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STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING
Interview With Senator Jack Reed
Aired April 5, 2009 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John King. This is our STATE OF THE UNION report for this Sunday, April 5th. A defiant North Korea launches a rocket designed to reach as far as the United States. President Obama calls it a provocative act and for swift international sanctions.
Pyongyang says it was simply launching a satellite, but its neighbors call the launch threatening. We'll check in with CNN correspondents around the world covering this breaking story.
And what are the U.S. options going forward? We'll ask a veteran diplomat who has sat face-to-face across from North Korea's unpredictable leader.
KING: Press pictures of President Obama departing Prague. Next stop: Turkey. He's calling on world leaders to step up on the economy and Afghanistan. And this morning, a new, bold challenge to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
Senior White House adviser David Axelrod joins us to talk about the president's overseas debut. That and more, all ahead in this hour of "State of the Union."
We begin with the breaking news out of North Korea. The reclusive Communist regime defied the United Nations resolution and ignored international threats of sanctions and launched a long-range rocket.
The Taepodong-2 missile, which passed over Japan, was launched Sunday morning in Asia about 10:30 p.m. Eastern Time Saturday, here in the United States.
The goal for the North Koreans was to launch a satellite into orbit, to test the reach of its long-range missile program. But U.S. and Canadian aerospace officials say the mission failed. They say one stage of the rocket landed in the Sea of Japan. The remaining portions, along with the satellite, landed in the Pacific Ocean.
Still, the launch was in violation of the United Nations resolution passed after a previous North Korean test firing in 2006. And the Security Council is scheduled to meet later today to discuss a response.
President Obama is traveling overseas. And earlier this morning, in the Czech Republic, he had strong words for North Korea.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something. The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons.
Now's the time for a strong international response.
North Korea must know that the path to security and respect will never come through threats and illegal weapons. All nations must come together to build a stronger, global regime. And that's why we must stand shoulder to shoulder to pressure the North Koreans to change course.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is traveling with the president, joins us now from Prague. Ed, let's start with how the president found out on this overseas trip.
HENRY: Well, John, it was White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs who informed the president, woke him up around 4:30 this morning here in Prague. We're six hours ahead of Washington.
Robert Gibbs says that, initially, the president expressed no surprise at all. He's been briefed on this. He's been prepared. In fact, the president has several high-level meetings back in Washington, even before they went on this trip, to go through the various scenarios.
So today, here in Prague, he's already had high-level briefings from his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, his national security adviser, retired Marine General Jim Jones, traveling with him as well; the president also reaching out by phone to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, military officials as well.
And I can tell the U.S., as you know, pushing for strong action by the U.N. today, when they have that emergency session of the Security Council. That's why Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who's traveling here with the president -- she has been working the phones as well, reaching out to her counterparts from China, South Korea, Japan, as well as Russia, trying to make sure that this response is coordinated, John.
KING: And, Ed, as we await the Security Council meeting, how about the timing of this?
The North Korean leader is known to act to get attention. He picked a pretty good moment here, the president giving a dramatic speech in Prague, trying to talk about a pledge to rid the world some day of nuclear weapons.
Does the White House believe the timing was on purpose? HENRY: Top aides are saying, look, we can't get inside the mind of the North Korean dictator. We don't know whether they planned it. But the White House is insisting they were not planning anything on this side of things, that this speech had been in the works for weeks; they were going to move ahead on this speech about ridding the world of nuclear weapons, regardless of what North Korea did.
They say they just can't get inside the head of that regime. But they believe, at least right now, that it was all coincidental.
What the president was trying to do in this speech today, here in Prague, was to try to put this whole situation in a broader context and say that the threat, the nuclear threat around the world, is much broader than just North Korea. It also involves rogue nations like Iran.
And the president made some bold promises. He said he wants to push now for a comprehensive test ban treaty all around the world that the U.S. would be willing to sign. And he also wants to rid the world of the loose nukes, nuclear material that's available around the world that could get in the hands of terrorists.
He promised he would rid the world of that in his first four years in office. So some big promises today from this president on a very dramatic day, John.
KING: Ed Henry, keeping track of the president's trip and the dramatic surprise, or not so surprise, from North Korea in Prague.
Ed, thanks very much.
Joining us now is retired Air Force Lieutenant General Henry "Trey" Obering III. He's the former director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency in the Defense Department. General, thanks for joining us.
I want to take a closer look at what we have. This is a simulation built from satellite images, and let's go in to where we know this took place here. Let's come on in here.
