MARGARET WARNER: When Bush administration officials revealed last week that North Korea had a nuclear weapons program underway, they also made clear it would meet the challenge through diplomacy, not war. At a White House meeting today with the NATO Secretary General, President Bush said he would work with regional allies to pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: It is a troubling discovery, and it's a discovery that we intend to work with our friends to deal with. And I believe we can do it peacefully. I look forward to working with people to encourage them that we must convince Kim Jong-il to disarm for the sake of peace.
MARGARET WARNER: The North Koreans admitted to bush officials two weeks ago that they had been working secretly to develop a nuclear device using enriched uranium in direct violation of North Korea's 1994 commitment to halt its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The North Koreans also told Bush officials that they had "more powerful things as well," suggesting to U.S. officials the possibility of other weapons of mass destruction. The parallels with Iraq immediately prompted questions about why the U.S. is threatening war against Baghdad, but not against North Korea. Yesterday, top administration officials defended the distinction.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: We don't have a cookie cutter foreign policy here where we assume that the circumstances are always the same. The cases are both very dangerous and we're concerned about both. But in Iraq, you have a country with which we have tried everything. Iraq is in a class by itself.
MARGARET WARNER: Appearing on "Meet the Press," Secretary of State Colin Powell sidestepped the opportunity to issue demands on North Korea.
MODERATOR: Will we allow North Korea to possess the bomb or two they already may have?
COLIN POWELL: We don't know if they have them. We suspect that they do, and they certainly have the capacity to have one or two bombs. But as my colleague Don Rumsfeld said the other day, we can't touch it. But we assume that they have that capability. We don't know where they might be. And so it's hard to say what we might do if we knew where they were.
MODERATOR: Must they give it up?
COLIN POWELL: Right now we don't know what it is they have. We have suspicions about what they have, but we have made it clear to them that the program has to be capped, and it can go no further. And that's been our policy ever since the agreed framework was entered into in 1994.
MARGARET WARNER: Bush officials did not say what they'd do if North Korea proves unresponsive to diplomatic pressure.
MARGARET WARNER: To explore all this, we turn to former CIA Director James Woolsey, former State Department and National Security Council official Morton Halperin, and Democratic Congressman Edward Markey of Massachusetts. Welcome, gentlemen.
Jim Woolsey, why threaten war against Iraq and not against North Korea?
JAMES WOOLSEY: Well, Margaret, both of these countries are terrible dictatorships and certainly deserve to be in the evil category, and both have some weapons of mass destruction. Both are engaged in proliferation in one way or another. But there are four big differences between them. And I think Condi Rice is exactly right to emphasize that Saddam is a bigger problem.
First, Saddam is a proven aggressor. He has started two wars, one against Iran in the 1980s, one against Kuwait in the 1990s. North Korea certainly was an aggressor in 1950, but that was over half a century ago and Kim Jong-il the current leader, although he's sort of a cross between Caligula and "Baby Doc" Duvalier so far hasn't started any wars.
Second, Iraq is a proven user of weapons of mass destruction. It has used chemical weapons against its own people, the Kurds in the North and against the Iranians in the Iran/Iraq War and used them extensively and brutally. North Korea as far as we know has not done that.
Third, it has, Iraq has current ties to important terrorist groups -- not only to the groups such as Hamas that are attacking in Israel, but also to al-Qaida. There's been a lot of debate about. This but the CIA letter of ten days ago made it quite explicit that al-Qaida and Iraq had ties going back a decade and furthermore Iraq has been training al-Qaida in the use of poisons and gases. Presumably the gases are not laughing gas. That means weapons of mass destruction.
And finally, and strategically in some ways most importantly, Iraq has a number of weak neighbors such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Gulf states, and it and they together control something approaching two thirds of the world's oil. When Saddam stopped right at the Kuwait-Saudi border in 1990 he was about 100 miles away from controlling over the half the world's oil.
North Korea, on the other hand, is bordered by four powerful states, much stronger than it, China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan. With us they are protecting Japan and South Korea. Three of those are nuclear powers, and there's not any resource in that part of Northeast Asia that North Korea could dominate the way Saddam could the oil of the world.
