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Hans Blix Discusses North Korea's Nuclear Intentions

Aired November 11, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, the Obama administration prepares to send its first envoy to Pyongyang. Can the U.S. remove North Korea from the nuclear club?

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program.

U.S. President Barack Obama tomorrow embarks on a trip to Japan, Singapore, China, and South Korea. But one of the main issues will be North Korea and its nuclear program.

Pyongyang test-fired a number of missiles earlier this year and conducted its second nuclear weapons test. At the same time, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was reaching out to the United States. And yesterday, the Obama administration said that it will send Ambassador Stephen Bosworth to Pyongyang sometime before the end of this year to try to get North Korea back to the six-party talks on nuclear weapons.

And today, after a clash between naval forces from North and South Korea, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that America will not be deflected from resuming negotiations.

So tonight, will President Obama's plans to engage North Korea be any more successful than his efforts to open a dialogue with Iran and other countries? Joining me now, President George W. Bush's former adviser and negotiator on North Korea, Victor Cha, and here with me in the studio, former U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix.

Welcome to you both, gentlemen.

I want to ask you, with President Obama making his first trip to Asia, do you think that his biggest effort is going to have to be in China? Mr. Cha, let me ask you. Do you think that it's going to be China that is the most useful to persuading North Korea?

VICTOR CHA, FORMER TOP PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER FOR NORTH KOREAN AFFAIRS: I think that's right, Christiane. The Chinese have the most material leverage on North Korea. They are the host of the six-party talks. Premier Wen has just given North Korea a big package of incentives to bring them back to the six-party talks.

So I think the president is going to have to sit down with President Hu Jintao and figure out what the proper strategy is, between the two of them, to bring the North back to the six-party process.

AMANPOUR: And as a former weapons inspector, Mr. Blix, do you think it's China that has the real key to this?

HANS BLIX, FORMER U.N. CHIEF WEAPONS INSPECTOR: I think it's important, as Victor just said. However, I think one has to look at the question of security. All countries that are trying to move to nuclear weapons, they do it because of perceived security, and that's why the U.S. has the key, rather than China.

AMANPOUR: Is that right, Mr. Cha? Is it just about security?

CHA: Well, I think there is an argument for how North Korea's nuclear weapons drive has been driven by insecurity. But at the same time, I think the United States over the years, over the past 16 years, has given numerous security assurances to North Korea that it has no intention to attack or invade North Korea.

The 2005 joint statement, the six-party joint statement, has clearly in writing that the United States will not attack North Korea with nuclear or conventional weapons, and that was signed by the United States in front of all the other parties, so they do have security assurances if the concern is some sort of attack from the United States.

AMANPOUR: Let me just try to focus again on China. China has the leverage, you're saying. China has so much support of North Korea. China, I believe you both agree, is -- is fundamental to North Korea's survival, in terms of its electricity, food, aid, all of that, right?

CHA: Yes. I mean, I think that's absolutely right. The Chinese have had a long relationship with the North Koreans. That relationship was a bit estranged after the first nuclear test and then the second nuclear test last May.

But Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's last visit to North Korea gave a clear signal to the world that they're willing to continue to support the regime with material and economic assistance if the North will come back to the six-party process.

AMANPOUR: But -- but what does this really mean? You know, there's - - there's been a lot of debate about what China is more concerned about. Is it more concerned about an unstable North Korea, one that might storm the borders if it removes its considerable aid, or is it more concerned about a nuclear-armed North Korea?

CHA: That's a very good question. I think China's primary goal is to not allow anything in the region to upset its growth path, its path towards development. And for that reason, on the Korean peninsula, the first priority is to prevent any sort of instability.


Of course, China would like to see North Korea denuclearize, but the first priority appears, you know, over the years, appears to be stability, even if that means a little bit of ambiguity with regard to the North's nuclear weapons capabilities and any unfinished denuclearization agreement.

AMANPOUR: So, Dr. Blix, if that's the case, then North Korea is not getting the message from China to -- to denuclearize necessarily.

