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U.S. Envoy Says Missile Test Further Isolates North Korea

July 5, 2006 at 6:10 PM EDT

GWEN IFILL: The point man for the North Korea negotiations is Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill. He joins us from the State Department.

With 24 hours looking back on what happened yesterday with this series of missile launch tests, how serious do you think this was?

CHRISTOPHER HILL, Assistant Secretary of State: Well, I mean, they have been signaling for several weeks now that they were intending to have a launch.

And just about every responsible country in the world weighed in against it, and then they went ahead and did it anyway. So, the first thing they have done is to unite us all. There was a good discussion in the U.N. Security Council today, and I’m looking forward to getting out to the region, having some good discussions, and seeing what we can do next.

GWEN IFILL: There — everyone from the president to the secretary of state has said that this was a provocation. What do you think the provocation they were provoking, exactly?

CHRISTOPHER HILL: Well, the provocation is that — you know, we put out, last September, a pretty in-depth agreement, an agreement in principle on how we could denuclearize North Korea, and, in return, they would be offered an open road into the international community.

And, so, instead, they seem to want to go in another direction. And this also comes after just about a week or two ago, when China proposed that we have an informal meeting of the six parties. So, it’s certainly — it provokes a reaction in us. It provokes a reaction in their neighbors and their partners. So, it is a provocation.

GWEN IFILL: The reaction they intended, do you think?

CHRISTOPHER HILL: Well, I think the North Koreans are learning the law of unintended consequences. But I mean, they have, I think, really united us.

I mean, we are very concerned about this. The — we have been talking to our South Korean allies, our Japanese allies. And we’re going to start having some in-depth discussions with the Chinese. And we’re going to see what we can do.

What is very important about this, though, is, we have got to work together. We have really got to make this a multilateral process, because it’s not a bilateral problem.

GWEN IFILL: You talk about unintended consequences. I presume those consequences would be meted out by the United Nations Security Council you alluded to earlier. What would those consequences be?

CHRISTOPHER HILL: Well, again, the issue is not what the Security Council may or may not do, although, obviously, they’re having discussions, really, as we speak.

But the issue is really what we can do together as an international community, in particular, what the six parties can do. And I think what the North Koreans hoped for, if one can kind of find some logic to what they have done, is that, somehow, in firing off these missiles, they could say, we need a better deal.

Well, they’re not going to get a better deal through this. In fact, what they’re going to face is a six-party process that is more united than ever before, and, frankly, a Security Council discussion which was pretty — which had a lot of unanimity.

A clear statement for isolation

Christopher Hill
Assistant Secretary of State
The North Koreans have engaged in these weapons programs for some 20 years or more. This is not something that just started a couple of years ago. They have been at this, frankly speaking, since the 1970s.

GWEN IFILL: Remind our viewers who these six parties are, and explain to them why it is that they haven't met for six months, if it's such an effective group.

CHRISTOPHER HILL: Well, actually, it was nine months.

GWEN IFILL: Nine months.

CHRISTOPHER HILL: But I will explain that, too.

The six parties -- you know, originally, or back in the 1990s, we were trying to deal with this bilaterally. And it was basically the U.S. and North Korea. And the U.S. and North Korea was not prepared, really, to reach agreement.

When they wrote the -- when they reached agreements, they broke those agreements. So, in recent years, and with President Bush, we have engaged in a multilateral process, with the understanding that this involves not just the U.S., but also its neighbors.

So, Japan is a part of that. South Korea is part of that. China and Russia are all part of the six-party process. And the point is that when we reach settlement -- and I do believe that, at some point, we will reach a settlement -- all of these countries have a role to play.

Part of the draft, the September agreement, was that North Korea needs energy. Well, South Korea is going to be providing them energy. They need economic assistance. Japan was prepared, under the September agreement, to provide that kind of economic assistance. We're prepared to help them -- help North Korea get into international organizations.

So, we all have a role to play, and that's why it's important that it be a multilateral process.

GWEN IFILL: Except it seems that the sixth party, North Korea, has never really been an honest broker or party to these talks.

And, as you pointed out, there has been this delay in actually getting any movement. It would seem that, if you're going to fire off six, 10 missiles, however many it turns out they fired off yesterday, that's a pretty effective way of saying, we don't want to play.

