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2017-11-19 17:26
By Eugene Lee



The brinkmanship in the words of leaders of the U.S. and North Korea is drawing dangerously close to a declaration of open warfare. At first, in a portrayal of senseless bravado each side has tried to outdo the other in calling each other names and the use of profanity. The fear is that these words may turn into full action.

The question is “What can we do?” I do have a suggestion and let me start from afar.

A week ago, on November 2, by invitation I was observing the 7th round of the Syrian negotiations in Astana, Kazakhstan. I wasn’t really impressed with the mood or the process itself. On that day the parties (25 altogether) were supposed to issue a resolution by 5 pm, but the negotiations dragged on late into the night. The sides couldn’t find a compromise until 11 pm and eventually announced their “intent to gather again” for the 8th round sometime in December. Even without any clear result, as I see it, there is a very positive element. It means these negotiations allow all participants to indicate, probe and mark the grounds of discussion and hopefully, eventual peace.

On the next day, Nov. 3, we were invited to the presidential residence, the Akorda, to witness an award ceremony of a peace prize to the King of Jordan, Abdullah II, for his efforts in establishing peace in the Middle East and hosting refugees from war-torn Syria. He was the first recipient of the peace prize recently inaugurated by President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan,.

In the early 1990s the country organized and helped to establish a nuclear-free zone in Central Asia. Today Kazakhstan is a strong supporter of nuclear non-proliferation around the world. In a few months’ time Kazakhstan is set to begin its non-permanent membership in the Security Council of the United Nations. All this puts Kazakhstan in a uniquely good position that allows it to engage various sides in disregard of existing differences.

I’ve been vocal about this earlier and, once again, would like to call for inviting Kazakhstan to help in mediating the conflict between South Korea and North Korea. Kazakhstan already has a fair share of history and experience of engagement with both. And with its current posture and influence in the international community, Kazakhstan is well equipped to bring all sides to the table.

Obviously, Kazakhstan will not be seeking participation in resolving the conflict on the Korean peninsula proactively, but maybe it should. Also, I would call out to Kazakhstan to show its own good will and employ its experience.

I am not deluded in thinking that Kazakhstan would become a panacea to the conflict. Nor am I imaging that North Korea will easily open its doors and meet with open arms. Nevertheless, it is a diplomatic route that we haven’t explored yet and it is, in my belief, certainly worthy of our attention. Let’s start and see where this road will take us.


Eugene Lee (mreulee@gmail.com) is an adjunct professor at the Graduate School of Governance of Sungkyunkwan University.


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