This is the launch pad area here. You see residential areas, dormitories essentially, on the military facility. Let's come in and look a little bit closer here, this simulation. Looks pretty familiar. I know you've seen this many times before. The control bunker here. Over here, -- this gets a little finicky sometimes -- this is the assembly. You see the road, so they can take the missile out. They put it together in here. And this of course, what we are most concerned about, is the rocket right here. Taepodong-2 missile on the platform. The North Koreans have been working on this for some time. It's a two-stage missile. Payload on the top. What do we know about the capabilities?
OBERING: First of all, this could be an intercontinental ballistic range missile. That typically means it has more than one stage, two or three stages. We know that it is basically built on the old Scud technology that they improved. They made the engines larger and more capable. There may be advanced engines that could be used in the upper stages. We don't understand or know that. That is one of the things that we were very concerned and looking for.
But this represents basically the ability to range certainly the northwestern portions of the United States, if it is a two-stage missile. If it is three-stage, with some of the advanced propellants and lighter materials, it could range the majority of the United States.
KING: I want to take a look at the neighborhood. We can switch out to a different shot here. This is the neighborhood here. You mentioned the potential range, so let's start at that point, let's start from the range of this. What they are hoping with this missile -- you see North Korea is here. The west -- just west of the Hawaiian islands, the residential parts of the Hawaiian islands. But up here, of course, this missile, if it makes that range, could reach Alaska, some of western Canada, and dangerously close to the West Coast of the United States. Are they capable of doing that yet?
OBERING: Apparently, because this did not succeed, they have not been able to achieve that yet. But it does show the dogged determination by the North Koreans to continue this development program, in spite of the intense diplomacy and the sanctions that have been placed against it.
One thing I would like to show you, if I could, John. If they were aiming for a space launch, what you would see them do is try to take advantage of the earth's rotation. So that's why you see the trajectory the way you see it, headed in this manner. So we are looking for any azimuth in this direction that would be a threat to the United States. That's one of the things that we were looking at, with respect to any threats to the United States.
KING: Let's break down what happened. Because we do know, as predicted, first stage hit in the Sea of Japan, to the west of Japan, from our perspective in the United States. But the second stage, this orange area is where a successful missile launch, based on everything we've been able to put together -- they thought the second stage would hit here. Instead, we are told by NORAD that the second stage of the missile, along with the satellite payload, hit the drink somewhere in here.
What does that tell you about what happened, what went wrong?
OBERING: It says that, first of all, they had successful first staging, and they were able to control that rocket through staging. That is a significant step forward for any missile program, because oftentimes those missiles become unstable as they go through these staging events.
The fact that they did not get apparent separation of the payload from the second or third stage means that they have more work to do there in terms of being able to achieve that. But the bottom line is they are continuing to advance in their ranges, and I think it's why it's important that we have the ability to defend against these types of threats. KING: And help our viewer at home understand that this is not just to snub the nose -- thumb your nose at the international community. North Korea does this because it is in the missile business.
OBERING: Absolutely. In fact, in 2006, they launched seven missiles in addition to -- or six in addition to the long-range Taepodong-2, they tried then. Those other six were very successful, and they showed ranges of being able to range Japan, for example. They were successful. The one thing in their brochure they have not been able to demonstrate is the very, very long-range weapon, and I think that was one of the primary intents of this launch.
KING: And in terms of the marketing, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, anywhere else?
OBERING: Yes. Well, anybody else that they can -- that's willing to buy the missiles, they'd be willing to sell to.
KING: General Obering, thank you so much.
We'll continue to talk to you as this develops. As you see, the map right here, again, just to show the neighborhood. You understand the nerve, South Korea here, Japan here, China here. We'll continue.
Thank you for the military perspective.
And up next, you'll want to watch this. We'll talk to a top U.S. diplomat who has actually sat face-to-face with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Il. Then, later, we'll go to Prague for a conversation with one of President Obama's closest advisers, David Axelrod. "State of the Union" will be right back.
KING: Some breaking news this morning, North Korea launches a long range rocket. The rocket failed to reach orbit, instead landing in the sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean. That's according to U.S. and Canadian aerospace defense officials.
Joining us now is Ambassador Wendy Sherman. She was President Clinton's North Korea policies coordinator and participated quite rare in direct talks with Kim Jong-il, the reclusive president of North Korea. Wendy, based on that experience, why now? What is he up to?
SHERMAN: I think that Chairman Kim Jong-Il is up to several things. First, he wants to solidify his own position as the leader of his country, following a stroke.
He wants to tell his military that it's a military-first economy, because, in fact, they get money, funds from the sale of this missile technology. And he wants to say to the Obama administration, "Pay attention to me; I'm serious; I have chips on the table, and negotiating with me is serious business."
