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Rice Calls for International Action on North Korea

April 6, 2009 at 6:15 PM EDT
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U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said the Obama administration would seek a global response to the crisis prompted by this weekend's missile test by North Korea.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: After days of anticipation, the missile launch was announced with a triumphant flourish on North Korean state television.

Today, a North Korean official said Kim Jong-il was at the launch site yesterday. The reclusive North Korean leader has reportedly been recovering from a stroke.

CHOI BAE JIN, Chief Director, North Korean National Planning Committee: We cannot hide our joy and excitement over this achievement and the news of Kim Jong-il visiting the launch site and watching the satellite launch.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There is no indication that the rocket and the satellite it was said to carry went into orbit, despite North Korean claims to the contrary. Rather, the three-stage missile ended up somewhere in the western Pacific Ocean.

Lee Sang-Hee is the defense minister for South Korea.

LEE SANG-HEE, Defense Minister, South Korea (through translator): What we have judged is that the first level, second level, and the third level all fell into the sea, and, for now, we have estimated that nothing has been put into orbit.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The rocket, most likely the Taepodong-2 intercontinental ballistic missile, did manage to fly more than 2,000 miles. The test deepened concerns that the North is inching ever closer to developing a missile capable of both carrying a nuclear weapon and reaching the western United States.

There was near-unanimous condemnation of the launch. President Obama spoke in the Czech Republic yesterday.

BARACK OBAMA: North Korea’s development of a ballistic missile capability, regardless of the stated purpose of this launch, is aimed at providing it with the ability to threaten countries near and far with weapons of mass destruction.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The timing of the launch collided with the larger purpose of the president’s speech in Prague, a call for global nuclear disarmament.

BARACK OBAMA: I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.

I’m not naive. This goal will not be reached quickly, perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change. We have to insist, yes, we can.

North Korean launch failed

Susan Rice
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.
Even a failed launch is problematic, and it is illegal and needs to be responded to clearly and with strength by the international community.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president outlined his plan, which includes less U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons in its defense strategy; a renegotiated Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, with Russia; the U.S. will ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; and Mr. Obama urged a new treaty to end the production of weapons-grade fissile material and a revitalized nonproliferation treaty.

Such treaties would require not only the approval of the U.S. Congress, but cooperation among the major powers in the United Nations.

Yet this weekend's discussions at the U.N. Security Council failed to reach any accord on responding to the North Korean missile launch. Russia and China blocked action. The Chinese urged a go-slow approach. Consultations continued today among Security Council members.

For more on the story, I spoke to the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, earlier today.

Ambassador Susan Rice, thank you for joining us.

SUSAN RICE, U.N. Ambassador: Good to be with you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is the United States certain that this missile fell into the Pacific Ocean and isn't up orbiting the Earth as a satellite, as the North Koreans say?

SUSAN RICE: Judy, the best information we have is that there's no evidence that there is any object in orbit as a result of this missile launch yesterday. So it would seem that the North Koreans' claims of a satellite broadcasting music from Kim Jong-il is, in fact, not the case and that this was, in fact, a failed attempt.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, now analysts are saying that, even if it did fall into the sea, it evidently traveled something like twice as far as any missile they've fired before has gone, and therefore it demonstrated progress on their part. Do you agree with that assessment?

SUSAN RICE: I'm not a technical analyst, and so I wouldn't want to make a technical assessment. What I will say is that this is something that the United States and our partners in the region, our allies, Japan and South Korea in particular, take very seriously.

The reason we urge that this not happen and the reason why we are working for strong international action as a consequence is because any ballistic-missile related activity -- whether a satellite, a failed or successful launch -- not only violates international law and previous United Nations Security Council resolutions, but is designed to advance their ballistic missile capability.

So even a failed launch is problematic, and it is illegal and needs to be responded to clearly and with strength by the international community.

U.N. consensus will take time

Susan Rice
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.
We're now in the process of going into smaller group consultations with key member states to try to forge an agreement on both the form and the substance of the appropriate response.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, hand in hand with that, the argument is made that this newly demonstrated ability is going to end up giving the North Koreans more clout in future negotiations over arms control.

SUSAN RICE: I don't think a failed launch -- if that's, in fact, what we're dealing with -- gives them more clout. The bottom-line goal that we are all trying to achieve -- the United States and our partners in the six-party talks -- is the verifiable and permanent denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. That's the goal.

We want to prevent North Korea not only from maintaining and growing its nuclear weapons capability, but having the ability to have systems that can deliver those weapons and potentially proliferate those systems.

The larger picture here is that a North Korea with nuclear weapons adds to the larger proliferation risk. And our aim, working with partners in the six parties, is to prevent that from happening.

JUDY WOODRUFF: If that's the long-range goal, then what's the shorter-range goal? We know that President Obama said yesterday there needs to be a strong international response. He talked about nations need to stand shoulder to shoulder to pressure the North Koreans to stop this sort of thing. How do you do that?

SUSAN RICE: The short-term imperative is to try to demonstrate that actions such as this, violations of international law and international obligations, have consequences. So we will work in a variety of channels, one of which is up here at the United Nations Security Council, to send that message in a clear fashion to North Korea.

