March 4, 2009

The Road to Korea

Fletcher Dean Stephen Bosworth talks about his new role as special representative for North Korea policy

By Taylor McNeil

Fletcher School Dean Stephen Bosworth has been named to the newly created position of special representative for North Korea policy by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and will soon be heading off for meetings in Korea, Japan, China and Russia. 

Stephen Bosworth “will work closely with our allies and partners to convince North Korea to become a constructive part of the international community,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said when she introduced him as the special representative for North Korea policy. Photo: Michael Gross, Department of State

As the new special envoy, Bosworth is charged with addressing “the full range of concerns with respect to North Korea, including its nuclear ambitions and its proliferation of sensitive weapons technology, as well as its human rights and humanitarian problems,” Clinton said when she introduced him to the press corps in Washington, D.C., on February 26.

Bosworth, who will report to President Barack Obama and Clinton, says that formal goals haven’t been set yet, but that he hopes to “re-establish dialogue with the North Koreans to ensure that all the countries of the region are operating from a base of common understanding and consensus.” He adds that “it’s particularly important for the U.S. that we maintain close agreement with South Korea and Japan, our two allies in the region.” He says he will be coordinating very closely with China as well.

Bosworth, who was U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Korea from 1997 to 2000, will remain dean of the Fletcher School. “My commitment is for about a fourth to a third of my time with this new position,” he says. “In the first few weeks, as we get it started, it’s probably going to be a bit more than that, but that’s the basic outline.” He says he will be in Washington for about a week every month, and will travel to Asia every six weeks or two months.

“It’s going to be a good deal of work, because I’ll continue doing what I’m doing here at the Fletcher School—we’ve got a lot going on,” says Bosworth, who has been dean since February 2001.

“I’ve always considered that public service is a privilege, and I’m thankful for the president and secretary giving me the opportunity to do it again,” he says.

Bosworth joins two other special representatives newly appointed by Clinton, George Mitchell for the Middle East and Richard Holbrook for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Holbrook received an honorary degree from Tufts in 1997.

His appointment came quickly, Bosworth says. When he returned on February 8 from a private trip to Pyongyang with a group of academics and former government officials for meetings at the foreign ministry, there was a message from Clinton. Less than three weeks later, he was in Washington, meeting with Obama and Clinton, his appointment having been finalized.

Before he could accept the position, though, he spoke with President Lawrence S. Bacow and others at the university. “They’ve been very supportive and agreed I could do this,” Bosworth says.

“We are proud that Secretary Clinton has tapped Dean Bosworth for this delicate and important assignment,” says Bacow. “His selection speaks volumes about the respect he commands on the world stage generally and in Korea specifically. I have promised Steve that we will do whatever we can to support his mission.”

Click on the play button to watch a video of Stephen Bosworth being introduced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on February 26.

Bosworth says he might be calling on others at the Fletcher School to provide expertise, such as those in the Program in International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution. “Those people have not been dealing directly with North Korea, but there are certain basic principles that I think are useful,” he says.

He also thinks that students might benefit from his work. “I would hope to use this, depending on time availability, as an opportunity to give Fletcher students some insight into the process—how these things work,” he says. “Obviously, for reasons of national security and confidentiality, I can’t go into the substance, but I don’t see any reason why I can’t talk to [students] about how the U.S. government approaches a problem like this.”

The Korean Connection

A career diplomat, Bosworth was ambassador to Tunisia from 1979 to 1981 and to the Philippines from 1984 to 1987. After holding a number of State Department posts, he was named executive director of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization in 1995.

“This was the international organization that was set up under the U.S.–North Korean–agreed framework in 1994,” Bosworth says, “and we were implementing that agreement, including beginning to construct two 1,000-megawatt light water nuclear reactors in North Korea, which was the quid for the quo of their halting and eventually dismantling their nuclear weapons program.”

The 1994 agreement fell apart in 2002, “and the North Koreans again started producing plutonium, and now have produced a good deal of that,” Bosworth says.

As part of his portfolio, Bosworth will be involved in the so-called Six-Party Talks, between North Korea, South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, though the day-to-day negotiator for the United States will be Ambassador Sung Kim. “I’m hopeful that the talks will resume,” he says. “The extent of their fruition will depend on the policies and events. [The talks] have produced some results already, and it’s a question of building on those.”

One of the key players in the region is China. Asked how much influence the Chinese government has on the rulers in Pyongyang, Bosworth says it’s likely “they probably have a little more than they admit to, and somewhat less than we think.”

The trip he took to North Korea in early February seems to have been rather prescient, and maybe those connections he made will be helpful. “One would think that perhaps the fact that I’m not totally unfamiliar to them will help,” he says, “but I think you have to be very cautious about estimating the value of this kind of relationship in North Korea. It’s a very tightly controlled and highly calculated government with the same sort of view toward its policies.”

Bosworth reports that when he met with Obama, “he wished me well.” Asked how he feels entering the fray of international politics again, Bosworth says simply, “I’m enjoying it.”

Taylor McNeil can be reached at

Article Tools

emailE-mail printPrint