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Sense of Danger, Hope Mark Opening
of CWS/NCC-Led Korea Consultation

June 16, 2003, WASHINGTON, D.C. -- This is a "terribly dangerous time" in U.S.-North Korean relations, speakers said during the opening hours of an ecumenical consultation on the Korea crisis June 16-18 in Washington, D.C. Yet there is cause for hope for a peaceful resolution of the crisis, agreed these leading policy experts.

"If the United States were to take the lead in effecting a peaceful settlement, it would get universal support," asserted Maurice Strong, advisor on Korea issues to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.  What's more, he and other speakers said, the Church may well be the institution best positioned to help tip the balance toward peace."

Strong said he was optimistic of the likelihood of success for a comprehensive settlement that guarantees North Korea's security and sovereignty and helps North Korea solve its food and energy crises, develop economically and normalize relations with the international community.

For its part, he and other speakers said, North Korea needs to agree to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for those guarantees.

"Don't give up," Dr. Selig S. Harrison of the Center for International Policy encouraged the consultation's nearly 80 participants from U.S. and Korean churches and humanitarian agencies, meeting under the auspices of ecumenical partners Church World Service and the National Council of Churches.  "We can get a settlement -- if we want one.  The question is whether the U.S. government wants it or just wants an excuse for regime change."

The NCC and CWS, together with their 36 member denominations, have been working with their North and South Korean counterparts for more than two decades in peace building, reconciliation and humanitarian assistance.  Concerned about the escalation in tensions between the United States and North Korea, they are meeting this week to seek to bring their particular voice in favor of a peaceful resolution of the Korea crisis.

It is expected that consultation participants will call on the U.S. government to renounce military options and call for stepping up of diplomacy and humanitarian aid. Their recommendations will be shared with Congress, the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon.

NCC General Secretary Bob Edgar, in his welcome to consultation participants, said their task is to help break the downward spiral of hatred.   "We need to advance not a view of preemptive war but of diplomatic priorities, not of first strike but a view of care for one another," he said.  "If we want to show shock and awe, we need to show love and justice."

On July 27, the world will mark the 50th anniversary of the Armistice Agreement that divided the Korean peninsula into North and South, said CWS Executive Director John L. McCullough at the consultation's opening session.  "We continue to mourn the separation of the Korean people," he said.  Because a formal treaty was never concluded, state of war still officially exists between the U.S. and North Korea, and now both sides have upped the ante with their threatening postures.

The Rev. McCullough affirmed the imperative of church leaders from the United States and from Korea "to come together and merge our voices and passion to effect a different future."

Churches can have significant influence in this process, Strong affirmed.   "The difference you can make has never been more important than now or in any crisis.  You can affect this crisis even more than you aspired to affect Iraq."

Korea expert N.A. Namkung agreed.  He shared his belief that many in the North Korean government "regard church-based groups to be North Korea's only genuine link to the outside world.  In their economic distress, these churches have been a lifeline.  I think there is genuine appreciation for what these groups have done."

"My hope is that the more liberal and progressive elements of American Protestantism might serve to bridge the divide between (North Korea's) 'fundamentalist' community and the so-called secular world," he said.

Namkung said "hawks" and "moderates" are engaged in policy struggles in both the United States and North Korea.  He urged U.S. churches to encourage the moderates in their government.  A policy "based on the mirage of North Korea's imminent collapse" only strengthens the hawks in North Korea, "hastening the advent of a nuclearized North Korea and retarding reforms," he said.


Click here for bios of speakers and spokespersons.

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