MARGARET WARNER: Ed Markey, do you agree with that, that Iraq is a greater threat so essentially it calls for tougher measures?
REP. EDWARD MARKEY: No. Iraq and North Korea share two things in common, three things in common. One, they each have a homicidal maniac running the country. Two, they are each attempting to obtain ballistic missiles, but North Korea is far ahead of Iraq. And third, they're each attempting to develop a nuclear pay load, but again Korea is far ahead of Iraq.
So in terms of what it is that is driving our concern with this axis of evil, North Korea is actually further ahead. We have actually known for some time that they had a clandestine nuclear weapons program, but they admitted it on the first week of October, but the Bush administration decided not to share that information with the United States Congress, with the board of directors, with all of us as we had to vote on what we were going to do in terms of the deployment of the diplomatic, military and economic strength of our country. And the justification in many ways for a Star Wars program is the ballistic missile program of North Korea. That's how great a threat it is -- an expenditure of $200 billion. Moreover --.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay, but come back to North Korea. Are you saying that then you think the Bush Administration should be tougher on North Korean it is being right now?
REP. EDWARD MARKEY: The Bush administration should already have introduced a resolution in the United Nations, asking for the Security Council to condemn North Korea. It should have already flat out canceled permanently the sale of two nuclear power plants, which unbelievably they are still continuing to consider sale to North Korea. And we should have cut off the sale of fuel oil to that country already, permanently, and that's the end of it, unless and until North Korea accepts full scope inspections by the International Atomic Agency, which they've kept out of their country for the last ten years.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Is that the answer, Mort Halperin, turn up the pressure on North Korea, essentially commensurate with the pressure on Iraq?
MORTON HALPERIN: No, I think we need to try to negotiate peaceful solutions with both countries, and we need to be willing to use force at the end of the day if we cannot resolve these problems peacefully. The fundamental difference between the two countries is that North Korea has the capacity within a very short period of time to inflict very large casualties on American forces, on American civilians, on South Koreans, and on Japanese.
And deterring the North Koreans from attacking, whether with conventional weapons or chemical weapons or nuclear weapons, is in my view a much more urgent task than dealing with the Iraqis. The Iraqis have been contained for eleven years, there is every reason to believe that we can continue to contain them to deter Saddam and to press ahead with vigorous inspections to keep them from further developing and ultimately disarming their weapons of mass destruction.
In the case of North Korea, we should be willing to negotiate. The administration's position has been it will not talk to the North Koreans about nuclear weapons and missiles, which they are eager to discuss, unless they are also willing to talk about conventional military forces. That in my view is a very dangerous position, and what we ought to be doing now is starting negotiations with the North Koreans to demand an end to their nuclear program and to their export of missiles.
MARGARET WARNER: Jim Woolsey, picking up on that, do you agree with the Bush administration that North Korea could be more amenable to international pressure, than Iraq is?
JAMES WOOLSEY: It's hard to say whether North Korea is going to be more amenable. It's done some strange things recently. I was somewhat please it at its confession of error in intruding on South Korea's waters with its navy and letting the kidnapped people go back from North Korea to Japan. It looks, though, it's not clear, you never know what North Korea is doing really, but it looks as if this rather aggressive admission of violation may be an attempt to blackmail us out of more food, more oil, something. And it just doesn't seem to me, I mean I tilt toward Congressman Markey on how firmly to deal with them, rather than toward my old friend Mort Halperin on this one.
MARGARET WARNER: So, in other words, you would go more with his idea that really cut off the fuel oil shipments, stop building the nuclear reactor, go the U.N., and really put them under pressure?
JAMES WOOLSEY: I would at least threaten to do that. I think we need to be firm with them when they admit that they've been in solid violation for years of this thing that was trumpeted so much back in '94.
MORTON HALPERIN: I think we need to be clear that the agreement we had with them was just to stop production of weapons grade plutonium from the particular reactor that was part of their agreement. There was a longer run commitment ultimately to get rid of nuclear weapons. But it is simply not true that the process that they've now admitted to violates the framework agreement. That does not mean that it's not a threat and it does not mean that we should not deal with it. But we need to deal with it by negotiating with them.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me get Ed Markey back in here. Congressman Markey, the administration is saying essentially, they're not yet accepting the offer from North Korea. North Korea today said they would like to open a dialogue about these issues. Now that would be the opposite tack from what you were suggesting sooner. But, in other words, do you think the Administration should be willing to offer a carrot to the North Koreans?
