U.S. Envoy Faces Tough Job in North Korea
Saturday, June 24, 2006; 12:17 PM
WASHINGTON -- Christopher Hill has faced down Balkan bad guy Slobodan Milosevic, barricaded himself against a mob storming the U.S. embassy in Macedonia and been summoned to North Korea by minions of Kim Jong Il. He also has survived the internecine warfare of official Washington.
"War may be hell, but peacekeeping isn't far off," the top U.S. negotiator on North Korea once told a college crowd.
"Often you're dealing with a lunatic."
So much for the stereotype of diplomats as pinstriped white-wine drinkers who speak only in nuance.
For more than two decades, serving five presidents and 10 secretaries of state, Hill, 53, has made his mark on U.S. foreign policy in diplomatic postings that have taken him from Poland and South Korea to the horrors of war in Bosnia and the killings in Kosovo.
Hill now is bringing that experience to bear in another precarious corner of the world, as head of the U.S. delegation to the six-nation talks on the North Korean nuclear standoff. That makes him the point man in the effort to restrain North Korea's nuclear ambitions as the communist state prepares for a possible test of a long-range missile capable of reaching the United States.
The son of a foreign service officer, Hill honed his skills in the 1990s as part of uber-negotiator Richard Holbrooke's team that spent months shuttling around the Balkans and Europe to end the bloodshed in Bosnia. Their work culminated in a 21-day marathon in Ohio that produced the Dayton peace accords.
In joining the Balkan team, Hill filled the shoes of Robert Frasure, one of three U.S. diplomats killed when their armored personnel carrier slipped off a mountain road in 1995 en route to peace negotiations in besieged Sarajevo. Hill was awarded the Robert S. Frasure Award for Peace Negotiations for his work on the Kosovo crisis.
Holbrooke, in his book on the Balkan talks, describes Hill as "brilliant, fearless and argumentative." Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who was part of Holbrooke's Balkan negotiating team with Hill, says the diplomat has "good pitch" as a negotiator and is not afraid to raise his voice or pound a table.
"He also has enough common sense to know when it is productive and when it isn't," Clark added.
Some analysts contend it may be difficult for Hill to produce results because North Korea has not received a lot of attention from President Bush and his top aides, although that appears to be changing.
"Nobody questions that Hill is a terrific diplomat and that he is a very competent problem solver," said Jon Wolfsthal, a national security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "People feel he has not been given the room he needs to operate."