nation tour of East Asia.
Bosworth, who was U.S. ambassador to South Korea from 1997 to 2001, will help coordinate U.S. involvement in the six-party talks on North Korean denuclearization and will also focus on human rights and humanitarian issues. He will remain in his role as dean despite the new position.
The appointment, which media reports last week said was in the works, comes at a time of increasingly aggressive rhetoric on the part of North Korean officials.
The reclusive Communist nation said on Thursday that it was “ready for an all-out confrontation” with South Korea, the official KCNA news agency reported.
North Korea recently announced a termination of diplomatic relations with South Korea, and it is reportedly preparing to test a long-range ballistic missile.
Clinton last week issued a warning to North Korea on the potential missile launch, which North Korean officials deny, but indicated the United States would reciprocate any actions by the North to verifiably shut down its nuclear program.
In his new role, Bosworth will consult with senior State Department official Sung Kim on the six-party talks, which include the United States, North and South Korea, China, Japan and Russia. Kim worked closely with previous chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill and will serve as U.S. envoy to the six-party talks.
A 2007 deal promised North Korea the equivalent of 1 million tons of fuel oil if it agreed to close its Yongbyon nuclear facility, in addition to other nuclear weapons-related concessions.
The talks fell apart in December, though, after the North failed to agree to a verification process for the dismantlement of its nuclear program.
A State Department official told the Daily yesterday that he was unsure whether Bosworth would attend the six-party talks. Kim will “probably” attend, he said, as well as lead day-to-day efforts and coordinate with other nations participating in the negotiations.
Bosworth traveled to Pyongyang earlier this month on a five-day private visit during which he did not represent the U.S. government. While he was in the North Korean capital, he met with officials involved with foreign affairs, defense and the economy, he told reporters afterward, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
Bosworth also told reporters that North Korea expressed a readiness to speak with U.S. officials about resuming the talks.
“We can continue to work towards eventual denuclearization of Korean peninsula,” Bosworth told reporters in Beijing, according to the AP.
By creating a higher-ranking position to deal with North Korea than that previously held by Hill — one similar to the roles held by other new special envoys to hotspots around the world — the United States has shown it is likely to give more attention to the issue, according to Sung-Yoon Lee, an adjunct assistant professor of international politics at the Fletcher School.
“I think it sends the message that the new Obama administration is very serious about dealing with North Korea,” Lee said. “I think it’s a positive message.”
Bosworth brings a familiarity with the region to the newly created State Department position, experts on North Korea told the Daily.
“Dean Bosworth has had a long history of working on Korean affairs at a high level” and commands respect among officials in the United States and in the region, Lee said. “He has the age, rank, experience and gravitas necessary to negotiate with the North Koreans.”
Under a 1994 agreement, North Korea agreed to halt its nuclear weapons program in exchange for a promise to build two light-water reactors, an effort which has since collapsed.
The North Koreans “have made the completion of these reactors a condition for the dismantlement of the plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon,” Selig Harrison, director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy, said.
Bosworth served as executive director of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization — a consortium created to oversee the construction of these reactors — from 1995 to 1997.
“He became intimately familiar with this project,” Harrison said. “That is very important.”
“Beyond the official negotiators, like Chris Hill, he’s probably had more contact with the North Koreans than anyone else in the United States,” said Daniel Drezner, associate professor of international politics at the Fletcher School. “He’s eminently qualified for this.”
Bosworth also served as ambassador to the Philippines from 1984 to 1987, and to Tunisia from 1979 to 1981.
University President Lawrence Bacow praised the appointment.
“I have promised Steve that we will do whatever we can to support his mission,” Bacow told the Daily.