REP. EDWARD MARKEY: I think that that would be a big mistake. I think that the Bush doctrine of preemption, which is only one month old, is already dead. It's obvious that they are not going to use the same policy for Iraq or forth North Korea or for Iran that they use for Iraq. So let's end that.
But even though military force may not be justified everywhere, we can't negotiate with the North Koreans that have a deep-seated pathology, as though they are going to be honest with us. They must allow the International Atomic Energy agency in. They must dismantle their program. They must begin to be honest about why they wanted nuclear power plants, it was for the uranium, it was to continue the whole technological development that would have made it possible for them to put a nuclear payload on top of a ballistic missile and threaten their neighbors and potentially the United States.
And by the way, let me say this: Because we're selling nuclear power plants to North Korea, and pretending that it's not a threat in development of nuclear weapons, we can't turn to Putin and tell him to not sell six nuclear power plants to Iran, which we also believe are being used for a nuclear weapons program.
We have a completely dysfunctional nuclear nonproliferation policy, and unless we square up what we're doing in North Korea with what we want the Russians to stop doing in Iran, then we're just going to send troops into Iraq to deal with their nuclear nonproliferation issue, if they won't agree to inspections, and have a policy that still hasn't dealt with even greater threats of nuclear proliferation to the American people themselves.
MARGARET WARNER: Dysfunctional nonproliferation policy, Mr. Woolsey? Totally inconsistent?
JAMES WOOLSEY: It's not totally inconsistent, but the congressman has a point. The '94 agreement to supply those reactors to North Korea also assumed their staying out of the nuclear business. And they've clearly violated that four square. And it does make it a little harder to tell President Putin that he shouldn't be selling reactors to Iran. I mean, I don't think it's any more contradictory than a lot of things one gets caught in, in government, but it's a little uncomfortable I would think.
MARGARET WARNER: Morton Halperin, your view on that point, about the inconsistency and how much that under cuts the administration's efforts on all kinds of fronts.
MORTON HALPERIN: Well, the inconsistency between what we're trying to stop the Russians from doing and what we're doing in North Korea is clearly right. But I think the solution to all of these problems requires international cooperation and requires the cooperation of the Russians and requires the cooperation of the Chinese, and it requires a willingness to negotiate solutions to these problems either with our allies and other countries in the U.N., or in the case of North Korea, directly with the North Koreans.
MARGARET WARNER: So, let me interrupt you, you would offer a carrot to the North Koreans, sitting down to talk this through before taking any other measures?
MORTON HALPERIN: Absolutely. I think it waits a fundamental mistake for us to end the agreement, because the agreement, whatever other people may have assumed, the agreement only committed the North Koreans to stop working on a particular reactor, and they have continued to do that. If they now move forward, they can have a large number of nuclear weapons very quickly.
And that's why it was important to negotiate that agreement. We should now be willing to sit down with them and say, we want thorough inspections of both your nuclear and your missile program, and we are prepared to negotiate with you under what kinds of assurances and what kind of humanitarian assistance you need in order to agree to that.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And briefly, Congressman Markey, if you don't believe in the negotiations up front, then what's the leverage?
REP. EDWARD MARKEY: The leverage would be that we would bring together the United Nations and the rest of our allies in order to isolate this regime. And we got to get first at the heart of the hypocrisy. Iran and Iraq each want nuclear power plants even though oil costs a dollar a barrel, they want the nuclear term force nuclear weapons.
North Korea, we could sell them an oil-fired or coal-fired plant for electricity, but he continues to hold all for a nuclear power plant capacity. It is because they want this technology. Unless we begin from a whole new framework that deals with the real economic needs of their country in terms of electricity generation and begin a whole new round of negotiations that is based upon an honest evaluation of their military objectives, then we're just going to continue to fall into the same trap in North Korea, but ruin our policy in Iran and Iraq as well.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, Congressman Markey, Mort Halperin, Jim Woolsey, thank you all.