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North Korea: The Nuclear Gamble

Aired May 11, 2003 - 18:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, this evening, we take you into one of the strangest countries on earth -- North Korea. A poverty-stricken land ruled by a man who since childhood has been taught he is the son of God -- Kim Jong Il, North Korea's reclusive, enigmatic dictator.
He has a massive conventional arsenal at his disposal, and he seems intent on building a nuclear one, as well. As we speak, North Korea may be rapidly reprocessing spent plutonium to weapons grade nuclear material.

The crisis is real and time is short.

Tonight, what you need to know about North Korea. How serious is the nuclear threat, and how might the U.S. deal with it.

A special look at "North Korea: The Nuclear Gamble."

We begin with CNN's Mike Chinoy, who takes us inside North Korea where the people may be starving, but leaders are spending lavishly girding for war.


MIKE CHINOY, CNN SENIOR ASIA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): North Korea is a country run like a religious cult, the landscape dotted with monuments to its God-like founder, the late Kim Il Sung, the man who started the Korean War.

The airwaves filled with hymns to his son and heir, Kim Jong Il, who is described by North Korean propaganda as the great general and the sun of the 21st century.

It is a society which routinely mobilizes hundreds of thousands of people for marches hailing the great general, while human rights activists and refugees report that Kim's all-pervasive security apparatus divides the population into three categories -- core, waverers and hostile -- with imprisonment or execution the fate of those deemed disloyal.

So tight is the control, that on my many trips to North Korea, I've never been able to do unsupervised interviews or wander around on my own.

Instead, like most visitors, I've been taken to showpiece events, but kept far away from the reality beyond the political theater -- a reality of poverty, stagnation and famine produced by communist economics, natural disasters and international isolation.

KATHI ZELLWEGER, DIRECTOR OF INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION, CARITAS HONG KONG: For the average North Korean, life is a struggle for survival, and that's priority one.

How can I get food? How can I feed my family?

CHINOY: Aid agencies estimate that up to two million North Koreans have starved to death in the past decade. Hundreds of thousands have fled.

"Many families had to eat grass and corn cobs to survive," says Park Son Hee (ph), who worked in a North Korean army band before escaping to China 18 months ago. "I saw this with my own eyes."

Already labeled part of the axis of evil by a Bush administration that would not be unhappy to see regime change in Pyongyang, the North Korean media is now voicing new concerns following the American victory in Iraq.

"The Iraqi crisis teaches a serious lesson," wrote the official Korean Central News Agency recently. "The DPRK," that is, North Korea, "has no option but to strengthen its own means of just self defense in every way."

ZELLWEGER: The officials I spoke to were all more than just concerned. They were deeply worried, or they feared that after Iraq they are next in the firing line.

CHINOY: Avoiding the fate of Saddam Hussein, North Korea watchers say, appears to be the driving force behind Kim Jong Il's nuclear ambitions.

STEPHEN LINTON, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR, NORTH KOREA EXPERT: North Koreans believe that the only way a small nation can guarantee its security and survival and sovereignty is to have an option, is to be able to inflict enough pain on a large country, or a country that might invade it, to make it not worth the trouble.

CHINOY: Effectively, traditional Cold War style nuclear deterrence. But the damage a nuclear North Korea might inflict on U.S. interests has been purchased by further depriving a long- suffering population of scarce resources, and even scarcer food.

Still, a half-century of relentless indoctrination in the Kim cult, many analysts say, means that Kim Jong Il remains firmly in control.

Famine, isolation and nuclear tensions notwithstanding, they are not likely to be toppling statues in Pyongyang any time soon.


CHINOY: Interestingly, among those convinced that there is still some life left in the North Korean regime are the commanders of the U.S. armed forces in South Korea. I was at a briefing by U.S. military intelligence in Seoul a few weeks back. They told me they keep a checklist of dozens of signs of impending regime collapse in North Korea, and these days, they're seeing very few of those signs -- Anderson.

COOPER: Mike, a fascinating look. You've been there 13 times, which is rare for any journalist, pretty remarkable.

Tell us a little bit, just from a personal level, what is it like being there? You know, you have starvation out in the countryside, and then this surreal cult of Kim in the capital.

CHINOY: It is very surreal. We are always very tightly controlled. But a number of impressions have been consistent over a long period of time that I've been visiting North Korea, back to 1989, my first trip.

