Sketch for me, as succinctly as you can, what led to the crisis in 1994.
The North Koreans had a nuclear reactor at a place called Yongbyon, a research reactor. They announced they were going to reprocess the fuel from that reactor. Had they done that, it would have given them enough plutonium to make about five or six nuclear bombs.
This was the reactor and reprocessor that was under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which was there precisely to see that any plutonium from that reactor was not diverted into making nuclear bombs. But the North Koreans sent the inspectors out just before they did that. So the crucial action was not just the potential reprocessing, but the expelling of the inspectors, which was a very clear signal to us that they planned to go ahead and reprocess this fuel, get the plutonium and then make the nuclear bombs.
What was it that prompted them to take that action?
We can't really know for sure. My judgment then and my judgment today was that they determined that they needed nuclear weapons for their own security, and that it just seemed like a way to get them. They thought they would try to push the way through to a nuclear weapons program. In a sense, they were testing to see if they could succeed in doing that.
But I have to be very clear. We're only guessing what their intentions were. They never told us why they were doing it. But it was inescapable that they were heading for nuclear weapons when they sent the inspectors out, we believed.
You came very close to having to move militarily on the North. Describe what happened.
First, I should say that we took the intentions of the North Koreans very seriously. We thought it was quite possible, even probable, that they were going to go ahead with the nuclear weapon program. We considered that to be a very great danger, for many reasons, but most immediately and most obviously because we felt it would weaken deterrence on the Korean Peninsula and therefore make war more likely. So we decided that we would take every action to try to stop them going ahead with that nuclear weapon program, even if it would risk war.
You were willing to go to war?
We were willing to risk war. We were not willing to initiate a war over this, and we did not believe it would be necessary. We felt if we could ratchet up on diplomatic pressure, we could probably stop this from happening. So we set off on a course of what could fairly be called "coercive diplomacy." It was diplomacy, but it was diplomacy that was backed with a very credible threat of military force. We seriously considered solving the problem directly by simply striking the reactor and the processor at Yongbyon.
With jet bombers or missiles?
With conventional warhead -- that could either be bombers or missiles. Either one would have been effective. I looked at a plan for doing that. There was no question that it could be done. It could be done in what the military sometimes refers to as a surgical operation; that is, it would accomplish that objective and not have any side effects. Now, the only problem with that was that we believed it's quite likely that this would trigger off a conventional war; this would trigger off some military action by the North Koreans, possibly even an invasion of South Korea.
Therefore, we set that plan off to the side. We did not ever reject it. We just set it off to the side, and said we would pursue all other alternatives first. The diplomatic alternative that was proposed by our State Department then imposed rather severe sanctions.
It was in that context, during the discussion about the sanctions, that North Korea made their quite inflammatory statements saying that they would turn Seoul into a sea of flames and that they would consider sanctions an act of war. This is pretty strong language. It got our attention, which I'm sure is what the North Koreans intended that it do.
So before we moved forward with the sanctions, I advised President Clinton that we ought to reinforce our military forces. We had gone over the war contingency plans very carefully, and had concluded that, in the event of an invasion from the North, we would undoubtedly be successful in defeating the North. But how many casualties we suffered would depend very much on well prepared we were. In other words, we could dramatically reduce the casualties if we would do some judicious reinforcement to begin with. So I presented President Clinton a plan for reinforcing our troops in South Korea, very substantial reinforcement of the troops.
What did he say to you when you presented that plan?
We were literally in the process of giving the briefing to him, laying out the three alternative options when the call came in from President Carter [in North Korea who] said that he had talked with Kim Il Sung. Kim Il Sung had told him that he was prepared to stop the program at Yongbyon if the United States was prepared to offer him a light-water reactor, an alternative kind of kind of nuclear reactor [that is proliferation-resistant].
After a lot of negotiations you came up with the Agreed Framework. What was the Agreed Framework?
