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U.S. ambassador on futures of Iraq and North Korea

Steve Chiotakis Jan 11, 2012

Steve Chiotakis: In Iraq this week — more violence. Roadside bombs killed one person and injured more than a dozen others. Security forces there are fighting to keep order after the vast majority of U.S. troops pulled out at the end of the year.

Christopher Hill is former Ambassador to Iraq. He was also U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, where he helped negotiate with North Korea over its nuclear weapons ambitions. And he’s with us now to talk about the economic futures of both countries. Ambassor Hill, welcome to Marketplace.

Chris Hill: My pleasure.

Chiotakis: Now we’ve seen some violence in Iraq of late, ever since American troops pulled out of Iraq in December. What does that mean, do you think, for the country’s economic future?

Hill: Well first of all, I think the country has a pretty good economic future. As you know, they opened these oil service leases to the international oil companies, including with Exxon and BP and Shell. There are a lot of companies in there doing big infrastructure projects, including oil pipeline deals, highways, etc. The problem with the country is they have never sorted out this Sunni-Shia rift. It’s a country where the Sunni world meets the Shia world, and it hasn’t been easy to sort out.

Chiotakis: Oil exports, of course, is Iraq’s economy — that’s what it’s all about. Is there, do you think, a more diversified economy down the pike?

Hill: Well I think there certainly is. In terms of Middle East agriculture, I think Iraq has really something to offer. But under Saddam Hussein — like just about everything else — that also kind of atrophied. For now, I think the economy is very oil-focused, but in the longer run, I think you’ll see it more diversified.

Chiotakis: You spent a lot of time in North Korea to lead the U.S. delegation aimed at solving this nuclear crisis. How do you think that the economy will fare under Kim Jong-Un?

Hill: The Chinese are always suggesting to the North Koreans, ‘You’ve got to do what we did,’ which is open up the economy, get foreign investors in. The North Koreans, I think, are pretty reluctant to do that, and they are reluctant because as soon as North Koreans see what is out there, they’ll see that there’s a lot better world out there, and that would be the end of this funny little country. So I wish for the sake of those 22 million people that they too have a kind of ‘North Korean Spring.’

Chiotakis: Chris Hill is the former ambassador to Iraq. Ambassador Hill, thank you for joining us.

Hill: My pleasure.

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