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April 17, 2007

I-House hosts speaker double-header

International House played host to two prominent campus events, “The Current Security and Economic Situation on the Korean Peninsula” and a reading by the famous Soviet dissident poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, on Thursday.

The first event, sponsored by the World Beyond the Headlines Program, featured speeches from Alexander Vershbow, the United States ambassador to the Republic of Korea (South Korea), and Lee Tae-sik, the South Korean ambassador to the United States.

Vershbow and Lee spoke on a variety of topics including the South Korea–U.S. alliance, the new free trade agreement (FTA) between South Korea and the United States, and the six-party talks with North Korea regarding their nuclear weapons program.

In his speech, Lee stressed the importance of the alliance between South Korea and the United States, calling it “one of the most successful alliances in history.” He thanked the Korean War veterans present for their sacrifices and said that the alliance helped both nations overcome difficult times.

He said that the FTA that the U.S. and South Korea concluded earlier this month is the most significant pact between the two nations since the signing of their military alliance in 1953. An economic alliance between the U.S. and South Korea will further add to their security-based alliance, he said.

The agreement will serve as a springboard toward South Korea developing an advanced economy, and citizens from both nations will ultimately be better off because of it, he said.

Ambassador Vershbow said that the FTA is a powerful and important symbol of the South Korean—American alliance and that he felt honored to be serving as ambassador to South Korea in such an important time in its history.

“If, like me, you have recently spent any time in Seoul, you know the nation of Korea is on the rise,” he said.

Vershbow also discussed the importance of the South Korean—American alliance in the six-party talks.

“The [South] Koreans have worked closely with us in the resumption of the six-party talks and sending a message to the North,” he said. “We expect the North Koreans to fufill their agreement to shut down their nuclear facility.”

He said that the end of the North Korean nuclear program is an ambitious goal, but thinks it can be done in the 2008 North Korean election if citizens want it.

“It is essential that we end this nuclear threat or we face the possibility of nuclear proliferation,” Lee said.

Many students, faculty, and community members gathered later that afternoon for Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poetry reading, one of three events he participated in while visiting campus last week.

Yevtushenko, one of the most famous living Russian poets, began by asking how many Russian speakers were in the audience in order to determine if he should read his poems in Russian as well. A large number of Russian speakers were in attendance, so he and two helpers read the poems in both English and Russian.

“I hope you feel the difference between the translation and the Russian original,” Yevtushenko said before starting one poem.

His poem, “The Execution of Stenka Razin,” was read by two English speakers with Yevtushenko repeating their words in Russian.

He said that rhymes are different in the English language than they are in Russian, so when poems are translated, the original rhymes are lost. He noted the importance of rhyme in poetry, saying that they add charm to a poem and help the author and audience remember it.