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Korea Watchers Square Off Over Obama’s Approach to North Korea

President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak met Thursday at the White House and celebrated Congress’ passage of the trade deal between the two countries that has been in the works for many years. But also on the U.S.-South Korea agenda during this summit is what to do about North Korea’s nuclear and missile program.

Former Bush administration official Victor Cha and former State Department and CIA analyst Robert Carlin spoke with the NewsHour about what’s been accomplished on that front over the past decade, and assess the Obama administration’s approach to dealing North Korea.

“The Obama administration was thrown real curveballs on North Korea and responded in a way that went against their instincts, which were to do more higher-level negotiations,” Cha said. The administration, he said, built “a very strong proliferation regime with U.N. backing sanctions, interdictions [and] financial sanctions.” Overall, Cha said he would “give the Obama administration an A-minus.”

However, Carlin says the administration has not handled North Korea well. “It has put it on a back burner, and through this concept of strategic patience, gave itself a reason for not doing anything serious,” he said.

The Obama administration’s original policy was to “to do things differently, to try to reach out” to the North Koreans, Carlin said. But the North Koreans launched a missile and tested a nuclear weapon, which threw the administration off balance, he said.

From that point on there was no engagement with the North. “Former President Clinton went to North Korea in August 2009 and had dinner with Kim Jong-Il, a better opportunity you could not have asked for to probe and discuss, completely wasted from that standpoint.”

There was more from Carlin and Cha on Thursday’s NewsHour broadcast.

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