August 1: Peter Brooks, Director of the Heritage Foundation's Asian Study Center, Discusses North Korea’s Agreement to Multilateral Talks and the Challenges That Still Lie Ahead

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This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, August 1, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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PRESIDENT BUSH: We are hopeful, however, that Mr. Kim Jong Il (search), because he is hearing other voice, will make the decision to totally dismantle his nuclear weapons program, that he will allow there to be complete transparency and verifiability.

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BRIAN WILSON, GUEST HOST: Well, maybe a break in his nuclear standoff with North Korea (search). After demanding face-to-face talks with the United States, the North Koreans have now agreed to six-way or so-called multilateral talks that the United States had wanted all along. Also included in the talks will be South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

Now, what does this all mean? Joining us is Peter Brooks, director of the Heritage Foundation's Asian Study Center.

Mr. Brooks, thanks for being here with us.

PETER BROOKS, DIR., ASIAN STUDY CTR., HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Good to be here.

WILSON: Well, it sounds like, if I'm listening to what the president had to say, that there were some other voices who entered it, and most importantly, those voices seemed to be China.

BROOKS: Absolutely. China is critical to this; it has been critical all along. China is the swing donor and probably has more influence with North Korea than any other country. Russia seemed to have played a small role as well, because they are going to be included in these six party talks, which take place in September.

WILSON: So, what do the Chinese do? What influence do they have to bring to bear in this particular case?

BROOKS: They are a major donor to North Korea. There is an oil pipeline that goes across the border, there's trades, there's political influence. The military has influence…the Chinese military has influence with the North Korean military. And they can twist North Korea's arms better than just about anybody.

WILSON: And so they come and say, look, we need to go to these six- way talks, it is in your best interest. But this also comes at a time when there are a couple of strains in the U.S.-Chinese relationship, as we just saw in our last report.

BROOKS: Absolutely. It's a very tough neighborhood and international politics are…is a difficult business. But the fact is that it is in China's interest as well that North Korea does not become a nuclear power. It's right on their border, it increases tension with the United States and God forbid there should be a war there, it would definitely affect Beijing.

WILSON: So the United States, North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia going to be meeting, at least tentatively, the talk is, September in Beijing.

BROOKS: Mm-hmm.

WILSON: What happens then?

BROOKS: Well, there's going to be some things even before that, Brian. They're going to have to get together to…I don't know if there's been an official announcement from North Korea that they're going to meet. But you're going to have to get together and talk about the shape of the table, who is going to sit where.

And the North Koreans may be looking for inducements before they even come to Beijing to do something. They just initially have said they will be doing it; but there may be some devils is in the details…the devil may be in the details here in getting them actually to the table.

WILSON: So it's your sense we shouldn't get too excited just yet?

BROOKS: I wouldn't be euphoric about this. This is certainly goods news. The administration's policy has been fruitful in getting North Korea in a multi…to the table in a multilateral forum. But the fact is that there are some things, some challenges ahead.

WILSON: Why are the North Koreans…explain for those who may not know why the North Koreans were so reluctant to do this.

BROOKS: Well, they want…they see the United States as key here. They see it -- they don't want to have to deal with South Korea because they see the road to the regime survival is through Washington, not through Seoul and not through Japan. So, they want to deal with the United States. They see them as the most important power broker here and they don't want to have all the other interference.

WILSON: Well, do you think they'll stop what they're doing now? I mean all the indications we're getting from the intelligence world suggests that they're moving right along, developing these…this nuclear-grade plutonium so that they can go ahead and build bombs. Do they continue doing that throughout this entire process?

BROOKS: It's certainly possible. We're going to have to watch closely. Remember, North Korea has embraced a foreign policy of opportunism, brinksmanship and blackmail. And I think they'll continue to keep the pressure on the United States. Remember, I said we have got to get to the table first. They may try to continue moving along with the nuclear program to get inducements from the United States and others just to go to Beijing.

WILSON: But they have learned that that so far has not work.

BROOKS: That's right. But it did work in the Clinton administration.

WILSON: And so now, the Bush administration trying to reverse that policy, trying to set a new standard. But the real question is whether or not they will actually come to the table with the idea of trying to find a solution or just is it a delaying tactic?

BROOKS: Well, that's certainly the thing. We'll find that out. We'll be able to test their diplomatic intentions when we get to Beijing and find out they're really serious about this or it's just a game.

WILSON: Russians, will they have a significant role in this?

BROOKS: That is unclear at this point, Brian. Remember, North Korea was a client state of the former Soviet Union. The Soviet Union no longer exists. But they still may have some influence with North Korea. And I think that the North Koreans want the Russians in because they may see them as more of a partner. Instead of like five on one, maybe it will be three on three, China, North Korea, and Russia against the United States, South Korea, and Japan.

WILSON: The United States is sending the diplomatic message that if North Korea will enter these talks and start dismantling its nuclear weapons program that then, and only then, can we start talking about aids. This is a country in pretty dire need right now of that kind of aid, is it not?

BROOKS: Absolutely. They are on the brink of collapse. There is no doubt about that. They are wards of the international community. Other than their small sales of missiles and some drug smuggling. But they need international aid and that is the leverage we have with them, is that they need this. If they don't, their regime could collapse.

WILSON: Now, while this is all going on, there have been these voices, if you read very carefully that are saying, you know, that well, you know, we could take them if we had to go to war. You know, it's always been said we don't want another war on the Korean Peninsula, but there are those voices out there that say if it came to that, we could win and we could win pretty quickly.

BROOKS: Absolutely. We would prevail. It would be very ugly. I mean North Korea has about 10,000 artillery tubes trained on Seoul, which 25 miles from the DMZ. They could rain down 500,000 rounds of artillery per hour in the opening hour of a conflict. Many people, maybe a million people would be killed in the first hours of the war. We could…we would ultimately prevail, there's no doubt about that but it would be very ugly.

WILSON: Is part of our thinking about why we're so reluctant to do that still in the 1950s kind of thinking in

BROOKS: Absolutely. We know the cost of the Korean War. It was not only costly on the Korean Peninsula, but to the region in general. We don't want to have to fight that war, but we have to have the capable to prevail over Pyongyang.

WILSON: Peter Brooks, we got to go.

BROOKS: Thank you Brian.

WILSON: Thank you so much. Good to see you.

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