Former ambassador to South Korea expresses optimism for future relations between the U.S. and North Korea, but remains realistic.

Donald Gregg told a group at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation last week (Feb. 17), it will take years to thaw the icy divide formed between the countries during the Cold War and re-chilled after including North Korea as part of the “axis of evil,” during George W. Bush’s administration.

“The big hurdle is trust…It takes a long time to reach an accommodation with a country with which you have been opposed for so long.”

Gregg reminded his audience the process for change would not begin this year, since it is a presidential election year for both the U.S. and South Korea. But that fact, he says, opens the door for the potential of a new chapter between the two nations according to Gregg, depending on who is elected to lead both countries – and as long as Obama is re-elected in the U.S.

As for North Korea’s new leadership, “I think Kim Jong Un was a very interesting choice, and he’s going to be around for a very long time,” said Gregg. “Think of that. That’s why the first impressions that we make on him are going to be very important.”

The former ambassador believes North Korea is ready to come to the table. “North Korea knows it needs to change, and what they want is a new relationship with the U.S.” But, Gregg said, it would take some concessions on North Korea’s part for any real change to occur, and while the desire for improving its relationship with the U.S. is great, Gregg seemed to suggest North Korea may not be as ready to make compromises.

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