One is that the sense that the North Koreans can endure a great deal of suffering. These are very, very tough people.

There is no one under about 70 years old who has known anything other than the North Korean regime and system. And so, the sense of both political indoctrination and their ability to endure what outsiders might see as really unimaginable suffering.

And that leads to this broader point about why my own sense is also that the regime, despite all the problems and difficulties, is not going to fall the way regimes in Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union did.

The other sense you come away from on repeated visits is a very, very strong sense of nationalism and a sense that the outside world is rallied against North Korea and that they are under siege -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Mike Chinoy, thanks very much. Must be just a nightmare place to live, a fascinating place to report on. Appreciate you joining us. Thanks.

So, how serious a nuclear threat does North Korea pose to its neighbors and to the U.S.?

That's certainly a chilling question, and it's a question we're going to put to Jon Wolfsthal. He's Deputy Director of the Non- proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. And he joins us from Washington.

Jon, thanks for being with us. Let's talk about the threat from North Korea.

There is the conventional threat. He's got a massive arsenal, huge military -- over a million soldiers, they say. But in terms of the nuclear threat, what is it?

JON WOLFSTHAL, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NONPROLIFERATION PROJECT, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: Well, unfortunately, we don't know exactly how capable North Korea is in terms of their ability to produce nuclear weapons.

The U.S. intelligence officials believe that North Korea may -- may have enough plutonium, the core element of a nuclear weapon, to make one or perhaps two nuclear weapons.

COOPER: That's right now.

WOLFSTHAL: That's right now. This is something they would have acquired early in the 1990s.

In addition, North Korea has enough spent nuclear fuel -- this is fuel that was produced in a reactor and contains plutonium -- to produce an additional five or six nuclear weapons. And that's something that they may, in fact, right now be in the process of extracting from the spent fuel, so they could produce up to five or six more.

COOPER: And I know ...

WOLFSTHAL: One case ...

COOPER: ... and I know the information is sketchy. Five or six weapons when?

WOLFSTHAL: Well, the worst case scenario is that they might have five or six weapons in the next three, four, five months. It could take considerably longer, but the North Koreans have also been able to pull things off rather quickly, surprising U.S. intelligence.

So, again, it's a very hard target, they say, for intelligence perceptions.

COOPER: Understood. Now, the concern is not just that they are going to develop weapons -- nuclear weapons -- for themselves. It's also that they may export these nuclear materials to terrorist groups or rogue nations.

WOLFSTHAL: That's exactly right. And when we think about the threats from North Korea, we sort of think of them as immediate, near term and long term.

The immediate threat is simply the fact we have an incredibly unstable situation, as you said, a million men under arms. In a conventional conflict, North Korea could send half a million artillery shells against Seoul in the first 24 hours.

So, we're worried about that, and then we're worried about their -- what nuclear weapons they may already have. But in the long run, if they can produce these five or six weapons, or by the end of the decade they could produce as many -- the worst case analysis is they could produce as many as 200 nuclear weapons.

And that's something they've already shown a willingness to sell to other countries. They've sold ballistic missiles. They've sold light arms, conventional arms. And for a country that's struggling for any source of cash, the concern is they would sell these weapons as well.

COOPER: Well, I was going to say, it's always hard to predict intentions of a country, but you don't have to look far back in history to look at North Korea's -- they've demonstrated the intention and the ability to sell weapons to others.

I mean, just recently there was this case that they -- the scud missile off the coast of Yemen.

WOLFSTHAL: That's right. And I think it's important to point out that, just as there was nothing illegal about the sale of ballistic missiles from North Korea to another country, there's really nothing illegal about North Korea selling a nuclear weapon.

It's undesirable. It's something we should stop. But it's not as if they're violating a legal treaty, which is one of the gaps we have in our legal structure.

COOPER: How good is the U.S. intelligence on exactly what is going on in terms of the nuclear program in North Korea?

WOLFSTHAL: It's poor, to be very blunt. It is the hardest target to penetrate. The North Koreans themselves are very, very good at controlling information. They don't use high tech systems, so we can't really penetrate them the way we do with other countries.

And they are fiercely loyal and very compartmentalized, so it is very difficult to know what's going on.

COOPER: Bottom line, the threat is very real and time is very short.

