PWHNorthKorea
Photo: Evan Batov

Following combative exchanges between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in recent months, people across the world have turned their attention to North Korea and the threat of nuclear proliferation.

Experts weighed in on the issue during a symposium held on Oct. 11 at the Perry World House, which was titled, “North Korea: Bargaining in the Shadow of Armed Conflict.” After two panels earlier in the day, the event concluded with a discussion hosted by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and New York Times Chief Washington Correspondent David Sanger.

The presenters discussed whether or not the United States should at all interfere with North Korea, and if so, which methods may be most effective. 

Richardson described some of the highlights from his eight visits to North Korea during his time as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations to negotiate the release of prisoners. He said these conversations with the North Korean administration often ended with no conclusions.

“I’m gonna get these soldiers out or I’ll never leave,” he said of his approach to the negotiations, emphasizing that he had to be blunt.

A handful of Penn students could be spotted among the crowd of academics at the conference, including College freshman Bernie Wang, who described the event as a “once in a lifetime experience."

Sanger and Richardson discussed the need for a change in the way the United States negotiates with North Korea.

“We [the United States] won’t talk to bad countries because we fear we’re endorsing their bad behavior,” Richardson said. He and Sanger agreed there should be different kinds of interactions between the United States and North Korea.

They emphasized the need to push past fear-driven barriers and find common ground, recalling how “pingpong diplomacy” allowed Americans to begin to develop closer ties with China in the 1970s. 

Throughout the conference, experts said it was unlikely tensions with North Korea would escalate to a point of nuclear warfare. Sanger said he did not believe North Korea would “toss a nuclear weapon" anytime soon. 

Richardson agreed, adding that Kim and Trump are not as rash as they seem when it comes to military decisions. However, he also said both leaders are very unpredictable and this is what may preclude any productive negotiations. 

College sophomore Brent Weisberg said he attended the talk to hear a candid evaluation of the conflict by experts, instead of watching a more rehearsed assessment from pundits.

“If I have the opportunity to see someone who is in the know, rather than a talking head on television, I’d rather do that — get it from the horse’s mouth,” he said.

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