Powell IV ABC's This Week, George Stephanopoulos
Secretary Colin L. Powell Washington, DC December 29, 2002
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POWELL: Good morning, George.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: When you were on this program two months ago, you said that if North Korea ended international supervision of its nuclear program, it would create an extremely grave situation. Now we're in that situation. What is the United States going to do about it?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I think it is a very serious situation and we're taking a number of steps. First and foremost, we're working with our friends and allies, and not just in a rhetorical sense, but to ask them to bring pressure to bear on North Korea to make sure the North Koreans understand the foolhardy nature of their actions. This is a country that is in deep distress. Its economy is not working. It can't feed its people. And they are investing in the wrong kinds of things.
We've made it clear that we have no hostile intent toward North Korea and we hope they will come to their senses and not only restore the inspection regime to the Yongbyon facility, but to end what they are doing at this uranium enrichment facility and program that we know they have underway.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Is there a reason you don't want to repeat the words "extremely grave"? Are you trying to tamp down any sense of crisis?
SECRETARY POWELL: No, I think it is grave but I don't want to create a sense of crisis or that we're on the brink of war, because I don't believe we are. I think that the international community is coming together and making it clear to the North Koreans. And the North Koreas are already isolating themselves as a result of this. They are already paying a price. The Japanese have stopped moving forward on normalization talks with a huge economic benefit that would have gone to North Korea. The South Koreans, to include the new president-elect who is committed to ultimate unification with the North, has spoken strongly about this program being an obstacle for that goal of President-elect Roh. So North Korea is already paying a price and I think diplomatic efforts are the appropriate tool to use right now. But of course, all tools are available to the President and to the international community.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Including military action?
SECRETARY POWELL: Military action is always an option, but it is not an option that is in the forefront of our thinking right now because it doesn't seem necessary or appropriate. There are no forces being put on alert on either side. What we have is a difficult situation with the North Koreans having been caught violating the terms of the Agreed Framework. I mean, we have to consider what happened here. In 1994, North Korea agreed to put its facilities at Yongbyon under international supervision and not develop any more material for nuclear weapons.
And while we were all watching Yongbyon for the last eight years, they began another program to enrich uranium at another place using technology acquired from around the world. And we discovered that earlier this year and brought it to the attention of the international community. And at the same time President Bush had authorized me to start engaging with the North Koreans to show them how much we could help them, we had to point this out to them. Look, you can't be helped if you continue to pursue this kind of technology.
And rather than saying, "One, we didn't do it, it's not true," they admitted it. And rather than saying, "And we're going to stop doing it in order to improve the lives of our people," they challenged us. So at this point we had to say we've got to stop the heavy fuel oil shipments to North Korea. They have put the Agreed Framework at risk. How can you say the Agreed Framework is still the Agreed Framework when they are trying to develop nuclear capability in another way?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But then what leverage does the United States have left? You're saying military action is not being contemplated now. We give some food aid. No more fuel aid. What can the United States do?
SECRETARY POWELL: No, we're giving food aid. We have cut off fuel aid.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Exactly.
SECRETARY POWELL: Now what North Korea has decided to do is to escalate it by throwing out the inspectors. But there are still cards to be played. There are still diplomatic cards to be played. I mean, the North Koreans are running right in the face of the Chinese. President Jiang Zemin, at Crawford, where President Bush spent a lot of time talking about this, President Jiang Zemin said that the Chinese policy is for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. So I don't think the Chinese are looking on the situation --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But are they willing to cut off fuel aid?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I don't know what they're willing to do. I won't speak for the Chinese Government. But I do know that we have had the most serious discussions with the Chinese and they view this is a serious matter and they have their own ways of talking and communicating to North Korea. We are doing the same thing with the Russians, the Japanese, the South Koreans. The European Union came out yesterday and said that this is a problem not just between the United States and North Korea, but between the world and North Korea.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But why not have the US talk to North Korea directly?
SECRETARY POWELL: I was talking to North Korea directly. That's exactly what I did in Brunei.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not since October.
