Track 1.5 Diplomacy Initiatives with North Korea

On Tuesday, 27th July, 2021 during the virtual International Leadership Conference (ILC) Session entitled, ‘Track 1.5 Diplomacy Initiatives with North Korea’ we invited a panel of people with experience of Track 1.5 Diplomacy with North Korea.  (See Video Recording

Track 1.5 dialogues are conversations that include a mix of government officials—participating in an unofficial capacity—and non-governmental experts. Neither track 1.5 nor track 2 discussions carry the official weight of traditional diplomacy, yet they offer a private, open environment for individuals to build trust, hold conversations and discuss solutions in a way their official counterparts sometimes cannot. Trusted figures can often glean better insights and nuances and provide non-official communication channels that can prove useful in a crisis.


Mr. Humphrey Hawksley, Author, Commentator; Former BBC Foreign Correspondent, UK

Humphrey Hawksley is an author, commentator and broadcaster. His recent book 'Asian Waters' examined the points of conflict in Northeast Asia as well as the South China Sea. He has reported on key trends, events and conflicts from all over the world. His work as a BBC foreign correspondent has taken him to crises on every continent. He was expelled from Sri Lanka, opened the BBC’s television bureau in China, arrested in Serbia and initiated a global campaign against enslaved children in the chocolate industry.  For more information see



Hon. Glyn Ford, Former UK Member of the European Parliament; Founder, Track 2 Asia, UK

Professor Glyn Ford is a British academic and Labour Party politician. While serving as an MEP from 1984 – 2009, he served on the International Trade and Foreign Affairs Committee, particularly on dossiers related to Asia, including being a rapporteur for the Free-Trade Agreement with ASEAN and for implementing the Scientific Partnership Agreement with the Republic of Korea. He was also a member of the delegation with the Japanese Diet and the Korean Peninsula during which he visited North Korea 50 times. He has researched or taught in several universities in the UK and elsewhere. He has written a book entitled, 'Talking with North Korea: Ending the Nuclear Standoff'.


Dr. Antonio Betancourt - Former Director, UPF Office for Peace and Security, USA

Antonio L. Betancourt is the former Director of the International Office of Peace and Security, a key UPF initiative for world experts to discuss volatile areas of tension with an emphasis on “soft power” solutions as essential to peacebuilding. Previously, Dr. Betancourt served as the Executive Director of the Summit Council for World Peace. In that capacity, he visited North Korea 16 times, meeting President Kim Il Sung five times, and played a key role in the historic visit of Rev. and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon to North Korea in 1991. The following year, at the request of UPF’s Co-founders, he and former Costa Rican President Rodrigo Carazo Odio led a delegation of former heads of state and government to Pyongyang on the occasion of Kim Il-sung’s 80th birthday. In April 1994, he led a delegation of former heads of state and government to meet Kim Il Sung, which also included the president of CNN International. A CNN crew did the first live worldwide TV broadcast from Pyongyang on that occasion. Dr. Betancourt played a central role in enabling CNN’s on-the-ground coverage of President Carter’s meeting with Kim Il Sung in June 1994. In July 1994, he was one of the few westerners to attend President Kim’s funeral. An important accomplishment in Dr. Betancourt’s distinguished career was to organize a fund to provide humanitarian aid to North Korea in conjunction with the World Food Programme (WFP). Dr. Betancourt is a regular guest at CNN’s Spanish-language news channel, and at academic forums and international summits.




Hon. Glyn Ford is a former UK member of the European Parliament (1984-2009) and the founder of the non-governmental organization Track2Asia as well as the private company Polint. He is also the author of the book Talking with North Korea: Ending the Nuclear Standoff (2018).

He spoke about a process of Track 1.5 diplomacy in which he took part and how it affected him. Over a period of more than 20 years, he has had the opportunity to enter North Korea about 50 times. He made his first trip there in 1997 on an unofficial basis when he was a member of the European Parliament, after being approached by DPRK diplomats from a UNESCO delegation. At that time, North Koreans were seeking food aid from the European Union. Upon his return, the European Parliament drafted a resolution that eventually led to North Korea allowing an official EU delegation to visit North Korea. Subsequently, substantial EU food aid was delivered to the DPRK (“a total of 500 million Euros in humanitarian assistance to the DPRK during the decade up to 2010,” as Hon. Ford wrote on p.112 of his book Talking with North Korea).

In 2010, after being asked to set up a political dialogue, Hon. Ford gathered a group of senior politicians from the EU to travel to Pyongyang regularly to hold discussions with the head of the international department of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

Hon. Ford spoke about his appreciation of the Korean situation, particularly that of Pyongyang and North Korea, as a result of his experiences there. North Koreans are not interested in early unification, he said, because it would mean assimilation, which they do not want. He drew a comparison to the East German model of reunification, which happened as a result of a collapsed state, which is not the case of North Korea. The North Koreans want the United States to “get off their back” and allow them to grow and to develop their economy.

North Korea’s nuclear program “is driven by weakness, not by strength,” he said, stating that North Korea has lost the arms race. He added that “the only way to actually guarantee regime survival, from their perspective, has been the development of weapons of mass destruction.” He pointed out that any solution to this conflict will be a long-term process that requires that trust be built step by step on both sides, with the involvement of the international community.


Humphrey Hawksley introduced Dr. Antonio Betancourt by recounting their first meeting in Beijing in 1994, at a time when tensions were high between the United States and North Korea. Dr. Betancourt—the former Secretary-General of the Summit Council for World Peace (a grouping of current and former heads of state established by the UPF founders) and the former director of the UPF Office for Peace and Security—had cut short their first encounter with an immediate invitation to go with him to join an influential group that was seeking to “avert a war” on the Korean Peninsula.

