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The Issue

North Korea’s advancing nuclear weapons and missile programmes pose a grave threat to security in East Asia, aggravating regional and global tensions. In late 2017, the United States and North Korea appeared to be on the brink of war. Active diplomacy may have recently replaced bellicose language; but the eventual success of on-and-off talks involving the US, North and South Korea, remains in doubt as mutual trust is still in short supply.

Our Approach

The Elders believe in the power of open dialogue between adversaries. But, to overcome decades of deep mistrust, talks must be meaningful and honest - and concessions cannot be one-sided. Leaders should rise above narrow domestic concerns to recognise and seize moments of historic opportunity when they appear with both hands.

 

We believe the present time is one of those rare occasions on the Korean Peninsula.

 

In 2018, President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un astonished observers by their willingness to take a fresh approach to resolving this highly dangerous conflict.

 

If complete denuclearisation is eventually to take place, a formal end to the Korean War will need to be declared, followed by the construction of a robust new security regime on the Peninsula. Greater focus on North Koreans’ basic human rights and economic wellbeing will be essential.

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What are we doing?

As North Korea stepped up its nuclear bomb and missile tests in 2017, heightening regional and global tensions, The Elders resumed their past engagement with the issue. In September they issued a press statement urging all sides to resolve differences through dialogue. They also discussed the crisis privately with concerned governments.

 

Following a dramatic turnaround in January 2018, when Kim Jong-un expressed North Korea’s interest in participating in the Winter Olympics in the South and meeting his South Korean counterpart, in an Op-Ed for the Financial Times Ban Ki-moon, a former UN Secretary-General and Foreign Minister of South Korea, urged the two Koreas to pursue the path of dialogue. In June 2018, The Elders welcomed the historic Singapore summit between President Trump and Chairman Kim.

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Past engagement

Between April 2011 and July 2013, The Elders worked energetically to promote peace and encourage dialogue among the belligerents during a phase when, apart from China, none of the stakeholders showed interest in doing so. Pressure on North Korea through economic and other forms of sanctions, and a hands-off approach, defined this era.

In April 2011, Jimmy Carter led a delegation to North Korea, South Korea and China, accompanied by Martti Ahtisaari, Gro Harlem Brundtland and Mary Robinson, to encourage dialogue and address security and humanitarian concerns. In all three countries they met senior government officials, diplomats, UN staff and think tanks. They were also able to meet people affected by the situation in North Korea, including refugees who had fled to South Korea.

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