Envoy: N. Korea Is Misunderstood

United Nations special envoy Maurice Strong sees himself as a bridge for peace between the United States and North Korea:

"The single most important thing that comes out of my discussions there is their strong conviction that their country is threatened by the United States," says Strong. "They contend that that is the reason, and the only reason, that they require nuclear weapons."

As CBS News Anchor Dan Rather reports, Strong says it was President Bush's State of the Union speech two years ago that shook them.

"They were very influenced, indeed shocked, by their designation as part of the 'axis of evil,'" says Strong. "That confirmed to them that they were next on the U.S. list of those subject to attack."

To put it bluntly, the U.S. and many other nations don't want nuclear weapons in the hands of North Korean leaders they perceive as unstable. But Strong disputes that image.

"They want to normalize their relationship with the United States," he says. "This isn't something they've always wanted."

But is the leader of North Korea prepared to dismantle his nuclear weapons?

"They say that very, very firmly," says Strong. "They, too, want a nuclear weapon-free Korean peninsula."

The diplomat says hunger is still a widespread problem and the nuclear negotiations must be tied to international aid.

"They want investment," says Strong. "They want to be able to trade. They want to actually join the world economy."

Strong says there is hope for peace. There are serious negotiations right now, but still worry about war.

Asked if he believes there is a real and present danger that the North Koreans would attack South Korea, Strong says, "I would see no sign of that whatsoever."

They have a strong military, they have missiles," says Strong. "They themselves say they don't even need nuclear weapons in terms of any possible conflict with South Korea or even Japan.

"I stood right there with one of the top military leaders - right there on the northern side of the demilitarized zone. He said, 'We don't want to attack our southern neighbors, our real problem is the United States.'

"They continuously indicate that it's only the United States that can finally give them the kind of assurances they need to move to a peaceful settlement."
  • Jaime Holguin

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