Lawrence Eagleburger on North Korea's Missile Threat

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," June 19, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: New concerns now about North Korea. The communist regime reportedly has finished fueling a long-range ballistic missile, the latest sign that the North Koreans will soon test a weapon that could hit American soil.

Joining us now to talk about the latest threat, former Secretary of State under George H. W. Bush, Lawrence Eagleburger.

Mr. Eagleburger, we're hearing a lot of noise about this missile. How seriously should we take it?

LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I think we have to take it very seriously, but it goes beyond simply this particular missile. Some day, somebody is going to have to start talking about what happens to us all a decade from now if we let these North Koreans and the Iranians go forward with their nuclear weapons program.

It's one thing to talk about what we do about this missile, but there is a much more fundamental question here which is what do we do about countries like these two that have no commitment to stability at all and if they get these weapons you and I both know it would be "Katie bar the door."

So my answer to this issue is that yes, it is terribly important that this launch is about to take place. I doubt that we have anything in the area that could shoot it down, but I surely would like it if we could. And if we did, the next thing is we need to take a very hard look at the facilities themselves, but involved in all of this is getting the United States and some of its allies to work together to try to deal with this terrible threat, which everybody seems to think is just sort of a passing event and once we shoot the missile, we will worry about it next time and go on like this.

And sooner or later, we will be faced with a nuclear threat from those two countries we will not want to have in front of us.

GIBSON: Well, it's kind of a difficult problem with Iran. We've been told over and over that...

EAGLEBURGER: It's tougher there. I agree.

GIBSON: ...that their facilities are scattered and so forth. But this missile is sitting on a launch pad someplace that we could strike right now. Can we do that?

EAGLEBURGER: We can, but we won't.

GIBSON: Why not?

EAGLEBURGER: My point here is I think international pressures of our acting unilaterally again are going to be such that the administration will say, well, we just can't take this on now. It will simply add to the problems we have with the rest of the world because of Iraq.

So in that sense, I'm afraid it's unlikely at least that we will take unilateral action and we'll go to the U.N. and we'll make lots of tough words, as we are already doing, but sometime, somewhere, if not immediately, within the next weeks or months, we and some other countries have got to say this is the end of it and if it happens again, you are going to lose your facility. But I'm not sure we will.

GIBSON: What is it that — I mean, this is kind of an abstract threat for most people right now.


GIBSON: North Korea is a long way away. What is it they could hit with this missile? Anything in particular here in this country?

EAGLEBURGER: As far as I know and I'm not the expert on it, I think they could probably, if it can do it at all, it would be, I suspect, the West Coast. I don't think they can get much beyond that, but I'm not the expert on it.

The point is, once they have a missile that can hit the United States, we are now back in the kind of game we used to worry about with the Soviet Union, only the Soviet Union was more mature about this whole thing than I think the North Koreans will be.

So it's worrisome. It really is. And beyond that, the next issue is how do we guarantee one of these weapons, not necessarily this missile, but nuclear weapons ends up in the hands of Al Qaeda or some other terrorist group.

The whole nuclear thing is a terrible mess and it's hard for me to understand why it is that we, the United States, seem to be the only ones that are really particularly concerned about it and prepared to do something. The Chinese ought to be worried about nuclear North Korea. Japan certainly ought to be. And in the Middle East, anybody that looks at Iran and sees it as a nuclear power ought to decide it's time to go to bed and cover up your head.

GIBSON: Why is it that if we know that our allies in the area aren't going to join in on some forceful action, why do we feel constrained by their hesitancy?

EAGLEBURGER: The answer to that, sir, has to be watch what happened after we went into Iraq. And in that sense Iraq — and I'm not against going into Iraq but I have to say it's an albatross around our necks now in terms of convincing other states that something out to be done multilaterally and they will all worry about our doing it unilaterally and as a consequence I'm afraid that the international pressures are going to be such that this administration is not going to want to take on another charge of being the brute in the room.

GIBSON: Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, thanks.

EAGLEBURGER: My pleasure, sir.

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