WASHINGTON – President Bush's approach to North Korea and Iran has been the right one, but the United States will have to take the initiative sooner or later to deal directly with those nations rather than rely on surrogate negotiators, former President Bill Clinton (search) told FOX News' Greta Van Susteren.
"The Chinese can help us, others can help us, these six-party talks can be valuable, but sooner or later we’re probably going to have to take more initiative" with North Korea, Clinton said in an exclusive interview to air Monday at 10 p.m. EDT on FOX News. "The administration has basically been saying that. Just kind of read between the lines, that’s pretty much what they’ve concluded, I think."
Speaking from the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark., Clinton compared the administration's approach to Iran and North Korea, saying the majority of Iranians want to build in the direction of the United States while North Koreans want the United States to be "nudging away and taking the lead." Both also want nuclear power, which they view as a status symbol, and are willing to take whatever action they need to sustain that pursuit.
Despite the brinksmanship, Pyongyang (search) is not totally irrational, Clinton said.
"Oh, they are irrational to some extent, but I don’t think they’re totally irrational," he said. "I think they watch American cable channels. I think they watch the European cable channels. I think their decision makers keep up more than we know. And I think they want us to think they’re a little crazy.
"But, you know, what’s the alternative?" Clinton asked. "We could take military action. And if we’re lucky we could take out their facilities. But for all we know a lot of their lab facilities are in deep underground caves ... We could run the risk that they could counteract by lobbing conventional missiles into Seoul or Japan or farther away. Until we have exhausted all diplomatic means, I don’t know why we would just let the thing get worse."
Earlier this year, Clinton and former President George H.W. Bush (search) were appointed by President Bush to lead American fund-raising efforts to help relieve victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami (search). Despite the recent protests over the alleged treatment of the Koran by some military guards watching prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Clinton said that he thought the relief effort has given Muslims the sense that the United States does care about their fate.
"Keep in mind, Indonesia is the biggest Muslim country in the world, 200 million Muslims. Sri Lanka has a Muslim population. And the Maldives is an overwhelmingly Muslim country. India is the second or third biggest Muslim country in the world … so you've got a record here, where everybody knows America went out, the American military and American civilian workers, and all these American non-governmental organizations, they just tried to help people for purely human terms," he said.
"It did enormous good for us. Our image in Indonesia went up, Mr. bin Laden’s image went down," Clinton said referring to the Al Qaeda terror network leader.
Saying that he would leave it to the White House to discuss any content, Clinton revealed that during his world travels, he has called administration officials when hearing something they may find interesting. He said he also volunteers his perspective when Bush calls on him to share an opinion on a particular subject. The former president said he regrets that partisanship is so institutionalized in Washington, but he and Bush have taken particular efforts to understand one another.
"We’ve established what I think is a very good personal relationship. I don’t ask him to give up his political convictions, he doesn't ask me to give up mine. He makes his position clear, I make mine clear. But when we ... can work together, we do. That’s how I think the country should work," Clinton said.
That doesn't mean that Clinton has deserted politics altogether. While the former president wouldn't indicate whether his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton (search), plans to run for president, he said that he is superstitious about considering future plans when she still has to get re-elected next year to her New York Senate seat.
"It’s foolish for her to entertain any kind of serious discussion about whether she should or shouldn’t run for president until the voters of New York ratify her service for the last six years and renew her contract," he said. "I think it would be a great mistake for her to look beyond this next election, and I know she feels that way."
Nonetheless, Sen. Clinton has made several overtures to Republicans, Clinton said, including taking trips with Sen. John McCain of Arizona to investigate climate change and working with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on medical record privacy protections.
"I’m really proud of Hillary because she’s sponsored more legislation across the party lines than any other first-term member of the Senate in either party," he said. "And she just keeps working and she has really good relations with the Republican House members in the New York delegation. That’s the kind of thing I think we ought to do."
Political arguments, however, appear to be growing in Washington, D.C. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean (search) recently charged that Republicans haven't made an honest living in their lives, a sweeping remark criticized by Democratic Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware and former vice presidential candidate John Edwards.
While Clinton suggested it would behoove Democrats "to try to treat the Republicans with respect and as human beings to try to work with them on every issue we can," he also said that Democrats should not retreat when they are attacked.
"If you lay down and you look like a deer caught in the headlights, then you will confirm the assault. And so we have to fight back," he said, adding that negative ads are okay to run as long as they are true and make people think.
Clinton would not guess who the Republican candidate will be in the 2008 presidential race, but he said Gingrich and McCain are both good choices.
"I think that [Gingrich] might run. And you know, ever since he left there’s been nobody else who is smart with as many ideas," he said.