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'A Country Rather Than a Problem'

Christopher Hill at the Asia Society.

Christopher Hill at the Asia Society.

NEW YORK, February 3, 2009 - Amid speculation that he would be named the next Ambassador to Iraq, Ambassador Christopher Hill spoke at Asia Society to review his role as lead US negotiator in the Six-Party talks aimed finding a peaceful resolution to North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Summing up the challenges he faced, Hill told the audience, "From a diplomatic point of view, you've got to somehow address this problem, and make the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] a country rather than a problem."

Hill underlined the importance of the Six-Party talks in ending the production of plutonium in North Korea, and spoke more generally of their role in fostering direct communication and smaller dialogues between East Asian neighbors and the US. While North Korea "has not understood that ultimately its security and its well-being depend on good relations with neighbors," he said, the talks have nevertheless improved regional relationships. Hill stated, "The US-China relationship, I would say, is a better relationship, thanks to the North Koreans ... the US and China have been working on very concrete things, not just a dialogue, but things we try to get done vis-à-vis denuclearization."

When asked to make recommendations to the new administration's representative, Hill highlighted the importance of patience when dealing with both North Korea and interagency communications, saying, "In some ways dealing with the North Koreans was good preparation for some of the interagency discussions," and vice-versa.

Before he reached the position of Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Hill's regional focus had been in Europe. He closed his remarks by challenging the idea that Asia's "historical endowment" is more intractable than other regions in the world, stating, "Frankly, anyone who has really studied European history must be in total awe at what Europe has been able to do in terms of bringing the continent together, and I don't see any reason why this can't be accomplished in Northeast Asia."

Reported by Leah Thompson