KING: Well, they are paying attention and they will take their attention first to the United Nations Security Council.
You have been the Security Council route. Are there any viable sanctions?
The world can scream; the world can complain, but are there any viable sanctions against this regime, considering that it has so few contacts with the outside world?
SHERMAN: I suspect that we'll get either a presidential statement or a resolution that reinforces existing sanctions. I think that China, in particular, and Russia, secondarily, won't want new sanctions, and they have veto power in the Security Council.
And I think everybody agrees, including the United States, Japan, and South Korea, that the most important thing is to get back to the six-party talks and back to the negotiating table.
KING: Explain to a viewer who might not follow this closely how different this country is. If you go to the DMZ -- it's not as common as it used to be, but they have the big speakers blaring the propaganda. The missile failed. The missile went into the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean. The satellite did not reach orbit. But will the people of North Korea be told that?
SHERMAN: No. The people of North Korea will be told that, in advance of their parliament meeting this coming Thursday and anointing Kim Jong-Il their leader once again, that a satellite has gone into orbit and the songs of Kim Jong-Il and his father Kim Il-Sung are being sung throughout the universe.
It is a very closed society. People really only know what the leader tells them. They think all good things come from the leader. It's quite extraordinary and it's quite hard for all of the rest of us to understand what a closed society and what a controlled society is. In this Internet age, we can't imagine it.
KING: And because of that, when you talk about potential sanctions, one of the few things that gets in is emergency food aid, from time to time.
But you hear from all the governments and nongovernmental organizations that they believe a lot of that food goes to the president and to the military and not the starving people of North Korea, right?
SHERMAN: Well, in fact, the North Koreans have decided they don't want the World Food Program's aid because of complicated negotiations about the terms for that aid.
That's terrible for the North Korean people. There's probably an entire generation with stunted growth, stunted mental capability. And so, as the day comes that there is reconciliation with the South, it is going to be a big lift for that economy to help North Korea. KING: The six-party talks are the platform for the diplomacy. The United States is a key partner there, as well as Russia, China, South Korea and Japan. One of the things President Bush did at the end of his term was to take North Korea off the list of state-sponsored terrorism.
Now, we know -- Vice President Cheney was in that chair a few weeks ago, on this program. He disagreed with that decision. I want you to listen to the former vice president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: He gets to listen to whoever he wants to listen to. And I had my say. I got my chance to voice my views and my objections. I didn't think the North Koreans were going to keep their end of the bargain, in terms of what they agreed to. And they didn't.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: The vice president, the former vice president, believes North Korea should still be on that list. It is one of the options available to President Obama. Should he take it, put them back on the list of state sponsors of terror, now that they have violated a U.N. resolution?
SHERMAN: I suspect that the president will not do that. Because, indeed, we have to get back to the bargaining table. That would probably make getting back to the six-party talks a longer route to go. This was agreed upon with the other parties in those six-party talks as a way to move forward.
And in fact, terrorism is probably not what we have to be most concerned with, with North Korea. What we have to be most concerned with is not only their nuclear weapons program but this missile technology which they sell to other countries gives them money to keep their regime going. We need to make sure missile technology gets added to the six-party talks.
KING: If you frame it that way, though, does Kim Jong-Il gets what he wants? He gets the attention. He gets the United States asking him to come back to the table, and no sanctions with any teeth?
SHERMAN: Well, I think that, in fact, what we will have is a condemnation, an international condemnation, which the president began in his speech in Prague, has been joined by the European Union, by South Korea and by Japan.
Even China has said, although we ought to be calm, that this was not a helpful step forward. Russia, as well, agrees.
So I think that it helps to isolate North Korea further. I think we have to say that this was a mistake; this was not helpful. This will make the negotiations more tense and will make countries less likely to give everything North Korea wants as soon as it wants it. KING: What is he like? You sat across the table from a man who is a recluse. He is a mystery to the world. He and doesn't care when he defies the world. What's he like? SHERMAN: He is actually fairly straightforward, more so than you would think. You can have a perfectly rational conversation with him. He doesn't much like to talk about his family and his personal circumstances, but he really is the leader of his universe.
He doesn't have to worry about the global economic crisis. He doesn't have to worry about the war in Afghanistan or building down in Iraq. He doesn't have to worry about health care for his country. He only has worry about one thing, and that's keeping his power.
KING: And let me ask you lastly about the timing of this. Any doubt in your mind that we've known this is coming? They fueled up the rocket, they put it on that launch pad and we've known for several weeks it could happen here, it could happen here, it happened on a day the president of the United States, on his first major overseas trip, was giving a big speech in Prague about proliferation of nuclear weapons and tried to call the world together to say let's rid the world of nuclear -- weapons grade nuclear technology, and let's stop the proliferation of missiles like this.