The Agreed Framework [provided] that North Korea would continue the freeze, continue this suspension of all activities at Yongbyon; that the freeze would be verified by International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] inspectors at Yongbyon continuously, as well as remote verification equipment; that the allies -- in this case United States, Japan and South Korea -- would build them two light-water reactors, with appropriate safeguards to assure that the fuel could not be diverted from those reactors; that, when the reactors reached a certain stage of completion, then North Korea would dismantle all of its facilities at Yongbyon; and that, in the meantime between those two events, the allies would provide heavy fuel oil normally to make up for the electricity that was lost by not having the reactors at Yongbyon operating.
There were also diplomatic and economic--
In addition to that, there were a number of qualitative statements in the agreement basically, which said that the North Korea and the United States, Japan and South Korea would work towards a harmonious relationship, and in particular that they would work toward ending the armistice with a peace agreement, and then work head towards normal diplomatic relations. All of those were spelled out as goals in the Agreed Framework.
On the economic and political side, was the Clinton administration able to hold to their side of the agreement?
Not really. There was unhappiness in the Congress of the United States with the Agreed Framework. Let me remind you, the Agreed Framework was not a treaty. It was an agreement between governments, and because it was not a treaty, it did not require verification by the Senate. Many of the congressmen -- many senators in particular -- were unhappy that this was not made a treaty, so they'd have an opportunity to either ratify it or reject it.
That's an understatement, right? I mean, they were more than unhappy. They were calling the Clinton administration treasonous. McCain called it appeasement. He called the president a traitor.
Whatever term you use, they were very unhappy. Not all senators, but a lot of them were. The prospect of being able to proceed on the other aspects of the Agreed Framework were nil. That is, we would not be able, for example, to go to a peace agreement, to go to opening diplomatic representation with North Korea. That would never would have gotten through the Congress. This is not a part of the problem I was working on directly, but I could observe what was going on in the State Department. I think the State Department was quite clear that they had no prospect of being able to move forward on that part of the agreement, and simply gave up on trying to do so.
Was there a lack of political will on the part of the Clinton administration to confront Congress?
I don't believe that there would have been any chance of success in confronting the Congress on this issue. So I think that the judgment made by the president and by the secretary of state, to not confront the Congress on this, was probably the correct judgment. They would have quite clearly been unsuccessful.
Were you personally taken to task by opponents to the Agreed Framework?
I was not the one that had negotiated the Agreed Framework, so I was not the one that primarily had to defend the Agreed Framework. But I did defend it. I had to defend it, because I thought it was very strong in our security interests, and I knew better than anyone, I think, what the alternatives were. [I had] gone through the war plan, and knew what the alternatives were if we could not come to an accommodation on this issue. So I did defend it, and I defended it rather strongly.
One specific issue, though, on which I was I was personally criticized was that, in order to implement the Agreed Framework, the main costs, which are the light-water reactor costs, were being picked up by the Japanese and the South Korean government. But the United States was picking up most of the costs of the heavy fuel transfer, which, in relative terms, was a smaller part of the total cost. But nevertheless, as it was, it involved, as I remember, $10 million or $15 million out of our budget that first year. There was no money in the State Department for doing that, and the only way of producing the money was for the Defense Department to produce it, because we had an emergency funding category.
It's a way for the White House to go around Congress.
That's the way Congress saw it. But it the way I saw it, we had emergency funding for emergencies, and this was one.
And you had an obligation to the North Koreans?
Right, we had an obligation. So I authorized the expenditure of those funds. Indeed, I was rather heavily criticized for that But I did it then; I would do it again.
Did these congressmen who opposed the Agreed Framework have an alternative, in your view?
The alternative to the Agreed Framework by the most violent opposition to it was, "Let's overthrow the North Korea regime. It's an evil regime." They would agree that it was not a good idea to start a war with North Korea. Almost nobody was in favor of starting Korean War II. But they had the belief they could overthrow the regime by putting pressure on them, sanctions, economic pressure.
That would have been a reasonable alternative if it had a chance of success. I was convinced -- and most of the Korean authorities expert that I talked with were convinced -- that this would not be successful.
