washingtonpost.com
N. Korea bombs S. Korea

Donald Gregg
Fmr. U.S. Ambassador to S. Korea
Tuesday, November 23, 2010; 11:00 AM

North Korea launched a massive artillery barrage on a South Korean island Tuesday, killing two South Korean marines, wounding at least 14 others and setting more than 60 buildings ablaze in the most serious confrontation since the North's sinking of a South Korean submarine in March.

Donald Gregg, former U.S. ambassador to S. Korea under President George H.W. Bush and former chair of The Korea Society, was online Tuesday, Nov. 23, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss world reaction and what this means to peace and stability in the region.

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Donald Gregg: Hi, I am Donald Gregg, former US ambassador to Seoul. I'll try to answer some of your questions. Cheers, DPG

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Washington, D.C.: Is this incident of more concern and more "crisis-like" than the sinking of the naval ship earlier this year?

Also, is this instance just another occurrence in the very unstable relationship between South and North Korea? Do you think it will escalate?

Donald Gregg: This is of more concern because of accompanying events, such as the sinking of the Cheonan, the large scale naval maneuvers we and the ROKS have conducted to "deter" NK. I do not think this particular incident will escalate, but I believe that we need to have direct talks with NK, and that dialogue is the best deterrence to more violence.

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Washington, D.C.: China appeared to have been outside the loop on this. What leverage do they have to get the DPRK to stand down, and will the DPRK only respond if they get food aid? At what point does the cycle end, or will the regime eventually collapse internally? Will China step into the breach?

Donald Gregg: China and NK doe not like each other, but China has more leverage with NK than anyone else. I agree that they were not involved in this incident. They have already urged a resumption of dialogue in the six party talks. I think China will not let NK collapse, as they fear the possible outflow of NK citizens into China, and general instability in the region more than they fear NK's small but growing nuclear capacity.

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Zagreb, Croatia: Can we see this attack as an action of renegade part of North Korean Army, people who do not want to see Kim Jong-un as a successor to his father.

Donald Gregg: No.

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New York: There is a great book by a University of Chicago professor on the Korean War which says that the conflict was and remains essentially a Korean civil conflict whose roots date back to the Japanese occupation and is something best left to the two Koreas to work through. Should the U.S. simply stay out of this and let North and South Korea solve their own issues, with possibly some help from China and Japan?

Donald Gregg: You are referring to Bruce Cumings short, excellent book, "The Korean War." We are trying gradually to reduce our military role on the Korean peninsula, but the South Koreans are reluctant to see that happen. We were supposed to hand over operational control to the ROKS in 2012, that has now been delayed until 2015. China can be of more help than Japan, which is neither liked or trusted by China or NK.

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U.N.: Is the U.N. active in behind the scenes discussions?

Donald Gregg: no

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Reston, Va.: The sinking of the Cheonan and this attack are acts of war, yet the response of the South Korean government to these events seems remarkably restrained. Why is that?

Donald Gregg: South Korea knows that they would win any war that took place. But North Korean artillery blankets most of Seoul, and in less than a day of full war, tens of thousands of South Koreans would be killed by artillery fire. Thus their restrained response

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Arlington, Va.: Does North Korea have the means to attack the U.S. with a nuclear weapon? If not, how close is it to having the ability to do so?

It just seems that the world is heading to hell in a hand basket.

Donald Gregg: Don't panic. NK knows that if they used a NW against us,. their country would be obliterated. The NK NW capability is purely for deterrence, against us. There is a danger that NK might sell nuclear technology to others, and that is a major concern.

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Negotiation: In your earlier response, you stated that to avoid similar incidents, the U.S. must negotiate with North Korea. But what is there to say? Carrots failed in the past, and it would seem we're out of sticks (since basically all aid has been cut off and I can't think of any further sanctions which would have an impact). How would the U.S. move negotiations forward?

Donald Gregg: The major problem with US policy toward NK is its lack of consistency. In 2000, NK invited Bill Clinton to visit Pyongyang. Clinton was interested and sent Secretary of State Albright to check things out. She had 11 hours of talks with Kim Jong Il, and found him highly intelligent. (This from her to me, directly) Time ran out and Clinton did not go. Bush 43 entered the scene and by 2002, NK was part of the "axis of evil" along with Iran and Iraq. We need long term, serious negotiations with NK

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Reston, Va.: What supposedly prompted this attack? Even if it was unwarranted, which I have no doubt it was, what is North Korea's pretense? Did they have any, or did they just start attacking out of the blue?

Donald Gregg: South Korea was conducting a large military exercise in that same island area, involving live fire. NK sent a message to the ROKS telling them to stop. They did not stop, and NK opened fire.

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Washington, D.C.: Greetings!

The North Koreans will not be ignored -- if they do have a weapons-grade nuke program, is the trade-off continued extortion as they hold the ROK ransom and is there any likelihood of a "soft landing" where their leadership can be jettisoned by China or other interested parties?

Donald Gregg: A group of American businessmen and financial experts visited Pyongyang last month to discuss NK's plan to stress economic development. They were impressed. The North Koreans told Jimmy Carter in August that they want a peace treaty with us. They want to talk with us, but of course events such as today's artillery exchange make it harder to consider starting dialogue. But, eventually we will have to come to it.

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Ontario, Canada: Is it not a possibility that this is merely a diversionary tactic aimed at focusing world attention upon the Korean Peninsula, while Iran readies itself for a strike upon Israel? Co- operation between the two rogue states seems to be consistently strengthening and the stronger their unified actions appear to be, the more likely other non-Democratic states are to support their aggressive behaviors.

Donald Gregg: Relax. There is no possibility of the kind of Iran-NK coordination that you are referring to. Someone else is conjuring that up.

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Washington, D.C.: Mr. Gregg, it would seem that this attack is an escalation in hostilities to cover the transition of power to Kim Jong-un. Do you think that the regime will ratchet up the pressure even more?

Donald Gregg: No. Particularly if we start serious dialogue with them

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Washington, D.C.: Do you know how the recent string of attacks (I'm including the sinking of the Cheonan) have influenced public opinion in South Korea? What sort of public pressures will there be on the ROK government as it calibrates a longer-term response?

Donald Gregg: That is an excellent question. There are a lot of splits in South Korean opinion, with older people who remember the Korean War being most hostile. Some doubt that NK sank the Cheonan, others support a hard-line. I think that President Lee listens more to those who favor what he is doing, but sup[port for him and his policies is not solid. Korea is a strong democracy and a staunch ally, but the NK problems haunts them.

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Katy, Tex.: What does it say about them and the community at large that their population is starving and we refuse to put a stop to this nonsense? How much longer must the status quo continue?

Donald Gregg: How do you suggest that we "put a stop to this nonsense?" War on the Korean peninsula would be a disaster for the region and for the world. NK has done terrible things to its people and to its neighbors. South Korea did some of the same things as it worked its way out of poverty to affluence and influence. The same thing can happen in the North if it moves closer to becoming a normal state/. Threatening them with war will not bring about that change.

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New York: "NK knows that if they used a NW against us, their country would be obliterated."

If the famine and poverty get worse in North Korea, at some point will they be in such bad shape that they would feel like they'd have nothing to lose?

My main concern about NK is that peace seems to hang on the idea that they're not suicidal. There's nothing more dangerous than someone with nothing to lose.

Donald Gregg: I have been to NK five times, and I believe that they think they have a lot to lose. Kim Jong Un, the newly designated leader, has spent two years in Switzerland as a youth, in a private school. He knows a lot about the outside world, and I think that will be a plus, as he moves toward assumption of more power.

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