Any doubt that that's why this happened today?
SHERMAN: I think that Kim Jong-il has actually helped President Obama today because he has given a perfect example of why the president's remarks are so important, that we really have to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
At the same time I think he was either going to do it during the NATO meeting yesterday, the West military alliance, or today during the president's speech about nuclear non-proliferation. In either case I think Kim Jong-il has helped President Obama make a very serious and important for the world's peace and security.
KING: Ambassador Wendy Sherman, thank you for your insights. And we'll keep in touch as this goes on. And in addition to condemning North Korea's missile launch, President Obama made a speech this morning with an ambitious goal as we just noted to rid the world of nuclear weapons. We'll talk about that and more with one of the president's closest advisers, David Axelrod. Our STATE OF THE UNION report will be right back.
KING: President Obama is nearing the end of his first overseas trip as commander-in-chief. It's a high stakes tour that began in England. That's where Thursday he conceded Wall Street greed was a major cause of the global financial crisis. And he appealed to other leaders for quick coordinated action to turn things around.
Yesterday in France, President Obama won only a modest, mostly temporary commitment of new NATO troops to help U.S. forces to secure Afghanistan. And the latest stop this morning, the Czech Republic, the president spoke in Prague calling on world leaders to join him in seeking a world rid of nuclear weapons.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: This goal will not be reached quickly, perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Joining us from the city where the president delivered that speech just a few hours ago is senior White House adviser David Axelrod.
KING: David Axelrod, let's start with the ambitious agenda the president set out there in Prague when it comes to reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons. And let's start with the short-term proposal. The president says he wants to go back to table with Russia, renegotiate a new START treaty, strategic arms reduction treaty, and do it this year.
Under the current START treaty the United States and Russia are limited to 6,000 nuclear warheads, and in fact, both countries are already below those limits. How deep does the president want to go by the end of this calendar year?
AXELROD: Well, I think that's the subject of the discussion that is going to follow the meeting that he had this week with President Medvedev of Russia and -- but the president is committed to an aggressive regime.
And I think that there is a broad realization, John, the Russians understand it, the president certainly feels it, that this issue of nuclear proliferation has taken on a new and deadly turn with terrorism, the possibility that weapons can fall into the hands, not of a rational state, but of an extremist group bent on destruction. So I think both countries have an impetus to help lead that reduction.
KING: And the broader goal of eliminating, eliminating the production of weapons grade fissile material, how realistic is that when you look around the world and you see in Pakistan, in Iran, in North Korea regimes that are not -- not only have nuclear programs, but are trying to advance them?
AXELROD: Well, we have to mobilize the world to be part of this process, because this is really -- this is one of the great threats, nuclear -- weapons grade nuclear material falling into the hands of those who could fashion it into a weapon.
What we want to do is create a situation where nations that want nuclear materials for peaceful purposes, for powering their countries, can get it from an international bank. But that material is secured so it doesn't fall in the hands of rogue states and extremist groups.
KING: When a president, more than two decades ago, started down this path, the city you are standing in was still part of the Soviet Union, inside the Berlin Wall, the Iron Curtain. President Reagan made a mark with the Soviets in reducing nuclear weapons. Is President Obama's goal a legacy of a world free of nuclear weapons?
AXELROD: There's no question about it, John. And he said that during the campaign. He believes that now. He is acting on that.
You know, obviously, we live in a dangerous world and we can't unilaterally disarm but we can lead the movement to corral these nuclear weapons and begin that process of reduction.
And that would be the goal to remove this scourge from the face of the earth and take away that threat that hangs over us now.
KING: Let's talk more broadly about the trip to Europe. The pictures have been fascinating. The president's reception has been overwhelmingly positive. Most of the news accounts talk about it mixed results in terms of the substance.
Some progress at the G-20, but not as much stimulus spending from France and Germany as the United States would have liked for their economies. At the NATO summit, some short-term commitments of troops to help around the Afghan elections, and certainly some important financial commitments, but no major investment of troops from NATO companies (sic) to go along with the risky big commitments the president is making here with new U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Is that how you see it?
AXELROD: No. I really don't, John. I think the G-20 was really successful. I think it was the most successful international conference in response to a financial crisis that has ever been held. There has been trillions of dollars of commitment made over the last few months as part of the process that led up to this -- to this summit.
There was agreement to pursue aggressive financial regulatory reform so that the kinds of things that happen that caused this crisis won't happen again, to set up early warning systems as well, to add to the International Monetary Fund $1.1 trillion, and the World Bank, and some of these other agencies that can help countries who are in desperate shape right now as a result of the crisis, and keep markets open for American businesses.