Yesterday, Judy, we had an initial meeting of the Security Council where countries came in and presented their respective positions. Out of that, there was broad agreement that there was concern on the part of all 15 member states that this was a serious action that undermined regional peace and security and, indeed, international peace and security.

Different countries had different prescriptions for how best to proceed. We're now in the process of going into smaller group consultations with key member states to try to forge an agreement on both the form and the substance of the appropriate response.

So this is a process that will take at a minimum some days. If people think about an analogy, the Security Council -- indeed, the United Nations -- is not much different than our Congress. It takes time to gain agreement on a piece of legislation or, in the case of the Security Council, a statement or a resolution.

Emphasis on six-party talks

Susan Rice
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.
We all hope to be in a position to see the six-party talks continue. So that's a shared goal among all of us that are consulting here and all of us who are members of the Security Council.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, just to keep up that analogy, isn't the political reality, as long as the Chinese and the Russians, among others, believe that there needs to be a cautious response, aren't you inevitably going to have a hard time coming back with a strong -- the consequences that you say the U.S. would like to see take place?

SUSAN RICE: Indeed, this is the challenge. But the encouraging aspect of this is that the Russians and the Chinese share a national interest, as we do, in preventing North Korea from having the nuclear capability that it has and that it seeks.

So we agree on the goal. What we disagree about to some extent -- and there are shades of disagreement; it's not black and white -- are on the best means to achieve that.

And so we're entering the context of these discussions and negotiations, fortunately, with a shared objective. Each of these countries -- China, Russia, the United States, Japan, South Korea, and others -- had delivered in advance of this launch a clear message to North Korea that this would not be helpful and would, indeed, be destabilizing. They, too, feel some degree of frustration and disappointment that that message was not heeded.

And it's against that backdrop that we're now talking about how to keep this process going forward so that we can achieve the shared goal of denuclearization while conveying to North Korea that its actions have consequences and that it can't violate international law and its commitments with impunity.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what do you say to those arguments that the U.S. has to be careful and the Japanese and the South Koreans, for that matter, not to overreact, that it may make better sense now to try to engage the North Koreans, that that may be the path that is most likely to bring them in the direction you're trying to move them?

SUSAN RICE: Well, engagement and strong action needn't be mutually exclusive. And, indeed, we all hope to be in a position to see the six-party talks continue. So that's a shared goal among all of us that are consulting here and all of us who are members of the Security Council.

But the question, Judy, is, what message does it send to North Korea? And, indeed, what implications does it have for the six-party talks if they conclude from this process that they can act with impunity?

So the U.S. view is, frankly, that to strengthen the six-party talks and to ensure their continued viability, North Korea needs to understand from this experience that the international community will uphold its end of the bargain and it needs to uphold its end.

Obama's long and short-term goals

Susan Rice
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.
We won't take steps that are unilateral, but we need to reaffirm that we will leave a safer world to our children and grandchildren, if, indeed, there are fewer nuclear weapons and ultimately no nuclear weapons.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And is there a particular step that can be taken that's going to get their attention that hasn't done so before?

SUSAN RICE: Well, one can't be certain. But I think what experience shows is that, when we act together and impose some penalty, as was done after their missile launch in 2006 and, indeed, after their nuclear test, that led for a period of time to progress in the six-party context, the actual dismantlement of the Yongbyon nuclear facility, which was a step in the right direction. And now that progress has stalled and North Korea has acted in the way it did over the weekend.

The United States' view is that the most important message to convey to North Korea is not only that we seek denuclearization through the six-party process, but that we're serious, when the international community passes a legally binding resolution, that that resolution needs to be respected and implemented, and when eventually we reach, if we do, agreement in the six-party context that the commitments that are made need to be implemented.

So we view action in this context as reinforcing of the goals that we're trying to achieve in the six-party context.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, and very briefly, of course, the president gave a major address over the weekend about long-term plans to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Is that goal consistent with what you were trying to get the North Koreans to do right now? How can what you're trying to do in the short term fold into that longer-term goal?

SUSAN RICE: It's absolutely consistent. Indeed, what the North Koreans did only underscores the urgency of the goal that the president reaffirmed yesterday.

For the United States to recommit itself to the obligation that we undertook in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that many other states undertook, which was to work towards disarmament and the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons, is something that manifestly serves our national security interests.

We are safer if there are not nuclear arsenals around the planet that can be utilized, stolen, sold to terrorists and others who would do harm.

This effort to get to that goal is not something we'll undertake unilaterally. We will maintain a safe, secure, reliable nuclear arsenal until other countries give up their nuclear weapons.

But what he committed to yesterday was to work with Russia and others to negotiate significant reductions in our arsenals to thereby give us greater international support as we work to ensure that countries like North Korea don't pursue their nuclear programs.

So we see these as mutually reinforcing. We won't take steps that are unilateral, but we need to reaffirm that we will leave a safer world to our children and grandchildren, if, indeed, there are fewer nuclear weapons and ultimately no nuclear weapons.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, thank you very much.

SUSAN RICE: Good to be with you.