American Chancellor of North Korean university sees hope of detente with US

Key Points
  • An American chancellor of a major North Korean university has been unable to do his job for a year after U.S. citizens were banned from travelling to the reclusive state.
  • Chan-Mo Park of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology said that he hoped improving relations between North Korea and the U.S. would eventually loosen rules.
People watch the news on television at a train station in Seoul, South Korea.
Chung Sung-Jun | Getty Images

Since Americans were barred from traveling to North Korea last year, an academic at one of Pyongyang's top schools hasn't been able to return to his job.

U.S. citizen Chan-Mo Park, who was born in South Korea, is the chancellor of Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST). He has been working with the privately funded school since 2000, but could not travel back to the reclusive country after Washington issued travel restrictions for Americans in September 2017.

But Park expressed optimism in a Wednesday interview with CNBC's Geoff Cutmore that relations between the world's largest economy and the isolated state could improve.

Recent meetings between the two Koreas, as well as President Donald Trump's historic face-to-face summit with North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un, indicate "a big improvement in reconciliation," the academic said on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok.

"Eventually, with more bilateral meetings with the United States and North Korea, I hope they relax regulations," he said.

The travel ban was introduced after American student Otto Warmbier died following his release from a North Korean prison. Park said that while he understood the safety concerns behind the U.S. State Department's decision, he felt "so safe" during his 17 years in the North.

PUST conducts classes in English and many of its lecturers are foreigners. But, unlike other educational institutes, PUST enjoys access to the internet, Park said.

Students are keen to learn about the outside world, he said.

"We are trying very hard to make students globalized, so, eventually, they will globalize their country," he added.