Against a backdrop of rising tensions and distrust between the United States and North Korea, fueled largely by North Korea’s ongoing nuclear weapons program, a U.S. intelligence officer offers an analytical peek inside the strange and secretive East Asian country in the final installment of Lawrence University’s four-part international studies lecture series “Pariah States and Policy Responses.”

John Merrill, chief of the U.S. State Department’s Northeast Asia Division of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, presents “Reading North Korea” Tuesday, April 4 at 7 p.m. in the Wriston Art Center auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

In his talk, Merrill will address the proposition that despite North Korea’s feisty, independent and highly nationalistic nature, the regime of Kim Jong-Il, in its own strange way, actually does want to establish a better relationship with the United States and pursue limited economic reform — so long as it believes it can do so without endangering its own social stability or national security.

Through an examination of North Korean’s history, culture and perceived national interests, Merrill will outline the complicated challenges the United States, others in the region and the international community as a whole face in dealing with North Korea and ending its nuclear program.

Merrill has written widely on foreign policy issues and is the author of numerous journal articles and three books, including 1989’s “Korea: The Peninsular Origins of the War,” in which he examines the local backdrop of the war, including large-scale civil unrest, insurgency and border clashes before the North Korean attack in June, 1950.

Appointed chief of the State Department’s Northeast Asia Division, Bureau of Intelligence and Research in 2000, Merrill also holds a professorial lecturer position at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. In addition, he has taught or held research positions at Georgetown University, George Washington University, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Lafayette College, Korea University in Seoul and the University of Delaware.

Merrill has been the recipient of many awards, including a Fulbright Fellowship, the Council of Graduate Schools in the United States Dissertation Award and the Director of Central Intelligence Exceptional Analyst Award.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Boston University, a master’s degree in East Asian Studies from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Delaware.

The “Pariah States and Policy Responses” lecture series is sponsored by the Mojmir Povolny Lectureship in International Studies. Named in honor of long-time Lawrence government professor Mojmir Povolny, the lectureship promotes interest and discussion on issues of moral significance and ethical dimensions.