CHRISTOPHER HILL: Well, I don't know how effective it, but it certainly was effective in terms of bringing us very closely together.

Look, the North Koreans have engaged in these weapons programs for some 20 years or more. I mean, this is not something that just started a couple of years ago. They have been at this, frankly speaking, since the 1970s. So, they agreed, in principle, to abandon these programs, to abandon the nuclear programs.

And, clearly, they're having some problem making the fundamental decision, the fundamental choice. And what I do mean by that fundamental choice? What I'm talking about is, North Korea, they have one road which really leads to interaction with the international community, and the other leads to deeper isolation. And they're obviously having a tough time making that decision.

I think, to most people, that decision should be obvious. To North Korean leadership, I think it takes a little more time.

GWEN IFILL: You don't believe the decision has already been made in favor of isolation?

CHRISTOPHER HILL: Well, you know, I think, if you look at what is going on in the region, the extraordinary development of China, the continued extraordinary development of South Korea, I think it's becoming increasingly clear to people in North Korea -- and we know some of this from refugee reports and the like -- that there is a growing understanding in that country of how far behind they're being left.

So, I would not assume that time really is standing still, even in North Korea.

Seeking international cooperation

Gwen Ifill

GWEN IFILL: You leave tonight for Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, Moscow, the capitals of the nations actively involved in these six-party talks.

Especially in the case of Beijing and Moscow, what is the message you're carrying, because they have resisted some of the sanctions, the tougher sanctions, that nations like Japan have been pushing for?

CHRISTOPHER HILL: Well, actually, we have had some good discussions with all of them. Secretary Rice was up very late on the Fourth of July, past midnight, reaching out to all of her counterparts in the six-party process, including the foreign ministers of China and the foreign minister of Russia.

So, our message is that we want to work together. We want to work together on a diplomatic solution. We also want to work together on ways to really, security ways to protect ourselves against what is clearly a threat from North Korea.

And I think what is heartening is, everyone agrees with this principle. The issue is, how can we find means, effective means, means that will work, to dissuade North Korea from this, get them back to the table, and get them implementing the September agreement?

GWEN IFILL: You talk about the clear threat from North Korea. That long-range missile, which was the one everyone had been watching and the one that allegedly, possibly could reach the United States, that was the one that failed within a minute after it took off yesterday. Do you still believe it to be as serious a threat, when the capability seemed to be so limited?

CHRISTOPHER HILL: Well, you know, I have said before I'm not really a rocket scientist.

But, from what I understand, when you test something, you learn some things. And then you try it again. And, presumably, you learn other things. So, from the point of view of learning things, they may well have learned things.

And I think what's important is that we not stand around or sit around and wait for them to finally have a successful test, and then announce that they have got nuclear weapons and a delivery system.

So, I think we do have to regard it with great concern. And I think we do need to work together with our partners.

In need of diplomacy and a decision

Christopher Hill
Assistant Secretary of State
North Korea is going to have to make a decision. I know it's a tough decision... But they're going to have to make a decision, because, clearly, their neighbors will not accept them going ahead with this.

GWEN IFILL: And, finally, I want to ask you about the negotiations, not only that are under way at the United Nations tonight, but also what you plan to do on this trip. How much of progress can be claimed in the next week or two from negotiation, from intensive diplomacy, as the secretary has put it, and how much action has to follow that?

CHRISTOPHER HILL: Well, I think we have to, you know, look at not just one track. I mean, we're obviously going to have to be working with our partners about how to protect ourselves.

After all, we had a little country firing off six missiles in different directions. You know, clearly, this is a threat to a number of countries in the region. So, we have to look at the whole issue of how to defend ourselves. So, that's one issue.

But the other issue is how to get a diplomatic process. This is an -- this overall issue of North Korea and its nuclear programs needs a diplomatic process. We have got a very good process. The fact that we haven't gotten there with a solution, I don't think really should reflect on the process. I think it should reflect on the North Koreans.

Ultimately, North Korea is going to have to make a decision. I know it's a tough decision. They have been at these programs for many, many years, but they're going to have a decision, because -- have to make a decision, because, clearly, their neighbors will not accept them going ahead with this.

GWEN IFILL: Ambassador Christopher Hill, thank you very much.