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North Korea Problem 'Very Tough,' Obama Nominee Says North Korea Problem 'Very Tough,' Obama Nominee Says

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Defense / National Security

North Korea Problem 'Very Tough,' Obama Nominee Says

September 8, 2011

The Obama administration's nominee to assume a top spot at the State Department on Wednesday said Washington has "no good choices" in resolving the long-running standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons work, Agence France-Presse reported.

"Solving this problem is very, very tough," one-time special coordinator on North Korea Wendy Sherman said during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She said the United States should continue using financial and diplomatic measures as it attempts to break the impasse.

Multinational negotiations aimed at persuading North Korea to accept denuclearization in exchange for economic aid, diplomatic recognition and international security pledges have not been held in nearly three years. In that time, the Stalinist state has conducted a second nuclear test, test-launched a number of missiles and unveiled a uranium enrichment program that could give it a second path to producing weapon-grade material.


As U.S. coordinator for North Korea policy during the Clinton administration, when Washington was considering normalizing its dealings with Pyongyang, Sherman said, "We learned what every administration since has learned: Working with North Korea is very frustrating, exceedingly difficult, they are elusive, they do not keep their commitments, they are often hostile."

Sherman has been nominated to the position of undersecretary of state for political affairs.

At the hearing, she reaffirmed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's position that "it makes no sense to have talks just for the sake of talks" with the North.

Pyongyang has said it would return to the aid-for-denuclearization negotiations that also include China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea on an unconditional basis. Washington has said it would only consider rejoining the talks if the aspiring nuclear power first demonstrates its commitment to lasting nuclear disarmament.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., pointed to Sherman's record of engagement with North Korea under the Clinton White House in questioning whether she would be too soft on Pyongyang and other foreign governments hostile to the United States.

Sherman responded that, "I don't believe engagement is the antithesis of strength and verification. I believe that engaging with leaders is a way to test them, to see if in fact the commitments they've made, they're going to keep."

"Sanctions not only remained on North Korea but have increased over the years," she continued.

Sherman said she believes strongly in the "importance of sticks as well as carrots" when dealing with North Korea, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

The Obama nominee said Pyongyang has chosen a path of international isolation.

"I'm quite clear this is one tough, difficult, thorny problem. We learned some things [in the Clinton administration], but we are in a new environment, in many ways a much tougher environment, and the choices that the president and the secretary have to make are probably even tougher than the ones that we made in the late '90s," Sherman said.

This article originally appeared in Global Security Newswire, produced independently by National Journal Group under contract with the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group whose mission is preventing the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

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