So a lot was accomplished at this conference. In terms of NATO, I disagree with your interpretation. The president, after 60 days of review, unveiled a strategy about a week ago and the world has embraced that strategy. The NATO countries have embraced it today -- over this weekend.
And Secretary Clinton met with foreign ministers from 80 nations earlier in the week at The Hague and there has been unanimous support for this. And there were strong tangible expressions of that support at the NATO meeting.
Thousands of military personnel to help secure the elections that are coming up in Afghanistan and on August 20th, which is the next great test in this process. Thousands more to help train army personnel, police.
Half a billion dollars to help revive the Afghan economy, because that's a very important part of this mix. It's not just the military challenge. And additional money to help -- in a fund to help build up the Afghan army so they can defend themselves. So there was an awful lot that was accomplished. Eleven new countries are now participating in this process.
KING: One of the overriding goals of the trip at every stop, the president has been trying to tell his European audience that he is not George W. Bush. Many viewed George W. Bush in Europe as a cowboy diplomat, if you will. But striking at a town hall in Strasbourg, France, when the president was talking about the threat of Al Qaida and how the world still has to keep its eye on that terrorist threat, interesting language. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Al Qaida is still a threat. And that we cannot pretend somehow that because Barack Hussein Obama got elected as president, suddenly, everything is going to be OK. It is going to be a very difficult challenge.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: David Axelrod, what is the message there? And was the use of his middle name, Barack Hussein Obama, was that somehow calculated? AXELROD: Well, that was an answer to a question. I'm sure the president used his full name for a reason, but the most important thing here is that the president was very candid with the Europeans about our mutual responsibilities. He was candid about ours and he was candid about theirs.
AXELROD: And what was most interesting to me, John, standing at that town hall, was the enormously positive reception he received from an audience of people who -- who heard him make the case for why we had to be engaged in Afghanistan, who might have been expected to oppose the U.S. on this in the past, but who understood the case he was making.
And I think the greatest benefit of all, as much as we've accomplished on this trip, is that he has sent the signal to the world that we're re-engaged, that we want to build alliances that are based on mutual respect and mutual responsibilities and that we're prepared to lead and we're also prepared to listen.
KING: First big international trip is a heady moment for any new president. On a lighter note, I'm wondering, since you just flew into Prague on Air Force One, how is the president enjoying traveling in his wife's shadow?
AXELROD: Yes. That's -- you know, I think he's used to that, to be honest with you. I think he resigned himself to that long ago. Michelle was hugely well-received along the way here and has done a number of events on her own, communing with at-risk young people...
KING: They're joking back and forth -- do they joke back and forth about that, the headlines?
AXELROD: I don't know. But I think it isn't lost, at least on the staffs that her approval rating is higher than his. I don't know what that engenders behind closed doors. But, you know, I think the fact is that the president -- Michelle Obama has fans all across the world, but there is no greater fan than the president himself.
And I think, you know, he -- he's happy to bask in her reflected glow.
KING: A couple of weeks back on the program we had the former vice president of the United States. And I know from talking to people high up at the White House that many officials, including you, were not so happy at the message former Vice President Cheney delivered. Sharp criticism of your boss on a number of fronts, including this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Do you believe the president of the United States has made Americans less safe?
CHENEY: I do. I think those programs were absolutely essential to the success we enjoyed of being able to collect the intelligence that led us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11.
KING: I want to give you a chance to response to Mr. Cheney.
AXELROD: Well, first of all, I find it supremely ironic on a day when we were meeting with NATO to talk about the continued threat from al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where they're still plotting against us eight years or seven years later. I think the question for Mr. Cheney is, how could that be?
How could this have gone so long? Why are they still in business? That is the fundamental threat that we face. And it's a little incredible to me that he would argue somehow that what we're doing in forging an international alliance to finally pursue a strategy to defeat and dismantle al Qaeda in Afghanistan is going to make us less safe. I think it was an unfortunate statement.
And let me say in contrast how much we appreciate the way President Bush has behaved. He was incredibly cooperative during the transition. And when he left, he said, I wish you guys the best, I'm rooting for you. I believe that to be the case. And he has behaved like a statesman. And as I've said before here and elsewhere, I just don't think the memo got passed down to the vice president.
KING: David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president, thanks you for joining us from Prague.
AXELROD: John, great to be with you. (END VIDEOTAPE)
KING: Up next, he's a graduate of West Point, a former Army Ranger and now a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, so how does he think President Obama should respond to North Korea's missile test? Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island has "The Last Word" when we come back.