WOLFSTHAL: Well, the threat is real, time is short, but I think it's important to keep in mind that there are potential, peaceful solutions here. The North Koreans themselves have said they would be willing to give up their nuclear weapons program in exchange for incentives from the United States.

The same -- they've said they're willing to give up their ballistic missile program. And so, while the threat is real and could get a lot worse, there at least is an avenue to pursue. It's not simply a situation that's going to spin out of control.

COOPER: All right. We're going to examine that a little bit later on in the broadcast. Jon Wolfsthal, appreciate you joining us. Thanks very much.

WOLFSTHAL: My pleasure.

COOPER: Well, coming up on our Special Report, "North Korea: The Nuclear Gamble," what can recent history tell us about what the world is facing with North Korea -- war machine that's built on the backs of hungry North Koreans. How had is their plight?

We'll have that coming up.

Also, ...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very early on, he was the son of God.


COOPER: Son of God. He may be the strangest national leader on earth. What makes Kim Jong Il tick? A question a lot of people would like to be able to answer.

We're going to try to get as close as we can. Is this guy a ticking time bomb? We're going to take a look when we return.


ANNOUNCER: When Japan surrendered at the end of World War II, Tokyo's 35-year colonial rule over Korea ended. The peninsula was split in half, along the 38th parallel, the Soviet Union controlled the north, the United States, the south.

It was meant to be temporary. But by 1948, two separate nations emerged with opposing political philosophies and economies. Fifty- five years later, that's still the case, although there have been some recent thaws in relations between Seoul and Pyongyang.

COOPER: Welcome back to our special, "North Korea: The Nuclear Gamble."

Now, this week, there may be some new developments in the North Korean nuclear crisis. That's because South Korea's new president, Noh Moo-hyun, is making his first visit here to the United States.

The U.S., of course, and South Korea disagree over how best to handle Pyongyang. Then, again, what to do about North Korea has been a question that has bedeviled many U.S. administrations.

Here's White House correspondent, Chris Burns.


CHRIS BURNS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Like a slab of the Berlin Wall, many thought North Korea's Stalinist regime was just another communist domino about to fall.

An orphan of the Cold War, Kim Il Sung and his regime struggled for survival. He proceeded with a nuclear weapons program to strengthen his hand.

In 1994, the Clinton administration persuaded North Korea to halt the program in exchange for aid to the starving nation.

ROBERT J. EINHORN, SENIOR ADVISER, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: The agreed framework of 1994 didn't solve the problem. It froze the situation for a while. BURNS: Kim's regime survived, passing to his son, Kim Jong Il. And the 1994 agreements began to fall apart, each side accusing the other of reneging.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They took the aid, they ran with the aid and then they developed nuclear weapons program anyway.

BURNS: And then there were North Korea's missile tests, including one successfully fired in 1998 with enough range to reach the United States -- more fodder for doomsday scenarios of another Korean conflict if the war of words and the escalation continued.

The Korean War Memorial here in Washington marks the more than 36,000 American troops who died. More than one million civilians also perished. And some experts say that another Korean conflict could be even more disastrous.

Another doomsday scenario, September 11, raised concerns North Korea could export nukes to terrorists, leading President Bush last year to label North Korea as a rogue state, just like Iraq.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: States like these and their terrorists allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.

BURNS: Some analysts say that only helped speed the downward spiral into crisis.

EINHORN: The axis of evil speech, as well as other actions taken by the Bush administration may have exacerbated the situation.

BURNS: In the last six months, fuel oil to North Korea was cut off. Pyongyang restarted its nuclear reactor and kicked out U.N. inspectors. It quit the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and, according to U.S. officials, announced it had at least one atomic bomb.

The White House says it won't be blackmailed.

FLEISCHER: We will not reward North Korea for bad behavior.

BURNS: But some analysts say Washington has little choice.

PHIL GORDON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: There's a diplomatic way out of this. It is going to involve buying them off, which is very distasteful to the United States.


BURNS: Bush administration officials insist there will be no negotiations, only talks, on how North Korea can shut down its nuclear weapons program. No explicit offer of aid, but the official says the incentive is for Pyongyang to want to turn the clock back, away from isolation and back to a time of constructive engagement -- a time that included oil, food and other means of survival for a desperate land. By the way, this state might seem like a faraway place to talk about that, but this was the first place with the atomic bomb -- the first atomic bomb -- was set off -- Anderson.