The North Koreans have been saying that the agreement is not worth the paper it was written on, because the U.S. broke the agreement. This is what you, I think, have called "The devil made me do it" sort of argument -- that the Americans' failure to live up to their side of the bargain caused them to have to hedge their bets, go forward with the missile program, go forward with a nuclear enrichment program.
Well, that's what they say. I can't tell what was really in their mind. I can say, however, that they even with what we were doing on the Agreed Framework, they had a pretty good deal in it. Up until we stopped sending the heavy fuel in earlier this year, I think both sides could have continued with the Agreed Framework. So in a sense, the current crisis was triggered by the stopping of the sending of the heavy fuel, which we did in response to what the North Koreans the North Koreans' covert program in enriched uranium.
The missile firing of the Taepodong results in you undertaking a review of U.S.-North Korean policy. In what state did you find that policy, and what were your conclusions in that review?
Let me say first of all that the missile firing was the occasion which triggered a request for a review. But in my judgment then, and in my judgment now, the missile firing was a relatively minor event, relative to the security of the United States. What made it major what that opponents to the Agreed Framework -- both in the United States and in Japan -- were using that missile firing as a reason for dismantling for the Agreed Framework, for stopping the funding in the case of the United States for providing the heavy fuel, and in the case of Japan, for providing the light-water reactor.
The Agreed Framework was now on the block?
The Agreed Framework was on the block. That's the reason I thought this was important. That's the reason I agreed to become the envoy for President Clinton on this. I thought what was at stake here was the Agreed Framework, and if we lost the Agreed Framework, we were going to be right back to 1994, and right back to facing a war crisis again. So the missiles were always, as I could see it, a minor issue. The major issue was the nuclear weapon program.
What were the conclusions of your policy review?
Read Perry's 1999 Review of United States Policy Toward North Korea
We looked seriously at the approaches which many in the U.S., many in Congress had asked us to consider, one of which was that we should simply put pressure on the North Koreans until their government collapsed. I mean, this is a country that was in desperate economic condition. If we were to go back to sanctions and back to diplomatic pressure, their belief was that we could hasten the demise of the regime, and that's the way the problem would be solved. Many in Congress, in particular, strongly believed in that.
We rejected that alternative for two reasons. First of all, there was no evidence at all that pressure would cause that regime to collapse. They have an iron police state in North Korea, and the misery of the people was not likely, in our judgment, to lead to a popular overthrow of the government.
Secondly, we didn't have enough time. Even if that strategy were successful, the most optimistic [projections were that] it would take several years. In the meantime, the North Koreans would get their nuclear program. They would get their nuclear bombs, and we would be facing that danger. So we rejected that.
There were also some optimistic people -- some in the U.S., but mostly in South Korea -- who believed that the North Korean government was in the process of reform, and that the reform would solve the problem, it would lead them, eventually, to a democratic, market-oriented government, and that would ultimately solve the problem without our taking any action.
Again, we felt first of all, there was very little evidence to support the view that that reform was going to be anything other than narrow economic changes. Secondly, again, it would take lots of time, at best.
So we came down pretty much to the fact that we had to use, of course, diplomacy, which is basically the same alternative we'd come to in 1994, and that if the course of diplomacy were applied thoughtfully and carefully, we could achieve our results through diplomacy without having it explode into a war.
After your review goes into place, Madeleine Albright makes a trip to Pyongyang.
When we left North Korea, we left them with a proposition. We said, "You can move forward with us on a upward path, a path towards economic cooperation and political recognition," and recommended they do that. At the time we left, we did not get a direct answer from the North Koreans. They said they would think about it. But they did not give us an answer.
Now they understood, I think, very clearly, that to take advantage of our offer would mean opening up North Korea in a way that would make it possible for them to take advantage of the economic offer. They could see the advantage of that. They could also see the downside. The big downside, from the point of view of the North Korean government, was opening up North Korea would a would destroy the astrodome they put over the country [to keep] all information from coming into the country.
It exposed the lie.
It would expose the lie, basically. So there were many in North Korea who wanted all these economic benefits, but believed, in order to get those economic benefits, they would have to take the risk of letting the people know what the outside world was like, and that the regime would not be able to survive that.
