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Keith Luse, executive director of the National Committee on North Korea
Keith Luse served as senior East Asia policy advisor to former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman and later ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


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Engaging the hermit kingdom

About 30 Colorado Mesa University students gathered in Houston Hall on Feb. 18 to hear from Keith Luse, executive director of the National Committee on North Korea (NCNK). It was serendipitous timing — many of the students are political science majors enrolled in Politics and Government of Asia this semester and had spent the morning learning about the partition of the Korean peninsula.

Much of Luse’s conversation with the students was dedicated to the value of engaging with North Korea. “There’s this whole dichotomy — do we engage with North Korea or do we slap sanctions on them until the regime falls?” said Assistant Professor of Political Science Bill Flanik, PhD, who teaches Politics and Government of Asia.

The NCNK is an organization of North Korea experts. Luse made it clear that while opinions among its members vary, they are all dedicated to fostering engagement between the United States and the East Asian nation.

“If we talk to them, we are showing respect and giving them face,” he said.

The North Korean government is “quite interested” in talking with the United States, Luse said. He suggested that one way for U.S. officials to open the conversation and eventually address the country’s nuclear issue is to discuss American POWs. Luse said that more than 7,000 Americans were left behind after the Korean War’s armistice was signed in 1953. In the past, North Korea has been open to helping the United States recover the remains of soldiers, in large part because recovery is a lucrative operation.

Luse was in Grand Junction for a speaking engagement sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Western Colorado. His hosts gave him a number of options for his day on the West Slope and he chose to spend his afternoon speaking to the students.

“He very much enjoyed it,” Flanik said. “He related to me that he was very impressed with the caliber of the questions the students were asking. He thought they were very specific, detailed. He was extremely impressed with our students.”

From 2003 to 2013, Luse served as senior East Asia policy advisor to former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman and later ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has traveled to North Korea to negotiate with its officials on multiple occasions, discussing U.S. aid, nuclearization and the status of American prisoners of war. He has been executive director of the NCNK since 2014.

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