COOPER: Chris, South Korea's new president arrives, I believe on Monday. Are White House officials hopeful they're going to be able to reach some sort of consensus on what to do with Pyongyang?

BURNS: Well, the insistence on both sides is that they do agree on the basic idea of de-nuclearizing the South Korean -- the Korean peninsula.

Now, the devil is in the details. The South Koreans appear to want to continue and to push ahead with their "Sunshine Policy." That is constructive engagement that we've been talking about.

However, the U.S. is taking a little bit more of a standoffish approach and at least leaving open the possibility that they could go ahead with some kind of sanctions, even a possible Cuban missile style blockade from 1962.

So the U.S. is leaving those options open. However, it does appear that the leaning on both sides is to -- among the South Koreans and the Americans -- is to try to see some kind of a deal where the North Koreans will start getting some aid again in exchange for shutting down their program.

That, again, we'll see how those talks happen on Wednesday when President Noh meets with President Bush in Washington.

COOPER: All right. Chris Burns, thanks very much.

So, coming up, the fifth largest military power on earth gets hundreds of millions of dollars in food aid every year. So what is wrong with this picture of starving children?

We'll have some answers when we return.


ANNOUNCER: Since the mid-1990s, droughts and floods have destroyed farms and homes throughout North Korea. This has led to a major food production crisis.

Up to two million people are believed to have died from starvation. A North Korea U.N. report in 2000 showed nearly 10 percent of children under the age of seven were malnourished.

Widespread starvation has been prevented by food delivery efforts like the World Food Programme.

COOPER: Well, while North Korea has spent a third of its fortune on its war machine, its people have spent a decade short on food.

Gerald Bourke is the spokesman for the World Food Programme's efforts in North Korea. He's traveled inside North Korea and he joins us from Beijing, China.

Gerald, thanks very much for being with us.

How bad is the humanitarian crisis inside North Korea right now?

GERALD BOURKE, SPOKESMAN, U.N. WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME, BEIJING, CHINA: It's very grim. It's very precarious. There are millions of hungry people, millions of malnourished people.

As you say, the country simply cannot produce enough food to feed itself, for all kinds of reasons. There is insufficient arable land. The agricultural infrastructure is very deficient.

It is visited, as you say, every year by droughts and flooding. And the gap this year, the cereals gap, the difference between what the country produces and the minimum it needs, is around about one million tons. That's more than 20 percent of their requirement.

So, very grim indeed.

COOPER: My understanding is there are regions of the country where this is especially bad, and that's because, I mean, basically, you know, the pictures we see out of Pyongyang, everything looks clean and glistening and all sort of well orchestrated.

But that's because it's a specialized city. Only certain people, party officials and the like, are allowed inside that city. All the problems that we don't see are really outside in the country. Is that correct?

BOURKE: Yes, there are very pronounced regional disparities in terms of access to food.

For example, in the north and the northeast, people are particularly deprived. Land there is scarce. Its quality is very inferior.

Along the east coast you drive through very large cities, hundreds of thousands of people. They were, in a sense, flourishing when the Soviet Union was in existence.

Now you drive through and it's mile after mile of derelict factories. They're basically rusting shells.

So in those sorts of cities you have large numbers of unemployed, underemployed people. And ...

COOPER: How cooperative ...

BOURKE: ... they're very, very vulnerable.

COOPER: How cooperative is the North Korean regime in aiding, for instance, the World Food Programme, which you work for, in terms of getting supplies to those who need it?

BOURKE: Well, our program has built up slowly and steadily over the years. We went in in 1995 at the request of the government. At the time we had two or three people on the ground.

We were limited to the capital, Pyongyang. Any overland, any travel inside the country had to be undertaken by air or rail.

Now we have 45 people in there. We have five sub-offices outside of the country. We're the only agency with a presence outside of the capital.

COOPER: All right, ...

BOURKE: So our operating ...

COOPER: I'm sorry, Gerald. We're going to have to end it there ...

BOURKE: ... our operation ...

COOPER: Sorry. We're a little pressed for time. Gerald Bourke, I appreciated hearing about the World Food Programme's operations in North Korea. Thank you. Appreciated you joining us from Beijing. Thank you.

When we continue our hour-long look at North Korea, preparing for the worst. The U.S. military play serious war games just in case.

But could diplomacy work with this strange and dangerous dictator?