So there's a great huge debate going on in North Korea about whether to accept this offer or not. Instead of saying yes or no, they were probing, they were testing, they were moving forward a step at a time. They were seeking recognition of European countries. Kim Jong Il made his famous trip to Shanghai, went to the stock market in Shanghai. Obviously, he saw the Chinese as a communist country that had done something like we were proposing that they do, and was trying to figure out how the Chinese had done it, and how the Chinese government had managed to stay in control
It seemed clear to me at the time that North Korean government, while they perhaps had not made a full decision to move ahead on the upper path, they were intrigued by it, and were exploring that possibility. So I would have said, in the year 2000, that North Korea was moving forward in that direction.
The most dramatic event, of course, was the summit meeting between the North and the South at that time. That was perhaps the highwater mark of this exploration that the North was doing. Another related highwater mark to me -- at least symbolically, but I thought, quite interesting -- was the North and South Korean athletes marching together in the Olympics. To me, those were all very, very positive developments.
In that environment, then, the president invited Kim Jong Il to come to Washington. The answer was he was interested in doing that, but couldn't make the trip at this time, but would like to send his representative, Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok to Washington. The main point of Marshal Jo's visit, besides just getting to know some of the Americans, was [to convey] a strong invitation to President Clinton, a personal invitation from Kim Jong Il to come visit him in Pyongyang. I think President Clinton was intrigued, and was willing to do that.
I would like to have seen him do that, because I thought it was quite likely that what the North Koreans were saying then was right -- which is they were prepared to close the deal at that stage, which was accept the proposal that I had made to them: Offer to give up their missiles, offer to give up their nuclear weapons, offer for reasonable verification of all of that in return for moving forward on this upward path.
They would want to negotiate what some of the terms that would be, and they would hope that the visit of President Clinton would allow them to do that. But the purpose, what their proposal was for his visit was to close the deal. The president was intrigued, and probably would have done that, had the offer come sooner. But by that time, it was very late in the term, and he decided to temporize by sending secretary of state over, and sent Madeleine Albright -- not as a rejection of the invitation, but as a precursor to it.
He was only willing to go if he thought he had a if he had a deal at hand, and it was high probability. Secretary Albright went there to determine if that was the case, what the deal would be, and what the probability was of actually signing it. She came back with a report that she thought the deal was to be had. There were still one or two details -- but important details -- not yet worked out. But we're pretty close to an agreement at that stage. The most important detail to be worked out had to do with how all this would be verified, which is a really sore point with the North Koreans, but a crucial point for us.
The other detail that hadn't been ironed out completely yet was how the North Koreans would make good on our demand that they not export their missiles. This is an important issue to us. To them, it was not an important policy issue, but it was an important economic issue.
They wanted some economic reimbursement for not selling their missiles to other countries, and we weren't prepared to make that economic reimbursement. So those were the two big important details still left hanging while the president was considering going. But those were not the issues that curtailed the visit, so much as we just ran out of time.
The president today regrets that he didn't go?
The president wishes he had had the opportunity to go. He had a choice to make in the little bit of time he had left in office. The choice was to go there and try to drive that deal home, or the choice was go to the Middle East and try to drive home a Middle East peace agreement.
He couldn't do both. He made a judgment call which, at the time, I supported. Had he been successful in the Middle East, everybody would have said that was the right call to make. Turned out that was not successful; probably the North Korean one could have been successful. So from that point of view, I think he probably regrets having made the decision that he made.
Then U.S. policy takes another turn.
Then the chance to drive that deal home, the chance to drive home that proposal we made at Pyongyang two years earlier, took a different dimension when the new administration came in. At first, my thought was that they would simply pick up where we left off, and move forward with it. Indeed, that's what Secretary of State Colin Powell indicated quite early in the administration.
But when the South Korean president, anxious to get a reaffirmation of his Sunshine Policy, and the agreement that our three countries had made and how we're going to deal with North Korea, came to Washington in March, his proposal was basically rejected by President Bush. President Bush expressed grave concerns about any kind of dealings with North Korea, and said that, in any event, his administration would make a complete bottoms-up review of North Korean policy, and was not accepting the policy which had been put in place by the Clinton administration.