SECRETARY POWELL: That's exactly what I did in Brunei, on the 31st of July, I think it was, when I sat down with the North Korean foreign minister and said look, we want to move forward. We've got some ideas about how we can help you, but can not expect us to help you if you are proliferating weapons of mass destruction and if you are participating in the development of nuclear technology that --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So you will not talk to North Korea now?
SECRETARY POWELL: Wait a minute. I then said, but we want to talk about this so we sent Assistant Secretary Kelly in in early October. And what we got back was we're doing it and what are you going to do about it? Now, what they want is not a discussion. They want a negotiation where we give them something for them to stop the bad behavior. They want to be rewarded for violating the Agreed Framework and also violating the understanding we had that they would not be developing any kind of nuclear weapons. And what we can't do is enter into a negotiation right away where we are appeasing them for bad behavior. We have seen that when we do that it doesn't necessarily correct the bad behavior. In fact, as a result of the Agreed Framework which froze that program, they continued the bad behavior in another manner.
So we have ways of communicating with the North Koreans. They know how to call us. We know how to get in touch with them. We are not totally out of touch with them --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And you're willing to pick up the phone?
SECRETARY POWELL: -- and through friends and allies we have other ways of communicating with them. So it's not a matter of being unable to talk to them. There are channels that are open. But what they have been asking for is you give us this and then maybe we won't develop nuclear weapons. That is essentially not the way you enter into such a discussion. They are the ones who are in violation of their agreements. They are the ones who are putting the region at risk. And so it seems to us to be quite appropriate for the international community to expect North Korea to correct its behavior before they can expect to receive any benefits from the international community for behaving in a more reasonable fashion.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Some of the administration's critics have said that your stance has contributed to the crisis, and I want to show you something that Senator John Kerry said the other day about the administration policy. What he said:
"What happened in North Korea is predictable and totally anticipated based on this administration's complete avoidance of a responsible approach to North Korea in over a year and a half. It is the absence of diplomacy, it is the absence of common sense, that has brought this on."
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you respond to Senator Kerry?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, John Kerry is running for office and I disagree with the Senator, as much as I respect him. The fact of the matter is that this program was not started during the Bush Administration. It was started during the previous administration. Back in 1998 and 1999, the intelligence shows clearly that North Korea embarked upon a program of enriching uranium.
And so we inherited this problem. What President Bush said when he came into office is we're going to take a hard look at what North Korea is doing before we engage or build on what the Clinton Administration had done. And the Clinton Administration did succeed in stopping the development of weapons at Yongbyon and I give them full credit for that.
And so we took our time. We looked at our policies. We also realized that something should be done about that huge North Korean army that's sitting on the 38th Parallel just north of Seoul, and that should be part of our dialogue with North Korea.
The President then went to South Korea early this year and made a speech that said we have no hostile intent toward North Korea and then he authorized me to engage with North Korea, which is what I did at the end of July. But by then, we had discovered all of this intelligence and all of this activity that was taking place that made it clear that they were trying to develop a nuclear weapon through enriched uranium technology, which put the whole thing on the table again. How can you want a solid relationship with this country, how can you try to help this country, when they thwart the will of the international community and ignore their international obligations?
And so, you know, the famous "axis of evil" reference, that was in the State of the Union speech in 2002, January of 2002, 11 months ago. They started this program four to five years ago. And if anything, the President's description of North Korea and its attitude seems to be have been rather accurate.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Given that, are you convinced that North Korea wants to build a credible nuclear deterrent and they're determined to do it no matter what?
SECRETARY POWELL: North Korea now has, in the judgment of our intelligence experts, one or two nuclear weapons. If they reactive this plant and use it not for electricity, which is what they say they are going to do --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But you don't believe that?
SECRETARY POWELL: Why would I believe it? Because it doesn't produce that much electricity. It's barely able to support itself. So if they start this plant up and then they start going into the pool where the spent fuel is kept and start to reprocess that fuel into plutonium that can be used in weapons, this could give them another five or six weapons. So they go from two weapons to five of six weapons. It doesn't feed one more North Korean child. It doesn't put power or light into one North Korean home. It does nothing for them.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But it does deter a possible attack, doesn't it?