BLIX: Well, they've got some message, because the Chinese have used some of the leverage, but the question now is, will they use more? Will they pressurize North Koreans more? And there is a limit to how far they may want to go. They don't want to be so rough that you have an uproar in North Korea. You don't want North Korea to collapse. And in particular, they would fear that an influx of enormous number of refugees. Nor will they want North Korea to be gobbled up by South Korea and have the United States moving up to the Yalu River again.

So some idea of having some assurance from the U.S. that the purpose is not for the U.S. to move closer to China's border might be an interesting message.

AMANPOUR: In terms of the technical challenge, how you get this nuclear genie back into the -- into the bottle, with regards to North Korea specifically and all the complicated, sometimes arm-chair psychobabble that goes on around about North Korea, how do you get this nuclear genie back into the bottle, then?

BLIX: Well, it evidently requires a lot of patience. And I was in it myself at the International Atomic Energy Agency in the beginning of the '90s.

And I think negotiations have shown that the security nevertheless remains a very important issue. They were threatened several times by the United States in the past with the nuclear option, and the Bush administration also said at some time that all options are on the table, and they are isolated, and I think they take that seriously.

So the offers by the U.S. of a guarantee against any aggression from the outside or subversion from the inside are important, plus, talk about the -- a peace treaty.

AMANPOUR: Except that Mr. Cha has just said and has delineated numerous times when former President Bush, President Clinton, before that, the President Bush, has basically set down many, many times that they don't intend to invade or have hostile actions towards North Korea.

BLIX: Well, intention -- the declared intention is one thing, but the demeanor is another. Of course, it was an important thing that Bush, the elder, withdrew nuclear weapons from South Korea. That was very important. And there still remain for good reason U.S. troops in South Korea. But these are important factors.

AMANPOUR: So we were able, Mr. Cha, to visit the Yongbyon plant a year or more ago at a point when they thought, under your administration, under Bush's administration, that there was some effort to stop Yongbyon, to -- to dismantle and certainly wrap up some of the -- some of the elements in Saran wrap, as we saw it. What does North Korea want? Did you ever figure that out?

CHA: Well, that's a very good question. You know, I think that we've seen over -- during the Clinton administration's -- eight years of the Clinton administration, was able to get North Korea to a freeze of its nuclear programs. The second half of the Bush administration was able to get them to the stages of disablement, which you saw yourself when you traveled up there.

But still, you know, at the very end of the Bush administration, they looked like a real opportunity to make progress on a nuclear declaration and a verification protocol which would have then taken us to the third and final step of dismantlement, where many of the things that Hans talked about -- peace treaty, Northeast Asian peace and security regime, more economic assistance, help from the international financial institutions -- would all have been put on the table, and they balked at that last step, which gets you to wonder whether they want to give up some of their nuclear capabilities for help from the outside world, but in the end, they may not want to give up all of it. And that's really the problem.

AMANPOUR: So do you think -- do you think they want to be -- this is a question to both of you -- a nuclear power, have some kind of negotiations with the United States but, as you say, keep their nuclear capability and be treated like an India or Pakistan or whoever?

CHA: My -- my own view on this, just based on studying the country as a scholar and then participating in the negotiations, is I do think that they want that sort of outcome. That may have been not been what they wanted earlier when they started the program, but they've come so far now for whatever reason that they probably feel as though retaining some semblance of a nuclear deterrent is in the best interest as they trade some of it away for many goodies from the outside world.

BLIX: Well, of course, everybody would like to have the cake and eat it, if you can do that.

CHA: Right.

BLIX: So probably North Koreans would do, as well. However, the -- there will always remain the question of verification, even if they were to go along with a -- getting down to zero, nevertheless, will they go along with the verification that is so intrusive that one really can rely on it? I would doubt that, because it's a much more seclusive country than Iran.

AMANPOUR: And -- and, Mr. Cha, what are President Obama's challenges when he meets with the leader of China, Hu Jintao? I mean, does China, do you believe, actually have now the on-off switch regarding North Korea?


