Amid rising tensions along the last remaining Cold War fault line, former Sen. Sam Nunn and retired diplomat James Laney leave today for North Korea, hoping for a rare glimpse into one of the world’s most opaque and unpredictable regimes.
In an informal and largely unscripted mission, Nunn and Laney will seek insights into North Korea’s crumbling communist government, two weeks before critical U.S.-sponsored talks aimed at forging peace on the Korean peninsula for the first time in nearly a century.
The Nunn-Laney trip comes on the heels of a dangerous firefight Wednesday between North and South Korean troops along the tense border dividing North Korea from U.S.-backed South Korea. It also comes as North Korea staggers through the advanced stages of a slow-motion economic collapse that has brought uncounted thousands near the brink of starvation.
Nunn, who has warned in the past that a miscalculation by either side could touch off a war, said he would look for ways to defuse cross-border tensions. The Georgia Democrat was one of the Senate’s leading international security experts before his retirement last year.
“I will certainly be raising some of the security issues from the perspective that I’ve had over the years concerning their (North Korea’s) forward force deployments, the sort of hair-trigger posture everybody’s on on the Korean Peninsula,” Nunn said in an interview. “I’ll be talking to them about ways that perhaps that can be eased, and I hope to find out some of the things that are on their mind in terms of security.”
Laney, the former Emory University president in Atlanta who served as U.S. ambassador to South Korea until early this year, could not be reached for comment.
The Nunn-Laney mission promises a bit of unofficial diplomacy - the only kind the United States conducts with North Korea - and in many ways seeks to build on former President Jimmy Carter’s informal visit to the closed and secretive country three years ago.
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