MARGARET WARNER: The State Department's point man on North Korea, James Kelly, held out the prospect of energy assistance today if Pyongyang stands down from its plans to restart its nuclear weapons program.
JAMES KELLY: Once we can get beyond nuclear weapons, there may be opportunities with the U.S., with private investors, with other countries to help North Korea in the energy area. We are of course willing to talk to North Korea about their response to the international community, particularly with respect to elimination of nuclear weapons.
MARGARET WARNER: It's the first public offer from Washington since the North Korea nuclear confrontation erupted in October. There was no immediate response from Pyongyang. Kelly's remarks follow a weekend of mixed signals from the North. On Saturday, it staged a noisy anti-U.S. rally in the capital and threatened to resume ballistic missile tests. On Friday, North Korea pulled out of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. And its state media issued a barrage of belligerent rhetoric, warning that the North would "turn the citadel of imperialists into a sea of fire." Yet, in recent days in New Mexico, North Korean diplomats held three days of unofficial talks with Gov. Bill Richardson.
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: Ambassador Han has expressed to me North Korea's willingness to have better relations with the U.S. He told me that the government of North Korea wants to resolve the nuclear issue through dialogue. Further Ambassador Han told me, and I think this is important, that North Korea has no intention of building nuclear weapons.
MARGARET WARNER: Richardson, who's mediated past disputes with North Korea as a congressman and U.N. ambassador, said Pyongyang often takes a belligerent tone in advance of negotiations. At the White House, today, spokesman Ari Fleischer disputed the suggestion that Kelly's offer amounted to rewarding nuclear blackmail by the North. For more on today's comments by Assistant Secretary Kelly, and how the U.S. is handling the North Korea issue, we turn to Wendy Sherman, former State Department counselor and special advisor on Korea to President Clinton and Secretary of State Albright. And Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl -- today he introduced legislation to end all food aid to North Korea, re-impose economic sanctions lifted in 1999, and interdict weapons-related shipments in to and out of North Korea. Welcome to you both. Wendy Sherman, Assistant Secretary Kelly's statements today, does this look to you like a change in position on the Bush administration's part?
WENDY SHERMAN: Well, I think what's most important, Margaret, is that we stop having talks by press release. I think it's terribly important that the United States take the initiative to name a time, a place, a date, and a talker or dialogue maker if you don't want to call the person a negotiator, and ask the North Koreans to come and meet the talk.
MARGARET WARNER: But is that what Secretary Kelly was signaling today, or something less than that, how do you read that?
WENDY SHERMAN: I think what he was signaling today was, we will give you some inducements, there will be some incentives, as Sen. Lugar, the new chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said, you need to show them there is light at the end of the tunnel. I think that's what the signal was. But I think the time is past to give signals through the press.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator, did it appear to you as if the bush administration was offering inducements?
SEN. JON KYL: I don't know, quite frankly. I think though that the North Koreans are well aware there are plenty of carrots out there, that's what they've been given in the past. The problem is that we've had no sticks, and with the North Koreans it's been very clear that talk alone doesn't solve anything, because they violate agreements that they make. And so for those who suggest that we need to talk to the North Koreans, and I have nothing against that, it seem to me that we first have to change the facts on the ground. We have to change the dynamic and make it clear to the North Koreans that there are some sticks involved in this too, in other words, the kinds of things that were in the legislation that Sen. McCain and I introduced today that would change the situation right now so that they would have an incentive to sit down and talk and make an agreement with us that's enforceable, not just carrots but sticks as well.
MARGARET WARNER: So you would see the two things proceeding on parallel tracks, both the tougher steps in your legislation, and talks?
SEN. JON KYL: Yes, as a matter of fact I can't imagine anybody disagreeing with the proposition that we ought to have a U. N. resolution at least as tough with North Korea as we have with Iraq -- Resolution 661 -- which imposes a quarantine on export and import into and out of Iraq. Surely we ought to be interdict weapons of mass destruction being shipped from North Korea to all parts of the world.
MARGARET WARNER: What about that idea, Wendy Sherman, you're suggesting have talks. Do they have a better chance of success if there are some big sticks also?
WENDY SHERMAN: I think the fundamental core of this whole issue is that North Korea thinks we have the biggest stick there is, and that is that we are the most powerful military nation on the earth, they have seen us bomb Yugoslavia and bring Milosevic to his knees, they see that we're considering war with Iraq to bring Saddam Hussein to his knees, both of which needed to happen. And they are wondering whether they're next. So in many ways the biggest stick is who we are and the military might we have, and I certainly appreciate what Sen. Kyl and Sen. McCain have done today. But our negotiating experience with North Korea seems to show that if you push too, too hard, they're likely to go in the other direction. Unfortunately, war with Iraq may say to the North Koreans they're next. And rather than them being more conciliatory and taking a step back from the very dangerous position they have placed themselves and more importantly us and the world in, it will send them in the other direction and that will not be good for our security.
MARGARET WARNER: Is that possible, Sen. Kyl? I notice that the North Koreans have said publicly that they would regard sanctions as an act of war.