Also, a rare and personal peek inside North Korea, and a telling story about its people.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are no devils. They are not communists with red horns in their face. They are human beings like you and me.




COOPER: Our special continues now.

If the U.S. were to go to war with North Korea, it would be a totally different conflict than Iraq.

The U.S.'s war game, the scenario for years now. And the result is always the same. The U.S. and its South Korean allies win, but the cost in human lives is terrible.

Let's look right now at the war plan the U.S. hopes never to have to put into effect.

Here's senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Every year the U.S. and South Korean military rehearse what insiders know as Op Plan 50207. The detailed blueprint for the defense of South Korea.

U.S. Army General Leon Laporte's job is to make sure the north loses.

GEN. LEON LAPORTE, COMMANDER, U.S. KOREA FORCES: I am confident as we sit here today that we could defeat a North Korean attack into South Korea if it was to occur.

MCINTYRE: Confident, maybe. But Laporte and many of his predecessors say North Korea's military, while obsolete, is nevertheless formidable.

With 70 percent of its Army mass south of Pyongyang, along the demilitarized zone.

GEN. JOHN TILLELI, FMR. CMDR. U.S. KOREA FORCES: They have missiles, both short-range and medium-range missiles, present and deployed. They have weapons of mass destruction. And, oh, by the way, they have about a million plus ground forces.

MCINTYRE: The Pentagon says about 800 of the north's missiles can strike any point in South Korea. Even as far as Japan.

(on camera): Do they have chemical weapons?

TILLELI: In my view they do.

MCINTYRE: That they could put on missiles and...

TILLELI: In my view they do.

MCINTYRE: Would you expect that they would use them?

TILLELI: I would expect that the regime would use all means available that they have, if they decided to go to war.

MCINTYRE (voice-over): North Korea's military first policy diverts most of its resources to its armed forces. Looking at the Korean Peninsula from space, South Korea sparkles with economic vitality, while the north remains in the industrial dark ages.

The U.S. says Pyongyang has invested instead in things like artillery, an estimated 11,000 guns. Many are hidden in hardened bunkers in the mountainous border region. Capable by one calculation of reigning as many as 300,000 shells an hour on Seoul.

The capitol city is a mere 40 miles south of the DMZ.

ASH CARTER, FMR. ASST. SECY. OF DEFENSE: This is a war that takes place in the crowded suburbs of a teeming, modern, Asian city. This isn't the Arabian Desert. So it's a -- an intensity of violence that we haven't seen since the last Korean War, and were, God forbid, it to take place would truly shock people.

MCINTYRE: One Pentagon projection estimates a million casualties on both sides, including as many as 50,000 U.S. troops. U.S. commanders say the brunt of South Korea's defense would initially be borne by its own 600,000-man army and its air force of 780 aircraft, including American-made F16s.

But sources say the war plan also calls for quickly supplementing 37,000 U.S. troops now in South Korea with up to 500,000 American reinforcements backed by massive U.S. air power to prevent the fall of Seoul.

CARTER: Our objective is to hold north of Seoul because we don't want Seoul to change hands twice. That means you can't trade territory for time. In military terms that means a rapid war of attrition up near the DMZ.

MCINTYRE: Ash Carter was there when it almost happened in 1994. He says the U.S. came close to ordering a strike by F-117 Stealth jets and Tomahawk Cruise missiles to take out North Korea's nuclear facilities at Pyongyang. The idea was to set back the North's nuclear program by entombing inside the plant the plutonium that could otherwise be used for nuclear weapons.

In '94 President Clinton had to weigh whether a preemptive strike would spark an all-out war. An eleventh hour agreement froze North Korea's nuclear program, and averted military action.

But now should diplomacy fail, President Bush who has a stated policy of preemption, would face the same unpalatable choice, but with one new wrinkle.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il now claims to have a nuclear bomb and is demanding to be treated as a nuclear power.

CARTER: Obviously one or two nuclear weapons adds to the level of destruction but it doesn't transform the situation. They're capable today of wreaking awful destruction. It will be also their self-destruction if they do it.

MCINTYRE: The U.S. insists its annual military exercises in the south are purely defensive, but the decision to make a very public display of F-117s at this year's training exercises could be read as a pointed reminder of U.S. resolve.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.


COOPER: Well, coming up, he calls himself the Great General, and rules with an iron fist, but just who is Kim Jong Il? And is his bad behavior just a clever cover?