Or are their links so entwined, whether it's business, middle management, lower management? Can they do it, even if they want to?

CHA: Well, I think they -- I mean, they clearly do have the switches, whether it's reported trade that happens between the two economies, whether it's unreported activities that happen between the two militaries or the two parties, they have lots of ties with North Korea, and they really do hold much of the material leverage on the North.

I think the main thing that President Obama will do when he meets with Hu Jintao is, you know, he will say to President Hu, look, I'm going to send my envoy to North Korea, as you, the Chinese, want us to do, and hopefully that'll bring them back to the talks, but if it doesn't, then I'm going to look to you, China, to really use some of that leverage to get them back to the table, because we cannot have a discussion about denuclearization of North Korea without the North Koreans at the table.

AMANPOUR: And one final question on this topic. To you, Dr. Blix, North Korea also wanted light reactors, in other words, all the kind of stuff that it said it needed for energy. It's a very energy-poor country. They didn't get it, despite the -- the agreements. They didn't get what they wanted. And I can see you nodding, as well, Mr. Cha. Should they get that stuff, light-water nuclear reactor, the energy that they need?

BLIX: Well, that's part of the incentives for them to go along, but there is a more sinister explanation that could be possible, and that is that they don't really want to have an agreement. You had a military regime in power there, and they justify their grip by the threat from the outside. So I'm sure they don't want to have a nuclear war, but they may want to have a controversy simmering all the time. That's a -- it's a hypothesis, and it's an unpleasant hypothesis.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Cha, do you agree with that?

CHA: Yes, I mean, I don't -- I don't disagree with that particular hypothesis that Hans puts forward. The other dilemma that I would add into that is, you know, they may want nuclear weapons, Christiane, as you said, but want other things, as well. The problem they face is that, when they want those other things, that means opening up, and opening up, as we've seen in the case of Eastern Europe, leads to a collapse of the entire system. So that's the fundamental reform dilemma they face as they pursue these nuclear weapons.

AMANPOUR: Thank you so much, Victor Cha.

Dr. Blix, you're going to stay with us, but we're going to go to a break.

And also, tell us what you think. Go to our site and let us know.

And next, we will continue our conversation with Dr. Blix on all the other nuclear challenges out there.



BLIX: Intelligence authorities have claimed that weapons of mass destruction are moved around Iraq by trucks, in particular, that there are mobile production units for biological weapons. The Iraqi side states that such activities do not exist. Several inspections have taken place at declared and undeclared sites in relation to mobile production facilities. No evidence of proscribed activities have so far been found.


AMANPOUR: That was Dr. Hans Blix speaking to the United Nations Security Council in March of 2003, one month after then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell had told the U.N. that Iraq had mobile laboratories for WMD. It turned out, of course, that Dr. Hans Blix was...

BLIX: I was right, yes.

AMANPOUR: And you join me again to talk about that. Now, the point of looking back at that is to ask you whether you think similar patterns are being conducted right now.


What do you think of what we're hearing from the corridors of power, for instance, on Iran's nuclear program?

BLIX: Well, I think there are similarities, and there are also big differences between the two cases of Iran and Iraq. In Iraq, there were no weapons of mass destruction. They had destroyed most of it in 1991 already. But for us, the difficulty was to prove the negative. You cannot prove that there is nothing, so we never said there are no weapons. We said that we carried out 700 inspections and 500 different sites and we haven't found anything.

And on the question of the trucks, well, we certainly looked for that, but they weren't there, either.

AMANPOUR: See, but the point, obviously, is that so many people ask, you know, Saddam Hussein could possibly have avoided an invasion, could have avoided the hangman's noose if only he had come clean. Do you think that Iran's leaders are doing all that they need to do to convince and assure the international community?

