Korean Peninsula Affairs Center

Thoughts on Recent South Korean Presidential Election

By Donald P Gregg, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, 1989-1993

Park Geun Hye, the daughter of Park Chung Hee, will become South Korea's first female president. I think this is good news for the US.

The entire election spoke well of Korea. Two excellent candidates were put forward, and the Koreans voted peacefully and in very large numbers. I know Park quite well, and think very highly of her. In 2001 she visited Pyongyang and spoke at length with the late Kim Jong-Il, with whom she said she felt quite comfortable. I met her in Seoul in 2002, and complimented her for going to North Korea, given the fact that the North Koreans twice tried to kill her father, and did kill her mother in 1974. Her reply was impressive "We must look to the future with hope, not to the past with bitterness."

The next year I invited her to speak at The Korea Society in New York, and went with her when she spoke at Columbia University. She was most impressive on both occasions. She has said she will negotiate with Kim Jung Un, the new leader of North Korea, and I believe she will. When she does, she will speak as a conservative leader, in the same way that Nixon spoke as a conservative when he reached out to China.

Park is a strong believer in the US South Korean alliance, and I believe that President Obama will find her a good partner with whom to work out an effective policy of re-engagement with North Korea.      

Donald P. Gregg