KING: I'm John King and this is STATE OF THE UNION. Here are stories breaking this Sunday. The United Nations Security Council is holding an emergency session this afternoon over North Korea's launch of a long range rocket. President Obama called that launch provocative and called on the international community to quickly condemn it.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is busy working to build an international consensus on condemning the North Korean launch. Secretary Clinton spoke on the phone today with the foreign ministers of China, Japan, and Russia. All of those countries members of the six-party talks aimed at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. Speaking to a crowd of some 20,000 in Prague, President Obama urged nations around the world to come together and eliminate nuclear weapons. He also pledged in the short term to negotiate a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, hoping to get that done by the end of the year. Later today the president heads for Turkey. That and more ahead on STATE OF THE UNION.
Twenty-four newsmakers, analysts and reporters were out on the Sunday morning talk shows today. But only one gets "The Last Word." And that honor this Sunday goes to Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island. He is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and also the Senate Banking Committee.
Senator Jack Reed, welcome to STATE OF THE UNION.
SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: Thanks, John.
KING: Let's start with this simple test -- not so simple test facing the president of the United States. North Korea launches this rocket, Taepodong 2 missile, capable, if it works, of reaching Alaska, reaching the Hawaiian Islands. What does the president do now?
REED: Well, he made it very clear. This was the deliberate provocation against the wishes not only of the United States but of the international community and the regional powers, China, Japan, Russia.
So he has to go initially to the United Nations Security Council and, I think, produce some concrete sanctions either enhancing the enforcement of present sanctions or additional sanctions in order to respond to what is a very calculated, very provocative act on the North Koreans.
KING: And the administration is also saying that one of the ways to deal with this is to get North Korea back to the negotiating table and the six-party talks. There are some who would say, huh? The guy has just violated world treaties, resolutions of the United Nations, now you are going to sit down and talk to him?
Is there anything of substance we can do to punish North Korea or does it simply not work with that regime?
REED: Well, I think you have to keep the pressure on. And -- but it has to be very carefully calibrated because you don't want a situation where they completely walk away from any meaningful conduct, it's not just with the United States, but with China, who is particularly influential there, and Japan and Russia.
So it is a carefully modulated sort of pressure you have to apply. I mean, one of the things that happened, unfortunately, is that during the Bush regime, the Agreed Framework, in which the plutonium, under international supervision, was overturned by the North Koreans.
And now we don't know quite where that plutonium is. We're trying to do that now. So it is a careful -- and frustrating, frankly, dealing with this regime, set of both pressure and the willingness to talk, but also to produce real tangible results because of those talks.
KING: This happened as the president was on his first overseas trip. I want you to listen to just a little bit of what the president said in response to the launch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Now is the time for a strong international response. And North Korea must know that the path to security and respect will never come through threats and illegal weapons.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Elsewhere in that speech, Senator Reed, the president said "let's eliminate all nuclear weapons in the world. I'm going to sit down with Russia and negotiate in the short term. Deeper cuts in the Russian and the U.S. arsenal."
There are some who say why would you put those things, more reductions of our weapons on the table at a very time North Korea takes this provocative act? Iran not long ago launched a satellite into space. Is it risky? Does it send the wrong message to talk about reducing our arsenal here in the United States when you have these two regimes clearly testing theirs?
REED: I think, in fact, it sends the right message. It says that not just the North Koreans and the Iranians but the whole world community has to think very hard about nuclear weapons. And I think we can, in fact, send the signal when we're asking them to refrain from reduction of nuclear weapons. We, at the same time, are asking our major powers in the world and ourselves to begin to reduce our arsenal. I think one of the inconsistencies is we continue to build and maintain a large arsenal in Russia, the United States, other countries. And then we turn around and say, but you -- you all can't join us.
KING: Let's turn the conversation here at home. You're also on the banking committee. The president raised a lot of eyebrows last week when the White House essentially fired the CEO of General Motors because that company is taking government money. The White House said we don't like your plan, the boss has to go. Tim Geithner, the Treasury Secretary, was out this morning and he said the same could happen to CEOs of big banks it's they take government money and don't shape up. Let's listen to Secretary Geithner.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEITHNER: If in the future, banks need exceptional assistance in order to get through this, then we'll make sure that assistance comes with -- and this is not just to protect the taxpayer, but to make sure this is the kind of the restructuring necessary for them to emerge stronger and if that requires the change in management of the board, we'll do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: On the one hand, makes perfect sense. You take government money, we call the shots. On the other hand, there are a lot of people out there saying, whoa, how much involvement should the government, the president of the United States have in private industry? First GM and now the banks?