SECRETARY POWELL: Nobody's going to attack North Korea. We have no plans to attack North Korea. We've said it repeatedly. The President has said it repeatedly. Why would we want to attack North Korea?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, in fact, the Clinton Administration said that if the spent fuel was reprocessed, that would be a red line that couldn't be crossed and they were prepared to attack.
SECRETARY POWELL: It was crossed. During the Clinton Administration, the North Koreans had nuclear weapons. That was our intelligence estimate then and our intelligence estimate now. And, in fact, the Clinton Administration did have a declaratory policy that if anything else happened at Yongbyon they would attack it. It's a --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Does the Bush Administration have that policy?
SECRETARY POWELL: We don't have that policy. We're not saying what we might or might not do. We think it's best to try to use diplomacy. We have to keep in mind the concerns and interests of our allies in the region. The South Koreans are our friends. We want to stay in close touch with them. We want to consult with them. We want to discuss with them the way forward. And that's the same situation with the Japanese, the Russians, the Chinese, the European Union and the United Nations. This is the time for the international community to come together.
I must say it's been rather interesting over the last few weeks, having been the Secretary of State that's constantly being accused of being in an administration that is unilateralist, that is always reaching for a gun, that when we now bring the international community together to deal with North Korea as we did with Iraq, by the President going to the United Nations, we are somehow criticized for not reaching for a gun right away and pointing it at someone's head.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But how would you respond just to an average citizen watching today who looks at the policies of Iraq and North Korea and says North Korea has more nuclear weapons than Iraq, it's kicked the inspectors out, it has a greater chemical weapon program than Iraq, and yet we're not considering military action against North Korea but we're building up forces against Iraq?
SECRETARY POWELL: In both instances, we are trying to solve it peacefully through the use of diplomacy. In the case of Iraq, it is not just the capability; it is an intent to use it, and they have used it. They have used weapons of mass destruction against their own people, against their neighbors, and there's no question that they are trying to acquire it for purposes of intimidating the whole region.
In the case of North Korea, we are just as troubled that they have nuclear weapons but we think there are different sets of tools that can be used. And this crisis, really, this current crisis, as some people call it -- we don't think it's a crisis, we think it's more of a very difficult, serious situation. But this present situation which some have called a crisis really has just unfolded in the last six months and I think it's going to play out in the weeks and months ahead.
And what we don't find ourselves doing right now is mobilizing forces. We don't see them doing it. Let's take this patiently. Let's take it with deliberation. Let's work with our friends and allies. And we have all the options available to us that we might need to protect ourselves and to protect our friends and allies.
This is also instructive as to why I think the President was quite right in pushing forward with missile defense. I mean, when you see this kind of thing going on and you realize the options that are available to you, missile defense is a good option to have as well.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, sir, that mobilization is occurring in Iraq right now, or in the region around Iraq. But at the same time, Iraq seems to be cooperating with the inspectors. I know your views on the Iraqi declaration, but aside from that, do you have any other evidence that Iraq is not complying with the UN resolution?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, the declaration is certainly noncompliant. There is no question about it. I don't think anybody is defending that declaration.
They have been cooperating with the inspectors and we'll see if that cooperation continues. There has been some resistance in recent days to some of the things the inspectors are looking for, and we are providing more information and intelligence to the inspectors to cue their visits and we'll see whether that attitude of cooperation continues.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And if it does, war is not inevitable?
SECRETARY POWELL: We've never said that war is inevitable. The President has always said that he is interested in a peaceful solution. But at the same time, if Iraq does not cooperate or if we find reason to believe that they do have weapons of mass destruction that they have not identified and turned over to the international community, then the President has all of his options available to him. And he has the option of also going back to the United Nations or acting unilaterally with likeminded nations.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. Happy New Year.
SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you. Happy New Year to you and yours, George.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you.
Released on December 29, 2002