BLIX: I don't think there's any way in which they can convince the world that they are not going for weapons. They are saying that the Koran is against it, that the old ayatollah was against it, and that they're aiming only for enrichment. But I don't think however much they invite the IAEA to be there, they are not going to convince a lot of people that no -- once we are at enrichment in the industrial scale, we may use it for a bomb. And even if they didn't think so today, they could change their mind tomorrow. So I don't think they can convince the world about it, and only a termination or a strict control of the enrichment process could calm the world.

AMANPOUR: To that point, I'm just going to play what Saeed Jalili, the Iranian national security chief, said during the latest round of talks in Geneva.


SAEED JALILI, SECRETARY, IRANIAN NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: No one, no country in a state should have a nuclear bomb. And on the other -- on the other hand, every individual states and countries should have got the right to have access to the nuclear -- peaceful nuclear energy.


AMANPOUR: So that's what he says. You say there's no way that Iran can convince the world of their intentions. However, there was a fairly enlightened deal to have them ship out LEU, light-enriched uranium, get back the enriched quality they need for their medical reactor. And it looks like they're not going to follow through on that. Doesn't that raise the skepticism of those who are already skeptical about their intentions?

BLIX: It probably does, but it's a little of a side track. It's not the big issue. The big issue, are they going to continue to have enrichment on an industrial scale? Because if they have that, well, then they can also get the material necessary for the bombs.

So if this deal falls through, which is separate one, that will exacerbate the situation. If it goes through, it will increase -- improve the atmosphere somewhat. But the main question is still the big industrial-scale enrichment.

AMANPOUR: You mean, what they're doing at Natanz?

BLIX: Yes, precisely.

AMANPOUR: But even with this deal, the LEU deal, wouldn't that have simply acknowledged their right to enrich? Wouldn't they have got what they wanted?

BLIX: I don't think so. I think that the -- the negotiators on the other side would say, well, we -- you do this, but it doesn't mean that we go away at all from our wish that you should stop enrichment industrial scale, because the fact is that that enrichment increases tension very much in the Middle East. It may even lead to other countries in the Middle East perhaps thinking of going for enrichment.

So much is at stake in this. And, again, it's like North Korea. You have to look at what moves them in this direction. Is it a bomb, or is it -- is it simply industrial nuclear power?

AMANPOUR: You have said about North Korea that the United States holds the key. Mr. Cha thought that it was China with regard to North Korea. What do you think in the Iran equation? Who holds the key there? Does anybody?

BLIX: Well, the U.S. certainly does very much. And if you compare the case of North Korea, the North Koreans had an offer by the United States, a guarantee against any attacks from abroad, and I think also against subversion inside. This has not been given in the case of Iran. And if Iran really are worried, would perceive security problems, well, it originally was that in Iraq in the 1980s, when they started the program, but now it could be the U.S. and -- and Israel, of course.

But they know, also, that if they don't enrich, then the risks are less. They would need an assurance, I think, of -- from the U.S. that they will not attack. And an another thing would also be diplomatic relations.

AMANPOUR: Let me play you this from Mohamed ElBaradei, who we saw at that U.N. Security Council meeting that you were at, talking to us just last week about the challenges ahead.


MOHAMED ELBARADEI, IAEA DIRECTOR GENERAL: We don't have the technology we need, the satellite imagery we need. We don't have the labs that allow us to do environmental samplings of which are modern-day tools for verification. We don't have the legal authority in many countries.


AMANPOUR: When he said that, I must say, I was stunned to think that such an important watchdog does not have at the very least the technical tools that it needs. You're now involved in this whole nonproliferation movement. What is the fundamental thing that -- that you and others need to try to get this job done properly?


BLIX: Well, he talks about verification. And, of course, the IAEA is very important verification. I'm not against intelligence. They are investigating people, they listen, and they have satellite pictures and so forth. The IAEA has people on the ground, so I think they supplement each other very well.

What Mohamed is pleading for -- and I think rightly -- is that the IAEA should be given enough resources for the tools that they operate, namely in the laboratories, et cetera, where they analyze. We first discovered what the North Koreans were up to through analysis of samples that we got from North Korea. So that has to be in spic-and-span condition. And, well, that's a technicality, though. The fundamental thing for proliferation remains the intention and -- and the wish of the parties.