SEN. JON KYL: Well, of course. They would regard any action opposite their interest as they define I as an act of war or at least something to complain about. Wendy Sherman makes the point, I think, that what you have to have is a combination of inducements or incentives to have good results from talks, and that's true. What we've seen in the past is that the carrots without the sticks though have not worked. North Korea has violated the agreements that it made with the Clinton administration. And those violations occurred long before the Bush administration came into office. The intelligence shows that they were in fact reprocessing uranium for -- to obtain the fissile material to obtain nuclear weapons starting several years ago -- put it that way. So what you need to do is to change the dynamic and have them appreciate the fact that there will be a down side to their not coming together with us and agreeing upon dismantling their nuclear weaponry in a verifiable fashion.
MARGARET WARNER: When you talk about having talks, Wendy Sherman, to what end if, as apparently even the North Koreans have admitted, though now they're backing off on that a little, they were violating this '94 agreement for years secretly. What is the use of talks, what is the use of agreements if you don't know if they're being complied with?
WENDY SHERMAN: Well, the fact is that the agreed framework which was negotiated in 1994 when we were at a similar crisis point kept the North Koreans from reprocessing enough plutonium to by now have made 50 to 100 bombs. So those who say the agreed framework didn't accomplish anything, it did accomplish that. North Korea does not, to our knowledge, and I think that Sen. Kyl would agree, to our knowledge have any or plutonium than enough for the one to two bombs we thought they had for some time. So we did stop that. People also say about the agreed framework that it was all carrot and no stick, but in fact, North Korea didn't get the key components for the light water reactors that we were putting in place to replace this terrible reactor that, they wouldn't get those key component until they told us everything about the history of their nuclear program, allowed full IAEA -- International Atomic Energy Agency --inspections and really opened up to us in a verifiable way. So I think it was very carefully crafted. It is very dangerous what they have done by starting this highly enriched uranium program, --
MARGARET WARNER: Which is separate from the plutonium.
WENDY SHERMAN: -- which is separate from the plutonium. And we should get more for more. When we sit down for these talks, we should get more for more, we should have some of these inspections happen sooner rather than later as a result of the dangerous things they have done.
MARGARET WARNER: If talks proceed, Senator, what do you think the U.S. should be aiming for and insisting on? I notice Ari Fleischer said today whatever it is, he's talking about what North Korea has to do first, it needs to be verifiable, it needs to be dismantling, it need to be irreversible.
SEN. JON KYL: Those are three very good words and I think that's exactly right. In other words, freeze this time is not going to be good enough. We allowed them to keep everything there but simply put a cap on it and not use it, and of course they decided now to go ahead and use it, that's the plutonium processing facility, so by not having it dismantled it was just waiting there to be used again for blackmail by the leader of North Korea. So it does have to be dismantled, it has to be verifiable and that includes the uranium processing facility, which is not necessarily known at least we may not know precisely where it and is what it is, but we know it exists and they have now admitted it. So that's something we have to intrusively inspect and be able to verify has been dismantled.
MARGARET WARNER: Wendy Sherman, what do you think North Korea's intentions are here?
WENDY SHERMAN: It is very hard for us to know their true intentions, but I can speculate along with the best of them. I think what they want is the survival of their regime, and they think that the United States of America is the greatest threat to that survival. And so when they talk about wanting a nonaggression treaty, something similar to what Secretary Albright and Vice Marshall Choate signed in October 2000 that the Bush administration did not want to sign onto, that we have no hostile intent toward each other, that doesn't mean that you take all options off the table. It means that you have no hostile intent, you're going to try to proceed down a road to a more positive relationship. And that's what that I think they want fundamentally.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Kyl, do you think that's what they want, this nonaggression agreement, and do you think it's something the United States should be willing to do?
SEN. JON KYL: I think that's part of it. I also think they want the fuel oil and the other equipment and materials and supplies that they are now beginning to demand again from us. They're the one of the poorest countries on earth. And basically they survive based upon what people are able to ship in there for their use. So I think they want both of those things. And we don't have any hostile intentions toward North Korea, but I do agree it would be a mistake to take off the table any potential military action since you don't know what that regime itself might do and how you might need to react to it. I think as long as they understand that that's always a potential for bad behavior on their part, that's one of those sticks out there that could be used if need be.
MARGARET WARNER: Briefly from both of you, the president has said repeatedly he wants and believes this can be solved diplomatically. Do you believe that to be the case?
WENDY SHERMAN: I believe it can be solved diplomatically, but I think the time is fast approaching where we have to act a little more rapidly than we have been.
MARGARET WARNER: When you say rapidly, what do you mean? You mean still on the diplomatic track or --
WENDY SHERMAN: In the diplomatic track, and I think we need to sit down and have talks, I think we need to be doing the multilateral work we're doing with Russia and China and South Korea and Japan and the EU and others to have them put pressure on North Korea. But ultimately it's direct U.S.- North Korean talks that will solve this problem.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Kyl?
SEN. JON KYL: I much more favor the multilateral approach in invoking the other nations to assist us that Wendy Sherman just mentioned, and I also think it's important that we not be put in a box, as Dr. Henry Kissinger has said, where we're the only one negotiating with the North so that any mistakes are at our doorstep. The South Koreans and the Chinese at least and perhaps the Russians too should be brought into this. But again it's important for us to impose these sanctions and interdict shipments of weapons of mass destruction as a preliminary matter to the talks, or else North Korea won't feel the pressure to come to a verifiable and lasting agreement.
MARGARET WARNER: Sen. John Kyl, Wendy Sherman, thank you both.