Fletcher in the News

Dean Stephen Bosworth on Why We Must Talk to North Korea

CNN Global Public Square

Bosworth: Why we must talk to North Korea

Editor's Note: Ambassador Stephen Bosworth was United States Special Representative for North Korea Policy from March 2009 to October 2011. He has also served as U.S. ambassador to South Korea, the Philippines and Tunisia. Currently, he serves as Dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Amar C. Bakshi: What do you make of Kim Jong-un?

Stephen Bosworth: He is an unknown quality.  We don't know exactly how old he is.  He spent a couple of years in Switzerland, studying at a middle school there where he was portrayed as the son of the embassy chauffeur.

I can’t believe that he’s going to have any real authority within the system in North Korea without the concurrence of all senior military and civilian leaders.  They’re not engaged in some sort of a suicide mission.  They’re not about to turn their fate over to a 28-year-old or 29-year-old untested person, even if he is Kim Jong-il’s son and Kim Il-sung’s grandson.

Amar C. Bakshi: So who is the power behind the throne? Is it the party? Is it the military?

Stephen Bosworth: I think it’s largely the military, but senior party officials obviously also have some influence.  We know that Kim Jong-un’s uncle and aunt have particularly important roles at present.  But I think this is not that dissimilar from the situation that has always existed.  I think that Kim Jong-il was loath to overrule significant elements in the military or in the party.  So they spent a lot of time trying to work toward consensus.

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