Former Clinton Adviser Sandy Berger on North Korea Nuke Crisis

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," October 10, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Late today, Republican Sen. John McCain blamed the husband of his potential 2008 rival for the Korean nuke crisis. At a news conference in Michigan McCain said, "President Bill Clinton failed to stop the country from developing the bomb in the 1990s."


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: I would remind Sen. Clinton and other Democrats critical of the Bush administration policies that the framework agreement that her husband's administration negotiated was a failure. Now we are facing the consequences of the failed Clinton administration policies. And we must stop, at long last, reinforcing failure with failure.


GIBSON: Let's get reaction now to this new claim from Sandy Berger. He was President Clinton's national security adviser. He joins me now in this "Big Story" exclusive.

Mr. Berger, your reaction to what Sen. McCain had to say?

SANDY BERGER, FORMER CLINTON ADVISER: Well, Sen. McCain is just wrong. It's basically a diversion from what's the situation we face. Let's get the facts straight here.

When we came to office in the '90s, the North Koreans already had a nuclear program. They produced enough plutonium to make two nuclear weapons. When they threatened to make more plutonium in 1993, we said we'd take them to the U.N. Security Council. That threat brought them to the table. We reached an agreement which froze and ultimately would lead to the dismantling of the plutonium program. No plutonium was made during the Clinton administration.

That agreement fell apart during Bush II, and now they've made enough plutonium for six to eight bombs. So two bombs worth of plutonium under Bush I, six to eight under Bush II, zero under Clinton. So it's just really beside the point.

GIBSON: Well, Mr. Berger, it may be beside the point, but I think a lot of people are wondering about the framework and whether you can trust them. Look at these facts, and I think you probably recognize these.

Of course, in '94, the framework was negotiated under the Clinton administration. In '99 and 2000, according to Robert Gallucci, the Clinton administration was unable to certify to Congress that North Korea was not pursuing a uranium-enrichment capability. And then in October of 2002, North Korea tells U.S. delegates — a delegation visiting that it had a covert nuclear weapons program.

Doesn't that prove that negotiating with North Korea and working out a deal with them simply does not work, the deal worked out in the Clinton administration did not work?

BERGER: The plutonium program was frozen during a period from 1994 to 2002. Let's look at what's happened just in the last four years. They basically threw out the inspectors. They were due for the Non-Proliferation Treaty. They have made reprocessed plutonium. They now, presumably, have made it into nuclear weapons.

All of these lines have been passed without the Bush administration taking any action except to arguing about the shape of the table. So let's deal with the situation we have now. North Korea...

GIBSON: Once you know you cannot trust them, what can you do?

BERGER: Well, right now, I think if they say they've blasted a nuclear bomb, we need to take them at face value. It's a serious act and it requires serious consequences.

GIBSON: Sure, and I see that you are recommending the most serious kind of severe sanctions we could do. And then, if they ever come back to the table, we can negotiate with them.

I guess my point is, wasn't the experience when you were on the job and when the Clinton administration was dealing with this, didn't that prove to Bush and others that you can’t trust them, that you make a deal with them and you just can't trust them?

BERGER: You absolutely cannot trust the North Koreans, John. I couldn't agree with that more, and any agreement that we would reach with the North Koreans would have to be accompanied by a verification, international supervision.

GIBSON: So here we are. What do we do?

BERGER: Right now, it seems to me we need to convince the North Koreans that if it wants to pursue this course of action, it has serious consequences. To do that, we have to persuade the Chinese, the Japanese and the South Koreans to join us in punitive sanctions against the North.

GIBSON: Isn't that what we are doing?

BERGER: We are moving in that direction, although I take it, from the White House today, we are trying to play down what happened over the weekend. I think we should be taking this seriously. We should be going to the United Nations, we should be persuading the Japanese and the Chinese and the South Koreans to join us in economic and other kinds of sanctions...

GIBSON: Would you...

BERGER: Go ahead.

GIBSON: Would you, once again, Mr. Berger — you know, looking back, would you make a deal with them in which we give them oil and we agree to give them a lightwater reactor, whatever it is they want, and trust them to not be secretly making nuke weapons on the side?

BERGER: We didn't give them any lightwater reactor because the agreement never reached the point. The fact is that they froze the plutonium — we froze their plutonium program during the '90s. That came unglued during the Bush administration.

We need now to show the North Koreans that we are serious about this, to convince them that this course of action carries serious consequences. If we get back to a negotiating position with the North Koreans, it cannot be based on trust. It has to be based on verification.

GIBSON: Sandy Berger, President Clinton's national security adviser, thank you very much for coming on.

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