RAY SUAREZ: South Korea celebrated the inauguration of a new president, Roh Moo-Hyun, in the shadow of the ongoing nuclear standoff with the North Korean regime.
Just hours before the swearing in festivities began, North Korea test-fired a missile into the sea, between Japan and the Korean Peninsula.
In his inaugural speech, President Roh conceded that North Korea is a global threat, while sticking to his position that dialogue, not military action, is the safest way out.
PRESIDENT ROH MOO- HYUH (Translated): North Korea's nuclear development can never be condoned. Pyongyang must abandon nuclear development. If it renounces its nuclear development program, the international community will offer many things that it wants. It is up to Pyongyang whether it goes ahead and obtains nuclear weapons or gets guarantees for the security of its regime and international economic support.
RAY SUAREZ: Among the many dignitaries on hand for the ceremony, was Secretary of State Colin Powell. He took a lightning tour of East Asia: From Japan, to China, to South Korea, to drum up support for the U.S. position on North Korea and Iraq. President Roh and Secretary Powell talked later in the day. Roh has urged direct talks between the U.S. and North Korea, something the communist nation and its leader, Kim Jung Il, has been calling for, but the U.S. has refused, preferring a multinational response. At a press conference, Secretary Powell reiterated the administration's stance on how to resolve the nuclear crisis.
SEC. COLIN POWELL: President Bush and President Roh, as well as other leaders, are in complete agreement on this point. Both of our countries and many others have a stake in a peaceful Korean Peninsula that is verifiably free of nuclear weapons. That is why we believe strongly that multilateral talks are the appropriate way to begin to resolve this difficult issue.
RAY SUAREZ: Powell also announced a U.S. pledge for up to 100,000 tons of food aid to North Korea this year. South Korea was the last stop on Secretary Powell's three-nation Asia tour. He began in Japan. Powell bolstered lukewarm support for the Bush administration's policy on North Korea. While in Beijing on Monday, Secretary Powell made no breakthroughs on gaining China's support for the U.S. position on Iraq. And Chinese officials rebuffed Powell's proposal for a regional coalition to pressure North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program, saying China favored direct U.S.-North Korea talks. At a news conference, Powell countered this way.
SEC. COLIN POWELL: It is not just a matter between the United States and North Korea just because North Korea says it is a matter between just the United States and North Korea. It is a matter that is of concern to Japan. It is a matter of concern to South Korea who has found its commitment to North Korea, its agreement with North Korea violated. It is a matter for the International Atomic Energy Agency that reported it to the Security Council. It is a matter for the international community.
RAY SUAREZ: Secretary of State Powell returned to the U.S. today.
For more on what was accomplished on the trip, we get two perspectives. James Lilley was ambassador to China during the first Bush administration, and ambassador to South Korea during the Reagan administration. He's now a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Susan Shirk was deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs during the Clinton administration. She's now a professor of political science at the University of California - San Diego. Well, three important relationships and two big issues, Iraq and North Korea, Professor Shirk a successful trip for the secretary of state?
SUSAN SHIRK: I'd say he was more successful on Iraq than he was on Korea. My guess would be that in addition to the support of South Korea and Japan that China has probably promised us that they will not veto a U.N. resolution. They will abstain and they could even conceivably vote for it. But on North Korea, which is a problem that's in these countries' own neighborhood, we didn't get the same kind of support. Two out of the three are opposed to our approach.
RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador Lilley?
JAMES LILLEY: Well, I don't think that's quite the right way to approach it. I think Secretary Powell was out there following up on the Kelly trip in October where he revealed their nuclear weapons program. He was going out there to establish the base, the base for cooperation among our friends and allies in the area. He got it. The Chinese made a number of statements to him I thought that were quite friendly. I've heard that they have told him they rebuffed a number of North Korean officers.
In South Korea he had 50 minutes with the new president, he got to know the new security advisor, the new foreign minister. He set the stage. The reaction in South Korea was positive. They said the nuclear weapons program in North Korea had to be stopped. They realized their own pushing ahead with their sunshine policy, we're not objecting to that.