AMANPOUR: So how do you remove the nuclear chip as a diplomatic bargaining chip?

BLIX: You go back to the question of security, perceived security. If the Iranians perceive that they are threatened by Iraq, then they probably move to nuclear weapons. If they...


BLIX: Like Iraq. Well, Iraq is a bit of an exception, because I think Saddam Hussein perhaps was not...

AMANPOUR: No, you said if the Iranians believe they're threatened by Iraq.

BLIX: Yes, Iraq. They were. They felt that during the 1980s when they had the big war.

AMANPOUR: But they're not anymore.

BLIX: No, of course not. Not any longer, no. They -- they do not. But they can feel threatened by -- by the U.S. And that's why it's important that, in the case of Iran, as in the case of North Korea, the United States be able to say that we guarantee there will be no attack on you.

AMANPOUR: Here's the thing, though. President Obama has gone further than previous presidents in trying to at least have a different sounding tone, engaging in diplomacy, basically saying that they recognize the Islamic republic, sort of moving the regime change bit out of their public -- public rhetoric. And yet there still hasn't been that reciprocation.

BLIX: No, I think there is a tremendous and deep suspicion in Iran against the United States. And it goes far back to the period when the CIA helped to move out Mossadeq. So...

AMANPOUR: So it's about building trust and -- and -- and for the future? How do you think this whole movement for global zero, zero nuclear weapons, is going to move ahead? Will there be significant move forward before the next meeting?

BLIX: Well, the meeting of the nonproliferation conference is in the spring next year. And there is a tremendous dissatisfaction among the states who had gone away from -- had never gone to nuclear weapons that the nuclear weapons states are not living up to their obligation, which both Obama and Medvedev recognized that they must negotiate towards disarmament.

So the steps that Obama has taken in really energizing the negotiations with Russia are very good about a follow-up on the START I treaty. And his determination to get a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is also desirable. And -- and it seems to me that, in the U.S., they don't discuss so much what are the consequences if the U.S. doesn't ratify it. It leaves the freedom to other countries, as well. They only think, "How good is it for us to retain our freedom?" But the -- the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is important.

AMANPOUR: So that, you think, should be something that the U.S. really takes up?

BLIX: Yes, I think -- I think so. We -- I mean, zero nuclear weapons, of course, is an idea...

AMANPOUR: Is it fantasy?

BLIX: Well, it's an idea that we -- we are not really talking today about doing away with the 25 last nuclear weapons in the world, but the 25,000 first nuclear weapons today. So we have to start this process, and that's -- the battle about that is about the Comprehensive Test Ban, the Moscow treaty, and so forth.

AMANPOUR: On that note, thank you very much, indeed. And we will pursue this.

We have much more about nuclear proliferation on our Web site,, where you can see a documentary, "Notes from North Korea," that we did in North Korea last year. And in a moment, we'll have another peek inside the hermit kingdom right after this break.



AMANPOUR: And now our "Post-Script." Tonight, with the jury still firmly out on whether it's possible to achieve a reasonable agreement with North Korea, we want to look back at 2008, the last time one seemed plausible. In June of that year, North Korea invited CNN to witness it destroying the cooling tower at the Yongbyon nuclear plant. And this happened four months after the New York Philharmonic Orchestra was invited with media in tow to Pyongyang to offer the North Korean people a musical hand of friendship.

At the same time, leaders on both sides had visions of the famous ping-pong diplomacy that proceeded the U.S. opening to communist China back in the 1970s. North Korea's main nuclear negotiator told me that this concert was an act of bravery by both sides that he hoped would lead to a diplomatic breakthrough.

Well, it hasn't happened yet, but we do want to leave you tonight with what seemed like a few notes of hope from our documentary, "Notes from North Korea."


AMANPOUR (voice-over): The philharmonic picked this program, Wagner's opera, "Lohengrin," Dvorak's "New World Symphony."