You called the visit of President Kim Dae Jung a disaster.
It was a disaster -- political disaster for President Kim. His top priority goal as president of the Republic of Korea was his engagement policy, which he called the Sunshine Policy. He had seen great progress for the last few years being made on that, including, of course, the famous summit meeting. His legacy in history, as he saw it, was going to be creating lasting peace between the North and the South. And he saw all this going out the window. So he left for home bitterly disillusioned.
Well, how did you feel? You saw all the work that you had done going out the window.
I was also very unhappy, but I must say that I thought the review was not an unreasonable thing for a new administration to want to do. I thought it would be done quickly. I thought it would end up with the same conclusion. They would have to go through the same logic that we went through, and I thought they would probably end up with the same conclusion.
Well, it was not done quickly. It dragged on for about a year and a half. It did finally end up with somewhat the same conclusion, namely, that it would be have to be some sort of dialogue with some sort of engagement.
But it was on paper. In practice, the administration was going in the exact opposite direction.
That's right. Whatever the review turned out to be, whatever thought there was that they might re-engage the North, turned out to be academic, because in the meantime, the president himself was referring to the North basically as one of the one of the three countries in the "axis of evil." Whole sets of disparaging remarks were made about the North.
Were you surprised by the administration's language and approach?
I was surprised. I'm not surprised some people in the administration thought that. I'm surprised they'd take that policy approach to North Korea. I thought it was counterproductive.
Why? Why not show that you're tough, that you're not going to be the appeasers that the Clinton administration was? They say, "Look, we had to make an impression on the North that the jig was up, that we were going to be tough, that they weren't going to be able to blackmail us anymore."
Yes, I've heard that language. As I mentioned before, I had already gone through, as thoughtfully as I know how, what the alternatives were. I'd thought very seriously about the "Let's talk tough and let's act tough" alternative. Let's put pressure on North Korea. Had I believed that that policy could get anywhere, I might have been more sympathetic towards it.
My reaction now is the same as my reaction at the time we did the study, which is that talking tough and acting tough and putting pressure on North Korea is not an effective policy. It may be therapeutic for us to talk that way, but does not accomplish our objectives, and does not enhance our security.
Ultimately, the bottom line of our policy has to be: Does it increase the security of Americans, or does it not? It seemed to me then -- and it seems to me now -- that simply talking tough and putting on pressure does not enhance our security. Indeed, as it's turning out, I think it's putting it in some danger.
Some danger? They say there's no crisis.
Be very clear on that point: I think what North Korea is doing now with the nuclear weapon program is not only a crisis, it is a serious crisis. It puts us in the position of either having to say, "Oh, well, let them have five, or six, or seven, or 10, or 50 nuclear weapons," or of reacting, rather late in the game, to what they're doing in a way that is risking war.
So I think it's a serious crisis. We're probably heading now towards a North Korea with a robust nuclear production program and a declared nuclear state, including nuclear tests. That seems to me to be the direction that North Korea's headed right now.
I am not one that's willing to say, "Oh, well" about that, and just write it off. I think it's a very serious danger to our security. For one thing, it will probably be accompanied by our putting economic pressure on them. The economic pressure is only going to increase their incentive to sell some of the nuclear technology or nuclear bombs to other countries. They are notorious for selling their missiles to anyone who is willing to buy them. One would have to be concerned that they're going to do the same thing with the nuclear technology, particularly given the economic state of the country, and given the fact we will be putting more economic pressure on them.
Any evidence that they are selling nuclear technology?
No. None that I'm aware of. I'm not sure they have much to sell at this point. But if they proceed with processing the spent fuel, which is now out of the IAEA control, then they will have enough time to make probably five or six nuclear bombs. That gives them enough bombs that they could sell one or two of them. Theoretically, they could test one or two of them, and still have a credible threat left over.
Do they have a bomb now?
