As the war of words between Washington and Pyongyang has escalated, the window of opportunity for Americans and North Koreans to actually interact directly with one another – small as it was to begin with – is closing. On September 1, the State Department restricted the use of U.S. passports to enter North Korea. Three weeks later, the Trump administration added North Korea to the list of countries whose nationals are barred from entering the United States.
To be sure, the number of people affected by either of these twin North Korea travel bans is relatively small, and the ban on North Korean entry to the United States will not have the same far-reaching consequences as the bans on entry from other, predominantly Muslim, countries has had. But as part of a long-term strategy to promote change within North Korea, the United States should be actively encouraging contact with the North Korean people – not arbitrarily
When I first traveled to North Korea as a U.S. Senate staff member in 2002, I discovered that North Korean officials were poorly informed about the United States’ system of government and political culture, and were making significant decisions based on faulty analysis. Over time, I realized the same dilemmas applied to Americans attempting to analyze or make policy decisions about North Korea. I have found that having direct interactions with North Koreans, from across as broad a spectrum of their society as is possible, has provided an important counterweight to this mutual tendency toward misperception.