OTR Interviews

U.S.-North Korea Relations: Past, Present and Future

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," May 13, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MARTHA MACCALLUM, "ON THE RECORD" GUEST HOST: Last night "On the Record" took you to a place that very few people have been. Greta was live from inside North Korea for us. As you know, there is a lot of talk about the country and its nuclear weapons. But is North Korea a threat to the United States? What does former secretary of state Henry Kissinger think about that? He tells Greta the U.S. is managing the situation.


VAN SUSTEREN: Dr. Kissinger, where do we stand with North Korea right now in terms of our negotiations or what the future brings?

HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: North Korea has -- I would say the only major national achievement they've had is to build these nuclear weapons. So they are extremely reluctant to give them up, I think, determined not to give them up.

They have shown tremendous skill in starting a crisis, then ending the crisis. As a reward for ending the crisis they've been reenter negotiations. Promise they will start a project of abolishing nuclear weapons. They get some concessions for their promise. But then the whole cycle stars again three or four years later. They have plutonium plant that they've showed two, three times already. And each time it has been restarted again.

But, it also involves the problem of China and the issue is the Chinese cannot want nuclear weapons at their border. On the other hand, they also don't want turmoil at their border or pro-western countries like South Korea at their border.

North Korea will come down to a northeast Asia issue, whether it is possible to negotiate between the six countries that are now in negotiations, some kind of political arrangements that creates security for North Korea and above all, security from nuclear weapons for us.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there a crisis or is this just something we keep managing?

KISSINGER: Right now we are managing it, and while we are managing the nuclear stockpile in North Korea, the nuclear weapons in North Korea threaten Japan, China, which is closer, easier to reach. They would have much more immediate consequences for them to take on the United States would be an act of total madness. But, as long as they have nuclear weapons, they become a source of instability.

VAN SUSTEREN: They've had a 60-year-old relationship with China. If you say China is more at risk of a nuclear crisis with North Korea because of geographical position right next door. Why isn't China more helpful in trying to work out a solution?

KISSINGER: China does not want it on its borders that raise the premise that other countries will get nuclear weapons. On the other hand, if you go back to the Korean War, in 1950, China, intervened in the Korean War with next to no military power against the biggest power at the time, the United States, because for them the Yalu border is close to industry.

So I think they are ambivalent and they probably think they can live with a few nuclear weapons in North Korea even though they prefer North Korea not to have nuclear weapons.

VAN SUSTEREN: North Korea has been cut off from the rest of the world since the early 50s. They think we are antagonistic to them because our soldiers are there. They take national pride in having nuclear weapons. We can't seem to talk to them. They don't seem to trust us. We don't trust them. Where does this go?

KISSINGER: Well, there have been several attempts to talk to them. And I've even been part of what is called the track two negotiations, so I've met with their negotiators. They have to make the fundamental decision whether they are willing to give up nuclear weapons. We have to make the fundamental decisions whether under those conditions we will live with them as a normal state.

But it is not primarily an issue between us and them. What they have up to now attempted to do is throw us into a separate negotiation with them, making the Chinese and all the other interested parties observers. Then when it blows up they blame us for breaking up the negotiation. They have never been willing to make a fundamental step at giving up the weapons. So far, they have succession a problem coming up. They have not made the fundamental decisions.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now they've got famine again. They don't have -- they are having a hard time getting food. It is a humanitarian crisis of huge consequence for the people there.

KISSINGER: On the humanitarian problem, I'm more flexible.

VAN SUSTEREN: Meaning what?

KISSINGER: I would be willing to give them food aid. I know the argument is that why should we reward them for having an unmanageable government? But the victims are the people of North Korea. So on the element of food aid I know we could bring more pressure on them by denying them food aid.