Pritchard's ties with Korea culminates with KEI
WASHINGTON, June 26 (Yonhap) -- Leaving the Korea Economic Institute (KEI) after six years of service as its head, Jack Pritchard does not hesitate to say how he is proud of the small yet "influential" organization.
"No one has the influence or is active in Korean affairs as the KEI. Because that's all we do. We are exclusively about the Korean Peninsula," he said in a farewell interview at his office in Washington. "So I think our voice is more credible in that regard."
He was referring to competition between the KEI, which he describes as a "quasi-think tank" and major think tanks here such as CSIS, Heritage, Brookings, Carnegie, and CFR.
The KEI, funded by the South Korean government for the purpose of enhancing understanding of Korea in the U.S., has a staff of only nine.
But it has played a pivotal role in Seoul's push to reach out to American leaders in government agencies and on Capitol Hill, as well as to ordinary people.
The KEI was born 30 years ago, with a focus in economic matters, as its name suggests. Its role has evolved and grown until today. It covers Korean issues on a broad scale, including the Seoul-Washington alliance and North Korea problems.
In spite of budget and manpower shortages, Pritchard said, he has sought to make KEI competitive with the larger think tanks in the quality of its work regarding Korean affairs.
Pritchard, formerly a soldier and diplomat, came up with his own solution -- the so-called Academic Paper Series.
"What I wanted to do was to get opinions outside of Washington about the U.S.-Korea relationship, about issues that were occurring on the peninsula," he said.
The KEI has supported the work of credible but relatively unknown experts and published their writings in book form, providing fresh and useful materials to college students and others interested in Korea.
Pritchard's own career has been closely tied with Korea.
He worked as lead negotiator on North Korea for the Bush administration from 2001 until 2003, when he resigned reportedly in protest over administration policies.
He had previously served as special assistant to President Bill Clinton for Asian affairs.
He said China is playing an important role at present in preventing North Korea from taking additional provocative steps with its nuclear program.
Pyongyang was apparently planning for another nuclear test after a failed long-range rocket launch in April, he said, but it has delayed the move because of pressure from Beijing.
"According to my discussions with the Chinese, the Chinese told the North Koreans: 'You'd better be very careful, no nuclear test,'" he said. "In fact, it was the Chinese intervention that I think has postponed a third nuclear test for the time being."
He said the words "doves" or "hawks" are no longer useful in Washington in terms of policy discussions about North Korea.
He added the Obama administration has been "rather slow in developing a concrete plan of action on how to deal with North Korea."
He urged the administration to be more proactive in handling North Korea by turning to the full implementation of U.N. Security Council resolutions on imposing sanctions on Pyongyang.
"Strategic patience is not a policy. It's an attitude. That will not lead to the resolution of the problems with North Korea. That doesn't give you a game plan," he said.
On the Seoul-Washington alliance, he noted a mutual trust exists between South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and his liberal counterpart Barack Obama, despite initial worries over a possible mismatch.
Tokyo and Washington have not enjoyed a similar relationship in recent years, partly due to frequent leadership changes in Japan, he added.
Asked about his successor, Pritchard was cautious but did not deny press reports that Rep. Donald Manzullo, an Illinois Republican who heads the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, is a leading candidate.
"It appears that your government is leaning towards the selection of Congressman Manzullo. I have no idea what his desire is," he said, citing a conversation with a South Korean official.
A close aid to Manzullo earlier told Yonhap that he wants the job, although contract terms have yet to be negotiated.
If Manzullo is picked, he will have to wait half a year in order to finish his term in office before taking up the post.
Pritchard, set to retire later this week, said he has no plans for what he will do, except for taking a week of vacation.