Also, his mighty military eats up one-third of the country's budget while starving North Koreans waiting on international handouts, as you just heard. We're going to take a look at their plate when "North Korea: The Nuclear Gamble," continues.


ANNOUNCER: The guerrilla fighter turned politician, Kim Il Sung, had ruled North Korea for nearly half a century when he died in 1994. He came to prominence in 1950, leading an invasion of the south, which began the Korean War.

When the war ended in 1953, the Korean Peninsula remained divided, something Kim Il Sung never accepted. For the next four decades he created a highly regimented Communist state. His nation called him "Great Leader."

COOPER: Well, that great leader, Kim Il Sung, was succeeded by his sun, Kim Jong Il, a dictator who calls himself the "Great General."

He is reclusive, enigmatic, and rules with an iron fist. The question, can he be reasoned with? Decide for yourself. Here's CNN National Security correspondent David Ensor.


DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kim Jong Il, U.S. experts in and out of government say, is one of the strangest leaders on earth.

Son of the founder of a Stalinist state, he was groomed from birth for absolute power.

JERROLD POST, FMR. CIA ANALYST: He was told from very early on that he was the Son of God.

ENSOR: Pampered all his life, the 61-year-old Kim Jong Il lives, experts say, in a seven-story pleasure palace.

POST: He has recruited at the junior high school level attractive young women to become members of what are called the Joy Brigades to be providing pleasure and relaxation to the hardworking officials of his inner circle.

ENSOR: In the late '70s, U.S. officials say Kim ordered the kidnapping of South Korean movie star Choi Un Wie (ph) and her director husband. Madame Choi later described her first meeting with the portly 5 foot, 2 inch Kim.

POST: When he first met her, he said to her, "Well now Choi, you must be surprised to see that I resemble the droppings of a midget." So there's a lot of insecurity, not just politically but personally.

ENSOR: But U.S. officials and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright who spent 12 hours with the man in 2000 say though he may be insecure, Kim Jong Il is definitely not crazy.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: It was possible to talk with him. He's not a nut. I think that's the main kind of point that never forgetting that he is ruthless and that he knows that he's running a country that is on the verge of economic disaster.

ENSOR: Kim took Albright to a stadium to see 100,000 people dance in unison.

ALBRIGHT: He said that he would really have loved to have been a movie director. He knew a lot about American movies, and had suggestions for Oscar nominations and -- you know -- he also liked American sports, he liked Michael Jordan.

ENSOR: He is also a leader who has allowed literally millions of his own countrymen to starve to death. One reason President Bush has expressed in his words loathing for Kim, and dropped the dialogue Secretary Albright and President Clinton started.

ALBRIGHT: I do not think that dialogue is appeasement and that it is absolutely essential to talk to someone or a leader that you want something from. We talked to Stalin, we talked to Mao Zedong.

ENSOR: And like them, Kim Jong Il is clearly hoping to stay in power for a long time. After decades of heavy drinking, Hennessey cognac was his brand; he recently cut back on hard liquor. Though U.S. officials say he still drinks a good deal of wine and champagne.

David Ensor, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: But he drinks champagne while his people starve. And now, getting into North Korea is certainly difficult for outsiders.

Spending significant time there virtually impossible. One man who has is a German human rights activist named Norbert Vollertsen. He's a doctor, and he spent some 18 months inside North Korea.

Initially he was hailed as a hero by the North Koreans, he was later thrown out after denouncing the regimes human rights abuses. His perspective is unique; his story now in his own words.


NORBERT VOLLERTSEN, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Nothing was normal in Germany about North Korea, there is no travel guide, there is no information about North Korea. They are quite tough.

They are not devils, they are not Communists with red horns on their face -- they are human beings like you and me. I like the people in the countryside very much and therefore I wanted also to show something that we're real friends and when there was mistreatment of this girl patient, the whole hospital, all the nurses and all the North Korean doctors, they all lined up in order to donate their own skin.

So we also offered our skin and in the end they accepted. What they are doing is they take a razor blade and there was no disinfections, there was no anesthesia because they do not have this facilities. So they made a cut with the razor blade, a little bit deeper, a little bit superficial. But all the nurses were so brave, so we were brave, too.

We got the friendship medal of the North Korean government. Maybe the first westerners ever who got this high honor and we got this together with a special VIP passport and this VIP passport encouraged me.