REED: That is a question that is going to have to be faced by all of us, not only the president and the treasury secretary but Congress. We need a strong, well capitalized, well managed private banking system in the United States to continue to operate this economy and provide the innovation and the success we've enjoyed.
And, frankly, the capitalization issue is one that we've been struggling with. That is the whole purpose of these injections of the capital. But if we ignore the notion of management of these things, if we allow management that got us into the problems in the first place and seems incapable of getting their institution out that, that is a disservice to the taxpayer. It is really also a disservice also to the shareholders of that institution.
So I think they have to be conscious of that. And I would think that this challenge of the industry would be taken up very quickly by the companies themselves looking hard at their management, their structure, their ability to operate successfully in this global economy and this particular situation. And that they would make the steps for us rather than any sort of government entity saying well, you got to go.
KING: We're about out of time. But how long will the government be involved like this? Essentially inside the board rooms of major banks, major companies like GM? When will it end? REED: Well, I hope it's a very brief and transitory period, that the ultimate commitment is to restore, again, a banking system that is private in nature but is well capitalized and well regulated. So part of the transition from active involvement is rebuilding a regulatory structure that can deal with the issues and that structure needs vast overhauling.
KING: Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, "The Last Word" on this Sunday. Thanks for coming and joining us. And the United Nations Security Council convenes an emergency session later today on North Korea. We'll get a preview from CNN's senior U.N. correspondent Richard Roth next. Stay with us.
KING: A little more than two hours away from an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council, where members are set to debate a response to North Korea's missile launch earlier today. Senior United Nations correspondent Richard Roth is at the U.N. Richard, what do we expect?
RICHARD ROTH, CNN SR. U.N. CORRESPONDENT: We expect closed door consultations. There are differences between China and Russia on one hand and the U.S. and Britain on the other. There is a lot of unhappiness here including the U.N. secretary-general. But someone who was pleased is North Korea's U.N. ambassador who a few blocks from here commented briefly on the missile launch today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIN SON HO, NORTH KOREAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: We are happy. We are happy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROTH: He's happy, but here the U.S., Japan on the Security Council, likely to push for toughening of those existing sanctions which seem to have a lot of loopholes, John.
KING: You mentioned the loopholes. We've been down this road before. We'll have condemnation. We'll have tough statements. But is there anything tangible the United Nations can do to force North Korea to behave differently?
ROTH: I don't think so. And especially we have a different administration, a different environment. The Obama team, of course, reaching out. Doesn't want to be too tough. They'd like to get North Korea back to those famous six-party talks. Hillary Clinton, secretary of state has been working the phones with her Chinese counterparts and others. We'll have to see what unfolds. But I doubt strongly you're going to see some very powerful resolution. It seems like a different era. I mean, this is widely advertised, maybe the sting even has gone out of it especially since it didn't hit anyone.
KING: You mentioned, Richard, the key players. United States wants to take the lead. Japan, of course, is outraged because the missile flew over its territory. But whether the end can come together depends on Russia and China. China, I would say, has been I would say characteristically quiet. What do we expect? Does the new administration have any impact on getting China to play here?
ROTH: Well, we'll find out pretty quickly. The Chinese and the Russians on one hand have been very tough for the United States on issues from Darfur, Sudan and Myanmar. No matter the chance in the White House, we expect this type of split to still play out.
KING: And Richard, North Korea, you had the representatives saying he is happy. They consider this a success even though the missile, the satellite did not make orbit. Explain to our viewers why.
ROTH: Well, they were able to show, of course, they're getting a lot of attention. This test went better than other tests which weren't as successful. They also say that on their outer space international treaties, you're still allowed to test as long as it's peaceful purposes.
ROTH: The U.S. and others pointing to language in an existing resolution of the Security Council say all missile technology -- three years ago, the council, here, told the North Koreans, "Don't do it." They still did it, anyway. Look, there are also some journalists who are hostage. North Korea, right now, has the cards. I don't think the Security Council will be too tough on them immediately.
KING: And we will watch it as it unfolds. Richard Roth at the United Nations for us. Richard, thank you very much.
And don't forget, coming up right here at 1 p.m. Eastern, "Fareed Zakaria: GPS" takes a comprehensive look at international affairs with world leaders, policy experts and journalists. This week, it's the former secretary of state, James Baker, sits down with Fareed and explains what he thinks should be President Obama's key priorities.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE JAMES BAKER: Dealing with the economic crisis facing the nation is the number one priority. That ought to be his number one priority, his number two priority and his number three priority.
Health care is something that's going to take a long time. You can bring that up later on. Climate change is something that's going to be very controversial and going to take a while to do.
