Nieman News

Selig S. Harrison, a 1955 Nieman Fellow who covered Asia for The Washington Post and later became a preeminent authority on the region, died in Camden, Maine on December 30 due to complications from a blood disorder. He was 89.

Known as one of the leading foreign correspondents in Asia during the 1960s, Harrison was hired by the Post as bureau chief in New Delhi in 1962, and later served as the paper’s bureau chief in Tokyo. He became an important liaison with North Korea during his time with the Post, traveling to the country for the first time in 1972. Granted repeat interviews with Kim Il Sung, the father of Kim Jong Il, Harrison was a rare guest of the reclusive regime, returning to the country ten times over the next four decades.

Born in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania in 1927, Harrison began his career in journalism during World War II, editing the newsletter of the Great Lakes Training Station while serving in the Navy. He went on to study at Harvard University, where he served as president of the Crimson newspaper.

Following his graduation in 1949, Harrison joined the Associated Press as a foreign correspondent in South Asia and then served as the managing editor of The New Republic before being hired by The Washington Post. He left the paper in 1974 to join the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as a senior associate for more than two decades. Focusing on U.S.-Asia relations, he continued in academia, with appointments as a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, director of Asian studies at the Brookings Institution, and director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy. He was also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

He continued to be an influential figure in North Korea, meeting again with Kim Il Sung to help arrange the Agreed Framework, the 1994 agreement that suspended the country’s nuclear program. As part of the agreement, North Korea received incentives such as fuel and light-water reactors. The deal was suspended in 2002.

Even after leaving his journalism career, Harrison wrote frequent commentary and op-eds for publications including The New York Times and The Washington Post. He also wrote several books, including “India: The Most Dangerous Decades” (1960) and “Korean Endgame: A Strategy for Reunification and U.S. Disengagement” (2002).

Harrison is survived by his son, Cole Harrison of Boston, and daughter, Kathreen Harrison of Camden as well as a brother and four grandchildren.

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