Dr. Betancourt continued the story, adding the context that DPRK President Kim Jong Il had passed a message to the Moon family, through Dr. Betancourt, that they should leave Seoul because war was imminent. The US threat to sanction remittances from DPRK sympathizers in Japan, approximately $600 million to $700 million annually, was seen as a casus belli in Pyongyang. Dr. Betancourt used his influence to encourage former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to visit Pyongyang, despite the Clinton administration’s opposition. He also pushed for the television news network CNN to accompany him, despite the DPRK’s initial reluctance, to be able to report the results of talks directly and transparently. Through this effort, tensions were reduced between the United States and the DPRK.

Dr. Betancourt went on to speak about the meeting that Father and Mother Moon had with the DPRK’s founding president, Kim Il Sung, in 1991. In the late 1940s, Father Moon was tortured during a campaign to remove religious leaders from communist North Korea. He then was incarcerated, notably in the Hungnam communist labor camp. Nevertheless, Sun Myung Moon was freed and could travel to the South, thanks to the intervention of the UN troops under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur—whose staff officers included Alexander Haig, who later became supreme allied commander of NATO and U.S. secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan. Father Moon became a leading proponent of Victory over Communism internationally and a well-known campaigner for South Korea to be aware of the threat of the DPRK.

In 1991, Father Moon asked Dr. Betancourt to convey a message of rapprochement to President Kim Il Sung. His goal was for their reconciliation to facilitate cooperation for the good of all Korean people, leading to the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula. Father Moon advised Dr. Betancourt: “You don’t achieve anything by demonizing your adversaries; you have to give them the respect that you, in your bias, do not think they deserve. In the end this will bring results. You may be able to make your adversary into a partner.”

Visiting several DPRK Embassies did not bring any constructive results. Dr. Betancourt realized that another approach was needed, given the DPRK policy at the time toward Father Moon. The chairman of the Summit Council for World Peace, former Costa Rican President Rodrigo Carazo, suggested contacting Cuban President Fidel Castro, who had friendly relations with President Kim Il Sung and could encourage a bold move for reconciliation. This approach worked, and visas were issued in April 1991.

On arrival in Pyongyang, Dr. Betancourt was subjected to a three-day grilling by his North Korean hosts. Unsurprisingly, as a dual citizen of Colombia and the United States (both of which were members of the UN Forces fighting North Korea in the Korean War) and an envoy of Father Moon, he was a persona non grata and treated very suspiciously. After three days, however, he felt that his hosts were beginning to understand that this visit for rapprochement was genuine. When this mood changed, he began to speak of how Father and Mother Moon’s support could benefit North Korea.

First, he agreed to work to raise the level of the discussion of DPRK issues in Washington, D.C. This was achieved with the support of the Summit Council for World Peace network and the influential Admiral William J. Crowe. Second, he offered to bring to Pyongyang Dr. Robert Lee from the World Bank, who had advised China on reforms that had led to a successful restructuring of the Chinese economy.

A number of other ideas were discussed that later formed a 10-point communique following the visit of Father and Mother Moon to North Korea in December 1991. The Potonggang Hotel and a peace center were built in Pyongyang. A car assembly/manufacturing plant “costing hundreds of millions of dollars” was built in the city of Nampo, which recently was donated to North Korea. All were run, without profit, for the sake of North Korea.

This turned out to be the first of 16 visits to the DPRK by Dr. Betancourt, who developed a close relationship with President Kim. In his final days President Kim proposed that research be made into Juche thought and the teachings of Father Moon that were founded in what is now North Korea. The purpose of this project was to better understand the manifest historical destiny of the region. President Kim’s demise forestalled this effort.

Dr. Betancourt became one of the few Westerners invited to attend President Kim’s funeral. Together with Col. Bo Hi Pak, one of Father Moon’s assistants, he presented Father and Mother Moon’s condolences to President Kim Jong Il at the funeral. 

During the webinar’s question-and-answer session, numerous interesting questions were brought forward on topics such as the impact of COVID-19 in relation to the famine in North Korea; the possibility of a peace treaty; language differences between North and South Korea; Russia’s role in the conflict; Donald Trump’s peace initiative with North Korea; and whether the dream of reunification is still alive in the people’s minds.

Finally, asked about the future of the Korean Peninsula, Dr. Betancourt evoked Reverend Moon’s calls for adopting a heart of love toward one’s enemies. Hoping that the world’s attention can return to that part of the world once the pandemic is over, Dr. Betancourt added that the issue will be solved only if big nations have an (economic) interest in doing so.

Hon. Ford emphasized the need for any solution to satisfy both China and the United States. When dealing with North Korea, he said, it is very important to adopt a bipartisan approach which is long-term and guarantees stability beyond government changes both in South Korea and the United States.



The conference is part of UPF’s Northeast Asia Peace Initiative, dedicated to exploring the prospects for peace on the Korean Peninsula through constructive dialogue between the two Koreas and with the other stakeholder countries of the region.

On May 9, 2021, UPF launched Think Tank 2022, a worldwide alliance of experts from a wide range of professional fields -- government, academic, civil society, faith-based organizations, the media, business, and the arts -- who will work together and pool their best insights as to how peaceful reunification can be accomplished in the coming years.

A series of three International Leadership Conferences is organized between June and August 2021. Each ILC tackles specific issues related to Korea and concludes with recommendations from Think Tank 2022. The July ILC will turn attention to the role of non-state actors, examining a variety of steps that may be taken that contribute to peace and eventual reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula. Please see the attached program.

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