We just say that we have agreement in principle from all of our key friends and allies in the area on two key points: Number one, no nuclear weapons on the peninsula, and number two, the need for economic reform. These two things are linked in our mind and Japan, South Korea, Russia, China, U.S. all agree on these points and once you establish this and you get a multilateral approach and we all agree on it, then we can approach it in two ways -- first multilateral with North Korea, second bilateral between the United States and North Korea.
We had this before when we had the four power talks in Geneva, and we had direct talks with North Korea. This time I think we're going to do it more effectively by leading off with multilateral talks and not getting bogged down with their own bilateral obstructions. North Korea wants these bilateral talks to name the U.S. as the key threat in the area and not the weapons of mass destruction. They want the U.S. troops out of South Korea and they want a non-aggression pact. This is what they want -- to put the U.S. in the jury box. They want to turn the focus on us. The focus is on them.
RAY SUAREZ: But, Mr. Ambassador, hasn't there been resistance to what you call the multilateral approach? We heard China, we heard Japan, we heard South Korea say, no, we don't see ourselves yet as part of a regional response to this, you talk directly to the North Koreas they told Secretary Powell.
JAMES LILLEY: The key word you used was yet - what they've said right now - what the Chinese have said is we think the multilateral approach makes sense. The North Koreans won't buy it. That's the only reason we are against it; if they go for it, we can support it. I think the South Koreans have the same approach. The Japanese are with us I think anyway. So I don't think that's a fact. I think we have -- If we can get the North Koreans to go along with it and in there, there's the roots of a compromise, parallel tracks on multilateral and bilateral talks -- it's so obvious.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor Shirk?
SUSAN SHIRK: Well, I think the problem is that whereas we view the United States or the Bush administration views multilateral talks really as a substitute for bilateral direct talks with North Korea. The other countries do see that there needs to be a multilateral context for a long-term solution to the North Korea problem but they think that direct talks have to come now. They have to come first. So I think we really do have more disagreement than Jim describes.
Of course we all agree on the goal of a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula and supporting North Korea's economic reform. But how we get there -- our approach, frankly, I think it's emotional rather than rational. The Bush administration hasn't wanted to talk to the North Koreans from the very day it came into office. It's made that clear and now it's become a faith issue. We have said we won't talk to them so how are we going to actually engage with North Korea and test their intentions? There's no other way to do it other than bilateral talks.
JAMES LILLEY: Let me make a little correction here. If you go back to May of 2001 we said we'll have bilateral talks with you unconditionally, any place, anywhere, everything is on the table.
SUSAN SHIRK: You know Jim...
JAMES LILLEY: Rich Armitage again said three weeks ago we will have bilateral talks with you and we're going to proceed on it. What we've said is that you have to do something about your nuclear program in conjunction with bilateral talks. And I think that makes a lot of sense.
SUSAN SHIRK: I think there's been a lot of confusion about what our position on direct talks is. Rich Armitage said we won't negotiate but we'll talk. But nothing has happened. It sounds a little bit like a teenager who says I won't clean up my room but yes, okay I'll pick up my pajamas. I think we have dug ourselves in a hole and we don't know how to dig out of it.
RAY SUAREZ: Very, very brief responses.
JAMES LILLEY: I don't think that's true at all. I think the North Koreans are the problem, Susan, not us. The North Korean nuclear weapons is the real problem not the coalition, not multilateral talks, not bilateral talks. North Korea wants bilateral talks. We think we can get this done in conjunction with our friends and allies because we have the principles, we have the power. We cannot snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. We've got it.
SUSAN SHIRK: Well, let me say that while we insist on our approach which is -- has to be multilateral, no direct talks, the North Koreans have taken out their old game book and are doing dangerous things. They first threaten and then they actually test. They've taken the plutonium out of the cans and this is a very dangerous game. This is not a kind of chicken game between the United States and North Korea. It shouldn't be played that way; it's too dangerous. Instead we should do what needs to be done to solve the problem and that's direct talks in conjunction with ultimately a multilateral process as well. And I think that is what South Korea and China want.
RAY SUAREZ: Let's move on to Iraq because this is still a big issue on America's plate and China, which had abstained in the early '90s authorizing the first Gulf War and voted in favor of Resolution 1441, where do they stand now?