I always carry this passport with me in order to go to the countryside and see the real picture because I also got an -- a private driving license. A North Korean private driving license, and with those two items, I was allowed to go around. I just took my Jeep and went to the countryside. I went to one side; I went to another on my own.

When I had this first impression I was shocked about the condition of the countryside. Those children who were starving and dying there. Those children in their blue and white striped pajamas who were looking like -- yes -- prisoners in German concentration camps. Like in Auschwitz. I was moved when I saw their sad eyes, when I saw those faces.

I thought I have to do something and you know by German history we were all accused that when they were the first rumors about some concentration camps in Germany and nobody was outspoken about that -- we failed to act.

So I thought I have to speak out about the condition in North Korea. There is no hope; there is no future for those children. The can't cry anymore, they can't laugh any more. They are in a very desperate situation; they are dying and starving and I witnessed this several times in the countryside in North Korea and the condition in the capitol city for the elite was quite fashionable and I was invited to all those nice banquets and all those gatherings there -- the casinos, the nightclubs.

And I thought, oh, that's nothing I expected in the Communist society. And then I met all those western journalists. They had come -- this is all -- Mrs. Albright, the Secretary of State of the United States during her visit in Pyongyang. And I thought that's the chance to do something, to open up this country. After I carried around those Western journalists I was expelled.

That was the consequence of my bad behavior. I was forced to leave the country and then I fulfilled a promise. I thought I got the friendship medal of the North Korean people and I take it serious. I think I'm still a friend of the ordinary people; I have to do something.

We took all those North Korean refugees, we briefed them the day before and we donated to them some baseball caps so that they were looking like South Korean tourists. And then they stormed the Embassy. And they succeeded.

It was the first time North Korean refugees managed to enter Western Embassy, ask for shelter, as for protection, and two days later they managed to get into freedom.

We strongly believe in this possibility that there is a collapse from inside in North Korea when we pressure enough. I was very often quite disappointed about all those politics as a lot about military affairs, a lot about money, a lot about power, a lot about economics. But nobody cares for human beings and that's my approach.


COOPER: One man who has seen -- Norbert Vollertsen, human rights activist.

Coming up next, could the U.S. neutralize the North Korean nuclear threat, and what are the options? Certainly what are the risks? We'll talk about that when we come back.


COOPER: Want to talk about the nuclear threat a bit.

Joining us now to offer more insight on the threat that North Korea poses, Mitchell Reiss, former adviser to the Reagan and the Bush administrations on North Korea.

Also Anthony Namkung, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations Korean Task Force.

Also re-joining us Mike Chinoy, CNN's senior Asia correspondent, who's covered Asia for many years.

Gentlemen thank you all for being with us. Mike, I want to start off with you. What do the North Koreans say they want from the U.S. right now?

CHINOY: Anderson, the North Korean ambition here is simply to survive and what the North Korean media -- if you read it carefully has been saying consistently for a long time is that they want to see an end to what they call the, quote, "hostile policy of the United States."

They don't want Washington to treat North Korea as an enemy. They're very afraid of the United States, much more so since the Bush administration took office with a much tougher line.

The North Koreans continue to signal that if the United States is willing to abandon that so-called hostile policy, they are willing to negotiate on both the nuclear issue and also on their missile program.

COOPER: All right, Mitchell Reiss, what do you think? Should the U.S. buy that and agree to those demands, if you will?

MITCHELL REISS, COLLEGE OF WILLIAM & MARY: Well we don't know exactly what North Korea's intentions are. Yes, they have made statements at certain times indicating a willingness to negotiate. At other times they've issued belligerent statements. So, how we go forward is now the big test for the administration. They have a number of options available. I think what we're going to see is they'll try another round of negotiations and see where those might lead.

COOPER: Let's talk options. Anthony Namkung, as you see this, what are the U.S. options right now?

ANTHONY NAMKUNG, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well the options are very simple. They are three. One is to continue the containment policy in cooperation with our allies in Japan and South Korea.

Secondly, to impose an international economic blockade, this time with the assistance of not only those two allies but with China and Russia. And the third is war. It's very clear that the negotiations is the only option available tot his administration.