I don't know whether they have a bomb now. During the second or third year of the first Bush administration, we think they did some reprocessing of fuel without inspectors being present. Knowing the size of the reactor they had there, we believe that could have yielded enough plutonium for maybe one or two nuclear bombs. We don't know that they've done that, but we know they could have done it. From that time since about 1989 or 1990, to this point, which is 13 or 14 years, it's possible that they have had enough plutonium for one or two nuclear bombs.
I'm not unconcerned about that. But one or two nuclear bombs is a different nature of threat altogether from six or seven nuclear bombs, or from making five or 10 nuclear bombs a year, in terms of the threat to the United States, because it gives them the option for testing. It gives them the option for selling. It gives them the option for still having nuclear weapons left over to threaten South Korea, Japan, the United States.
How much time does the United States have?
I think we will have passed a threshold in a couple of months if the--
Right now, we're sitting in the end of February. So you're talking by the end of April.
Maybe May. By May, presumably, if they're proceeding at full speed, they could have the plutonium [processed] and moved out of Yongbyon -- moved we know not where -- and then, at some other laboratory, they could be making the bomb. So they might have six or seven bombs by the end of the year.
I want to be clear that there's quite a lot of uncertainty about any particular estimate of timing you make here. The processor and the reactor have been shut down for more than eight years, so bringing them back up to speed may take some time. They may run into problems in doing that. So a couple of months is sort of the early end of how quickly they could move. It could take them longer. But we're talking about months, not years.
You're not making me feel very optimistic.
Well, I'm not optimistic about it. I think we're in a very difficult position right now. But I have recommended to the administration, and continue to recommend to the administration, that they begin a dialogue with the North Koreans. I'm not opposed to bringing other nations into the dialogue. But I think the fundamental issue is a bilateral dialogue between United States and North Korea where, on the one hand, we're looking at the North Korea nuclear weapon program, and on the other hand, we're looking at a possibility of American security assurance.
To the extent the North Koreans are being honest where they say the security assurance is the major issue that's propelling them forward, that's an assurance which no one can broker for us. It's one we have to do ourselves, if we're willing to do it. That's what we have to be considering. That's going to take a dialogue.
Now I want to also be clear. I think it's quite possible that the North Koreans have already decided that they're going to become a declared nuclear state, and that no amount of dialogue will stop them from that. I think that's entirely possible. But I'm not sure that's right. Therefore, I think the most urgent thing we have to do is put that to a test. The way only way we can put it to a test is to undertake a dialogue with them, to find out if they're open to reasonable offers to stop that nuclear program in a verifiable way.
Help me understand this administration and what it says. There seems to be a great division between those who refuse to talk, and those who are going against that tide -- Secretary Powell, perhaps -- urging more dialogue or some dialogue. What's your best understanding of the status of our policy? Do we have a policy?
I don't understand our policy. I have read everything I could read in the papers about it. I have talked with various people in the government about it. It's not clear to me what our policy is, except a negative statement, which is that we are not willing to conduct direct dialogue with the North Koreans, which I think is the one essential step.
But in this administration there seems to be some disorder as to what the policy is.
I sense a disagreement about how to proceed on North Korea, to be sure. That, of course, is does not surprise me. There's a distraction from Iraq today, and there is a distraction here in South Korea because of a new change of administration.
It would seem to me that if North Korea has decided to move forward on a nuclear weapon program, to become a declared nuclear state, they have picked the optimum time to do that, with United States distracted by Iraq, with South Korea distracted by a changed of administration -- a consequence of which is the paralysis of policy on the part of the U.S. and South Korea allies.
We have a South Korean president, President Roh, who's making very conciliatory noises towards North Korea. And we have the president of the United States making very threatening statements, calling him a pygmy, calling him part of the axis of evil. How could we be further apart from our ally, South Korea?
I don't remember a time in the many years I've followed this problem when the United States and South Korea were farther apart.
What's the consequence of that?
There's several consequences of it. But one obvious consequence is that North Korea, sensing that they can drive a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea, is driving that wedge forward. There's no coercive diplomatic action that the United States can take unless we have South Korea arm-in-arm with us. Any coercive diplomacy relative to North Korea must be done jointly, fully together between the United States and South Korea. We're not together now.
