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Top U.S. Expert on North Korea Quits on Eve of Talks

August 27, 2003|Sonni Efron | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Frustration with his marginalized role drove the administration's most experienced North Korea expert to resign on the eve of key talks with Pyongyang, a person who knows the diplomat well said Tuesday.

U.S. special envoy Jack Pritchard, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment on his resignation, which became effective Friday. A State Department spokesman said Pritchard's decision to depart was neither sudden nor driven by policy disputes.

The spokesman, Philip T. Reeker, said Pritchard's decision had been in the works "for several months." However, Reeker also confirmed that Pritchard had been on the list of American diplomats scheduled to travel to Beijing for talks between North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia, Japan and the U.S. about Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. Formal negotiations began today.

"He would have been in Beijing had he not chosen to retire at this point," Reeker said. He said that Pritchard "had played a significant and valued role" and that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell wished him well.

Pritchard's career included stints in the military and at the Defense Department and as a special envoy for negotiations with North Korea. In the past, he has advocated using both incentives and pressure in dealings with the North Koreans.

Contrary to some news reports, Pritchard's resignation is not that of a "moderate" policymaker in a losing battle with administration "hard-liners" on North Korea, the associate said. Instead, it reflects an administration that is "not geared to listen to different points of view or to let the diplomatic professionals do the job they need to do, which is engage the other side and find out what they're thinking," said the associate, who requested anonymity.

"He hasn't been allowed to do his job," the associate said. "He's the only one left in the administration who has any expert knowledge of the history [of U.S. negotiations with North Korea]. Even if people think he had the wrong policy, at least ... he knows what he's talking about."

Pritchard began to feel that "his views were simply not considered" by senior U.S. policymakers, the associate said.

Pritchard will be joining the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

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