I would like to refine Mike Chinoy's points about what the North Koreans are seeking at this point. The talks in Beijing that concluded about two weeks ago -- the North Koreans put a proposal on the table. Recognition of the North Korean system and respect for its sovereignty, the removal of any obstacles to North Koreas improving its economic ties to Japan and South Korea.

And some kind of written security guarantee that the U.S. will not attack. In exchange for that North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons, it will cease all missile exports, it will put an end to the medium and long-term range missiles.

It will cooperate on international terrorism. Incidentally, you might be interested to know that North Korea was the first nation, I believe, within 24 hours to extend its condolences to the U.S. right after 9/11 -- it called in the Swiss charge to extend those condolences.

North Korea wants to negotiate.

COOPER: OK, I want to bring in Mitchell Reiss on that. Mitchell you've heard what Anthony has said. What do you think?

REISS: Well you know why should we trust anything the North Koreans say and how can we trust any negotiated solution with the North Koreans? They've shredded every international non-proliferation agreement that they've ever signed. And so the challenge really is can you negotiate any type of agreement that will actually stick.

And the difficulty is given the secretive nature of North Korea, given the fact as John Wolfsthal said earlier that we know so little about the dimensions of their nuclear weapons program, how will we know that we can actually capture all of their nuclear capabilities in any agreement that they sign up to?

COOPER: Mike Chinoy I want to bring you in here. In your travels to North Korea, do you get the sense that they have a good read, not only on this administration but just on the U.S. in general? Do they -- are they reading the politics well? CHINOY: They don't really have that clear an understanding about how the American system works or how American politics work. They do, however feel very much that the concessions that in their own eyes they've offered over the last eight or nine years have not been reciprocated by the United States.

When I was going to North Korea in the mid-1990s at a time when they had actually frozen their nuclear program at the Pyongyang reactor I heard repeated complaints of North Korean officials that deliveries of fuel promised by the United States were late, that the building of two safer light water nuclear reactors was delayed.

And I think that's the context in which the North Koreans view the whole dynamic with the United States -- they have made concessions up front and have not gotten the expected gains in terms of loosening of economic sanctions or most importantly some recognition by the United States of the legitimacy of the North Korean system and that's the dilemma for the Bush administration because any deal would involve in a sense legitimizing Kim Jong Il's regime and that is something that the president who's said publicly that he loathes Kim Jong Il is loathe to do and that creates a real problem for Washington.

COOPER: All right Anthony want to bring you in now. Only about a minute and a half left, want to get a final thought from you and from Mitchell.

What do you think the U.S. should do right now -- both what they can do and what they should do?

NAMKUNG: Well the deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage two or three years ago issued something called the Armitage Report which he described as more for more -- that if the U.S. will extend diplomatic recognition and provide economic assistance and so forth, that the North Koreans will in a verifiable and irreversible manner put an end to its weapons of mass destruction programs.

As Ronald Reagan put it, trust but verify. That's the only way to go, and that's the stance that the U.S. should adopt at this time.

COOPER: All right, Mitchell, your final thought?

REISS: Any chance of success is going to depend on the United States bringing the Chinese into play here. China has an awful lot at stake in making sure that North Korea does not continue to build nuclear weapons and that this dispute, this conflict, this hostility, this hostile policy by the north be brought into some sort of peaceful resolution. It's up to China to play a major role.

COOPER: What about South Korea? I mean, you've got the South Korean president coming just this week -- coming on Wednesday and meeting with President Bush. Are you expecting any kind of movement from them?

REISS: No, his number one objective, I think is going to be to try to persuade President Bush to continue talking with the North Koreans. This North Korean crisis has had a devastating effect on the South Korean economy; foreign investment is down, the market's down. Because of the instability in the region.

So I think he's going to persuade the president -- try and tone down the rhetoric, continue talking with the north. But, again, China is going to be the key because they have leverage on the North Korean regime that they can use if they choose to do so.

COOPER: All right we're going to have to leave it there. Mitchell Reiss, Anthony Namkung and Mike Chinoy, appreciate you joining us all. Thank you very much.

REISS: Thank you.

NAMKUNG: Thank you.

COOPER: So, a closed society with a strange leader who has nuclear technology. That is what makes North Korea a nuclear gamble and right now as you heard the stakes could not be higher both for the United States, North Korea's neighbors, and for the rest of the world.

I'm Anderson Cooper, thanks for joining us on this CNN Special Report. I'll return with more CNN SUNDAY after a short break.


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