So as I understand what you're saying, the policy is going seriously off track, where the policy, being undefined, is risking great consequence?
That's my belief -- that it is leading to a situation in which I think the probable outcome is that North Korea, by the end of this year, will have six or seven or eight nuclear bombs, and will be producing five or 10 a year.
Let's say that you've got a few minutes with the president of the United States, and you're in a Cabinet meeting. What are the lessons of history and where would you counsel we go?
First, I would try to understand from history what is driving the North Korean regime. The number one lesson I learned from history is that they are oriented around the regime's survival. Number one objective of the North Korean government is to ensure the survival of their regime -- even a dynasty, so to speak. There are some people in North Korea that argue that, in order to do that, they have to reform their economy, change their economy in fundamental ways, and those people have had some success in trying to drive North Korea in that direction.
But a strong preponderant view is that, in order to ensure the survival of the regime, they need to have a strong military. The North Korean military understands quite clearly that they cannot compete with the United States military. They have learned the lessons of Desert Storm very, very well. Therefore, they argue that they need nuclear weapons as an offset to our preponderant conventional military capability. Those people in the North Korean military have had a very heavy say in the North Korean government, and I think a very heavy influence in Kim Jong Il's decision.
Therefore, based on this history, I conclude there's a very strong motivation within North Korea to go towards a robust nuclear weapon program. I believe it's quite possible they've already decided that there's what they have to do for regime survival, and will do it any way they can find of doing it.
[There's] a different point of view. I would tell the president, that it's a bargaining chip for them, and they're negotiating to try to get maximum economic advantage. I think that is there, too. But I think it's secondary to their goal of regime survival. I think certainly the military believes, and probably Kim Jong Il also believes, that nuclear weapons are key to that survival.
But your minutes are running out. The president's got to go to another meeting, and you're telling him that basically there's nothing you can do to prevent the North from going nuclear.
No, I'm saying that the best lesson of history, [from 1994], is coercive diplomacy, which means diplomacy backed with a credible threat of military force. But we cannot have a credible threat of military force by ourselves. It requires, at minimum, a strong agreement and cooperation from our ally the Republic of Korea. We also require some support from Japan for that. So it requires the three allies -- the United States, Republic of Korea, and Japan -- to be agreed on what the what the threat is, what the danger is, and to be agreed on the strategy, a course of diplomacy for dealing with it. That's what we were able to achieve in 1994. It was successful in 1994.
Isn't that what the administration is doing, trying to have coercive diplomacy with the North?
The United States cannot have a credible threat of military force against North Korea if South Korea is not with them. We cannot, by ourselves, have a credible threat of military force. So the key, absolutely the key, is to do exactly what we did during the North Korea policy review, which is bring the three countries together, so that the three leaders, the three countries agree on the threat, agree on what should be done about the threat, and agree on a common approach to North Korea.
They are pursuing that. I mean, that's why Colin Powell was here, to try to talk to the new president of South Korea, to try to get some kind of common agreement.
Yes. I applaud Colin Powell for coming, applaud him for trying to achieve that agreement. I think we are quite far from that agreement right now. I hope that we are able to achieve it in the near future.
But isn't that the fault of the South Koreans?
No, it's first of all, the fault of the North Koreans. They're the ones that are creating the provocation. They are the ones that are putting this nuclear weapon threat forward. As it stands now, the South Korean government does not see that or recognize it as a threat. They may come to see that as a threat in the months ahead. They're looking at an alternative approach, which is holding out a hand of friendship to North Korea.
If that is successful, that would be an alternative way of achieving the results. But that success depends on my belief that the North Koreans are headed for nuclear weapons program no matter what. If it is true, holding out the hand of friendship will not be a successful strategy. If that's correct, South Korea will come to see that. But they may come to see it too late to get back to apply the joint diplomatic strategy.
The world is running out of time.
The world is running out of time. We have, I think, months -- not years -- to resolve this problem before it reaches as point of no return, in terms of North Korea becoming a major nuclear power.