I mean, there's just a lot of things coming -- a lot of proposals coming out. And I just -- I just think that focusing a bit more on the economic problem now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Stay tuned. "Fareed Zakaria: GPS," coming up at the top of the hour, only here on CNN.
As you know, we get outside of Washington as much as possible. This week we went down to Tennessee, where people have a big stake in the success of the auto industry. But ahead, why some people we talked to there want the president to butt out.
KING: Down to Tennessee. I want to quickly remind you, the unemployment rate in the state is 9.1 percent. There are three auto plants, one of them by General Motors, approximately 11,000 employees in the auto industry in the state.
That GM plant is here in Spring Hill. Spring Hill, as you notice, it's in a red county. It's a relatively conservative place, blue-collar workers at the plant. They weren't so sure about whether the president should be involved.
Then we went next door to neighboring Franklin. It is a conservative town. Over fabulous pastries at Merridee's Bread Basket, a lot of skepticism about the government having such a hands-on role in the American economy.
KING: As you all know, the future of GM is up in the air right now. And one of the questions is, should the government be involved at all or, and if it is involved, to what agree should it be involved?
What are your thoughts on that, in the context of -- just last week, the White House essentially told the CEO of GM he has to resign.
(UNKNOWN): I didn't think that taxpayer money should be spent...
KING: At all?
(UNKNOWN): ... on bailing out a private industry. I think government needs to stay out of private industry.
KING: So whether it's General Motors which is a big company, but they're middle class workers or whether it's a big bank?
(UNKNOWN): I don't think it has anything to do with, you know, what class you're in. I just think, in general, the government should stay out of private industry. I think competition is what runs our economy, a free economy. And if they need to go bankrupt, then they need to go bankrupt.
(UNKNOWN): I think that AIG and General Motors, they both -- bankruptcy was the way to go. I understand the impact of AIG. But to have the government involved in buying into the private banking system and getting involved in industry, where they can hire and fire people -- they've done such an outstanding job of running the government, I don't think they're going to do a much better job with General Motors, to be honest. KING: I get the impression that no hands are going to go up. But just to be certain, if you supported Obama in the last election, raise your hand.
That's a nobody.
When you watch him now -- this is first overseas trip. It's a pretty big deal for any president. Have you been paying attention to that trip at all, and anything jump out at you? (UNKNOWN): I just saw it briefly yesterday. And I think he's doing OK on the trip, from what I can tell. As far as not making a fool of himself, I think he's doing fine.
KING: So that's, sort of, a lone standard.
As far as not making a fool of himself -- that's a pretty low standard to judge a president by.
(UNKNOWN): Well, I mean, he seems like he's doing a good job. And at least he's articulate. And -- the iPod thing that he gave, I thought, was, kind of, silly, but...
(UNKNOWN): Well, she probably has one. I think it should be something that, maybe...
KING: For the queen, you mean?
(UNKNOWN): I agree with that. I thought that was just a silly gift that you would get your child or a family member, not the queen of England. But I think they're both coming across as very articulate, which is good for the United States.
KING: So who's your leader? Who would you like to see?
(UNKNOWN): Do you want me to answer that?
Right now, Sarah Palin interests me the most.
(UNKNOWN): I just think she's fresh and I think she really stands up for what she believes in. And I think she would be a breath of fresh air for the Republican Party. But I think it's going to be very hard for her to get anywhere.
(UNKNOWN): I just feel like there's so many people that don't want her, and the media doesn't seem like they really care for her. It's like -- I think being a woman, she has a harder road to do than a man. Just, some of the attacks they had on her when she was running for the vice -- running with -- with McCain.
KING: Forgot McCain already, huh?
(UNKNOWN): I was trying to.
(UNKNOWN): He wasn't our pick.
I think it's too early. Palin is interesting. I'm not sure she has the experience.
KING: Forget the next election. Do you -- when you look at what's happening in Washington, the debate about, you know, whether it's the health care policy, economic policy, Afghanistan policy -- pick your issue -- do you see anybody standing up to Obama on these issues that you think, oh, I didn't know that guy or I didn't know that woman, but I like -- I'm going to listen here?
(UNKNOWN): Not so far.
(UNKNOWN): I've been real disappointed in the Republicans so far.
(UNKNOWN): I don't see anybody surfacing yet. Maybe they will. You know, the next two years are going to be interesting because the next -- the midterm election is going to be tell-tale, I think, of the way we're going to go. I hope it's not too late.
KING: We'll be here again next Sunday and every Sunday, 9 a.m. Eastern, for the first and last word in Sunday talk. Until then, I'm John King in Washington. Have a fabulous Sunday.