LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES
North Korea Claims it Reprocessed Fuel Rods
Aired July 15, 2003 - 19:14 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to tell you about another major story we're following right now.
New concerns in Washington tonight over North Korea's nuclear program. The White House says it's trying to verify a claim by North Korea that it's completed a project reprocess spent nuclear fuel rods into bomb grade plutonium. Now, if the claim is true, the North Korea claim, is true the threat from that country just got a lot worse.
Here's White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For weeks President Bush has had to answer charges that the White House exaggerated intelligence about Iraq's weapons programs to justify the war.
But now his administration is facing criticism about its handling of another so-called member of the axis of evil, North Korea.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Reprocessing is a serious concern and it's something that we will work to address.
MALVEAUX: North Korean officials told the State Department last week the regime has produced enough plutonium to make a half dozen nuclear bombs, moving it one step closer to becoming a nuclear power and threat.
The administration is working to confirm if Pyongyang's claims are true. At the same time, defending its policy of using international diplomacy to keep North Korea in line.
MCCLELLAN: We seek a diplomatic solution but as we move forward we will remain in close contact with South Korea, Japan, China and others to address this and find a solution.
MALVEAUX: But some national security experts believe the diplomatic solution is a failure. Former Defense Secretary William Perry, in an interview in the "Washington Post" published Tuesday said, "I have thought for some months that if the North Koreans moved toward processing spent fuel rods, then we are on a path toward war."
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe this is not a military showdown. This is a diplomatic showdown. And we can resolve this peacefully. MALVEAUX: But if North Korea's Kim Jong-Il is not bluffing about going nuclear, the Bush administration may be forced to reconsider its strategy.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: North Korea continues to build its weapons of mass destruction virtually unabated.
MALVEAUX: Since the standoff began last October the Bush administration has refused to offer Kim Jong-Il any concessions for giving up its weapons a move it considers nuclear blackmail. Mr. Bush has also refused to meet with the North Korean leader one on one for negotiations.
BALBINA HWANG, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Undoubtedly, North Korea thinks it will be able to reach a very specific deal with the United States and then force all the other countries to come along. And we have to send a message that that can simply not occur.
MALVEAUX: Now, Anderson, one way the Bush administration is sending that message is by setting up an international embargo to block illegal weapons as well as other items from North Korea that are being exported, that way to put more political and economic pressure on that country, further damaging it -- Anderson.
COOPER: Suzanne, as you well know there are some critics out there who don't seem to be able to reconcile the Bush administration policy vis-a-vis Iraq with its policy vis-a-vis North Korea. Why is diplomacy called for in North Korea according to the Bush administration?
MALVEAUX: Well, the Bush administration sees the military confrontation on the Korean Peninsula as being extremely risky.
But the other reason is that they think that North Korea definitely depends on its economic trade with its neighbors. And it's much more likely to bow to political and economic pressure from, say, South Korea, China as well as Japan.
And you contrast that with Iraq, Iraq had a history of defying the will of the international community by violating these U.N. Security Council resolutions. It also had a history of using its weapons of mass destruction against its neighbors and against its own people.
COOPER: And they're still talking multilateral diplomacy, not bilateral talks.
MALVEAUX: Absolutely. The Bush administration still insisting the president is not going to sit down one on one and deal with Kim Jong-Il. Rather, they feel that this is a regional issue. They do want to paint this picture as the United States against North Korea, but rather a regional situation. So they're counting on Japan, China, as well as South Korea to participate in those talks. As you know, there was already a trilateral meeting involving China before with U.S. officials and North Korean officials. They hope, again, to expand that but they're not dealing to deal with it one on one.
COOPER: All right. Suzanne Malveaux at the White House. Thanks for the update.
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