Students get a taste of diplomacy at U.S. Embassy in Seoul
January 21, 2005
SEOUL — U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill believes North Korea is close to rejoining talks about its nuclear ambitions, the envoy told a group of high-school students Wednesday morning during a visit to the U.S. Embassy.
“I think the North Koreans finally get it,” Hill said in response to a question from one of 18 Seoul American High School students who visited with diplomats Wednesday to get a firsthand look at the life of a foreign service officer.
“I’m fairly optimistic we’ll be able to have them come back to the talks,” he said.
Hill’s comments came as he explained his job and career with the U.S. Department of State. He also said he was open to some conversations between just the Americans and the North Koreans, but a full resolution of the nuclear issue must involve other members of the six-party negotiations.
“It is important that we be flexible,” he said, adding that the group’s other members — South Korea, China, Russia and Japan — should be a part of any solutions.
North Korea attended meetings in 2003 and early 2004 but failed to show for talks last fall; Pyongyang since has accused the United States of having a hostile policy toward the communist country.
A group of members of U.S. Congress visited North Korea last week and came away with impressions the Pyongyang regime would reconsider talks after listening to President Bush’s inauguration speech and upcoming State of the Union address.
It was in a State of the Union address that Bush first included North Korea in his “axis of evil.”
On Wednesday, the teens from SAHS’ Model United Nations class heard some examples of the strong stomach needed to be a high-ranking diplomat. Some days that means diplomatic meals, including breakfasts of seaweed and rice, Hill said, smiling. Sometimes it means all-day (or all-night) meetings, pushing two governments to find a way to stop fighting each other.
Hill and other embassy officials also talked frankly to the teens about how the United Nations and diplomats work to try to help people throughout the world get more access to education and technology and less exposure to poverty and war. In the past few decades, Hill and others said, diplomats have learned that they are generally better suited to help a country rebuild than to impose a new regime with force.
Embassy officials spoke about rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, East Timor and Bosnia. They also spoke about the difficulty in getting the nearly 200 U.N. member nations to find consensus on certain issues, such as restructuring the powerful U.N. Security Council. The council has 15 members — including five permanent members picked shortly after World War II — and recommends whether to impose economic sanctions or take military actions against foreign leaders or governments.
“It’s hard to get a plan that the majority of the states will support,” said Mark C. Minton, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. “It’s not a super-government.”
The envoys also discussed how the United Nations — and the United States — are not always viewed favorably because of those actions.
“A lot of countries have a lot of doubts about what we’re doing,” Hill told the group, referring to U.S. policy and the invasion in Iraq. He said his job is to address that uncertainty but also to find common ground on other issues so America can continue to work with other nations.
John Crabtree, a senior and the secretary general for the high school’s U.N. group, said he was impressed to see diplomats as individuals who mix talk of PX shopping and lacrosse games with discussions of nuclear proliferation.
“They’re just normal people who are good at what they do,” he said.
Jennifer Andersen, a junior, agreed.
“It was good to talk to people who do what we do” in mock exercises in class, she said, “rather than just reading about it online or in books.”
The students also stopped at the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, across the street from the embassy headquarters.
“Opinion is divided to how successful the U.N. has been,” said Oh Joon, the ministry’s director general for international organizations, who spoke to the students about how the U.N. works to help countries rebuild after war.
But he pointed to his own country as proof that alliances among nations can help a single country prosper. In the U.N.’s lifetime, South Korea has become a developing democracy and a burgeoning economic force.
“That transformation is also very difficult and hard,” he said. “We want to share these experiences.”