Will North Korea Return to Six-Party Talks?

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," June 10, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The six-party talks are essential to saying to Mr. Kim Jong Il that he ought to give up his weapons, to make it very clear to him that the way to join the community of nations is to listen to China, and South Korea, and Japan, and Russia, and the United States.


BRIAN WILSON, GUEST HOST: So what can the United States, South Korea, Russia, and Japan really do about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions? Can they all come together with one powerful, persuasive approach?

For answers, we turn to David Kang, a government professor at Dartmouth College and author of the book "Nuclear North Korea."

Dr. Kang, we appreciate you joining us.


WILSON: Let’s talk a little bit about the brag versus the fact, because the North Koreans have said in recent days that they have nuclear weapons, all the nuclear weapons they need to push back any affront that may come their direction. What do you think is the truth there? Do they, and how many?

KANG: Most likely, they have between two and eight. Most of us would be really reluctant to think that they don’t have any at all. But the key point is that they’ve never tested one, and they’ve never tested the intercontinental ballistic missile that proves that they’ve got it, so that everybody is still in a guessing stage.

WILSON: So in other words, the fact that they say they have it doesn’t mean that they have a viable nuclear weapon because it’s never been tested. We don’t know whether their nuclear weapons will actually work?

KANG: Absolutely. There’s a lot of speculation about, can they do a virtual test, or do they need to test? But until you test and until you see a missile that actually works, you don’t have convincing evidence that they have a deliverable nuclear weapon.

WILSON: So we have to take the worst case scenario when we look at the North Koreans, don’t we? We have to assume the worse.

KANG: Well, that’s what we’ve tended to do. And it’s not that hard to figure out how much plutonium they could have reprocessed, and that’s why the estimates now are between two and eight.

If they continue with the reprocessing this year, they could have double that in about a year or so. So that’s what we tend to do is, look for the worst-case scenario.

WILSON: Now, in recent days, the North Koreans have sent — and this is the term of art that’s being used in Washington — mixed signals about their intention to return to the six-party talks with U.S., China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. What are the mixed signals?

KANG: Well, they’ve said that they are willing to come back into talks. What they have said at the same time is that they’re continuing to build their nuclear weapons and also that they haven’t set a time line. So it’s not an unambiguous signal that talks will occur in the next week or so.

WILSON: So we’re still at odds at whether or not they are truly intending to come back to the talks? We don’t know for sure?

KANG: No. On the one hand, they say that they want to come back. Everyone, all six countries, say they want to continue talks. The issue isn’t over whether they want to continue talks, but how, when, under what conditions. And that’s where the signals continue to be mixed.

WILSON: Well, today we see President Bush and President Roh of South Korea sitting down at the White House. What is the significance of that meeting now?

KANG: Well, the U.S. and South Korea have fairly large differences over how to approach North Korea. And so this meeting was viewed as a chance for two really long-standing allies to reaffirm their alliance and sort of build bridges or mend fences.

And you know, they succeeded to a degree, but that’s because they focused on what they agree on and they didn’t focus on what the U.S. and South Korea disagree on.

WILSON: And what are the things that we disagree on?

KANG: Well, both countries agree that they don’t want a nuclear-armed North Korea and that the six-party talks are the way to go. The issue is, what do you do beyond that? And as I think your earlier segment pointed out, the U.S. is more in favor of moving towards coercive measures and South Korea and China are more in favor of pursuing economic engagement.

WILSON: All right, bring this home into terms that everybody can understand. And people in America who watching this discussion and they say, why do I care about what North Korea does? It doesn’t seem to impact my life very much. Explain to them why it’s important.

KANG: Well, the U.S. is focused on North Korean strength, and that’s their nuclear weapons. They don’t have the capacity to hit the U.S. right now. But our concern is less a North Korean strike than a country that’s known to sell arms to rogue regimes, like Syria and Libya, that if they got nuclear weapons that they would sell them to terrorist groups. So that’s really one of our main concerns in the United States.

WILSON: And if they were ever able to get a viable nuclear weapon, and as you said, marry it with an intercontinental ballistic missile, then it’s a serious threat to anyone in the world?

KANG: Yes, although we need to remember that deterrence works both ways. And right now, the deterrence — if North Korea were to launch one of those, we would know who launched it and we would be able to deter them, as well, because we would take out the country.

That’s one thing about a country, is you can deter it, because you know exactly where the missile is coming from. So it would be dangerous, but it’s still highly unlikely that North Korea would launch a missile or start a war against anyone, even if they had nuclear weapons.

WILSON: All right. So if it’s in everybody’s best interests to get the North Koreans back to these six-party talks, how do we do that? We’ve laid inducements on the table, according to our reporter, Carl Cameron, but they haven’t taken any of them up.

KANG: Well, that’s one of the difficulties of the six-party talks. The inducements that were laid out, the benefits that North Korea would gain from the United States if they gave up their nukes last June was fairly vague. And it’s not quite clear how that would play out. The North Koreans said they wanted to know more about that.

But the problem isn’t even really that. The problem is that the five other countries don’t speak with one voice towards North Korea. And since China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States have different perspectives, very hard to get them all together and say one thing to North Korea.

WILSON: David Kang, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

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