JAMES LILLEY: The Chinese are playing games on this one. They are trying to indicate what sort of concessions they can get from us on this thing. But basically the Chinese will probably abstain again. They are taking a balance position on this. They want to keep the Middle East stable. They want their oil from there. They are very concerned about that. They don't want Middle East support going to the radicals in Singyan. They really have an interest in keeping it stable and also snuggling up to the governments there. Abstaining is the safe thing to do and I think that's what they'll probably do.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor Shirk?
SUSAN SHIRK: I agree with that. Iraq certainly is not as important to China as North Korea is and I think they will want to build some goodwill with us; for one thing they are hoping it may soften up our position so that we are agreeable to starting talks with North Korea. And there are a lot of other issues that they can use that goodwill with us to achieve. So I think they will either abstain or I wouldn't exclude the possibility that they might actually vote for the resolution in the end, just as they did for the most recent Iraq resolution.
RAY SUAREZ: To help us understand about how this kind of thing works, would Colin Powell be coming back from Asia right now already knowing where that stands but just it not being a public matter either for China or the United States at this point?
SUSAN SHIRK: My hunch is that Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin did indicate to him that if this is the resolution and if the inspectors give a strong indictment of Iraq's response to the inspections, that they do not intend to veto. I would not be surprised if the Chinese assured the Americans on that front. But they probably didn't say...
JAMES LILLEY: What the Chinese have said to us quite clearly is look we're in a transition period. We're going to have the 10th National People's Congress starting March 5. We're going to get the fourth generation leadership in. These are new pragmatic, effective people. Please don't push us right now on policy issues. We're going to keep to standard positions -- namely what we took on Iraq and what we did in North Korea. After we get a new government in, Cheney will be there in April, then you will have real momentum pushed into the relationship with this new leadership in China.
They say we know the North Koreans better than you do. We know the problems they are -- what they have done with this sneaky weapons program - enriched uranium -- what they have done in their free export zones behind China's back -- all of these things that they have done to disrupt Asia, which China is dead set against. They want a stable periphery around their country to focus on domestic problems. The United States is key to this; North Korea is disrupting it.
RAY SUAREZ: What about Japan, Professor Shirk, are they on board with the administration or still publicly neutral?
SUSAN SHIRK: No. I think they are more sympathetic to our position because for one thing they are very concerned about the North Korean nuclear threat. They certainly don't want a nuclear weapon from North Korea on one of those missiles that can reach Japan and so what Kozumi said was certainly more supportive of the multilateral approach.
RAY SUAREZ: And on Iraq?
SUSAN SHIRK: South Korea and China have a different point of view.
RAY SUAREZ: And Japan on Iraq?
SUSAN SHIRK: Japan, actually I'm a little confused about that. I'm not sure. I believe that Powell did come back with support of Kozumi and South Korea. Of course, neither of them are on the Security Council but it may help in getting a bandwagon of support from the resolution from the other countries.
JAMES LILLEY: I think that's what is true what Susan said, that the Japanese have influence over the Africa countries who are the marginal voters there; and I think they can exert that on places like Angola. They have very strong influence there, and if they can bring over a number of votes that will help us do it. But, you know, the Japanese have a very powerful rocket program they started in 1970. They are going to put a man in space. They could divert that to military means very quickly and be way ahead of North Korea and possibly China. If the North Koreans persist in what they're doing, missile defense comes in and that's an anathema to China, and Japan has been supporting us. So the North Koreans are throwing this whole thing into a much more confrontational vote. The Chinese know this. And the Chinese, I still believe; when we bring Cheney over there you'll have real momentum.
RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador, Professor, thanks a lot.
SUSAN SHIRK: But Jim what is going to happen in the meantime? What is going to happen in the meantime? The North Koreans are following this --
JAMES LILLEY: What can the North Koreans do? What can they do? Blow up a bomb.
SUSAN SHIRK: Well, they can start building bombs.
JAMES LILLEY: They can build bombs but we say don't proliferate them. That's what we care about. We get the Chinese on board, the Russians on board, the Japanese on board to stop these people from sending weapons to terrorists in the Middle East. That is the real concern.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor, Ambassador, thank you both.