Last week North Korea escalated its nuclear confrontation with the United States by reopening a plutonium processing plant and expelling U.N. inspectors. How will the U.S. respond? How close are we to war with Iraq? And are we ready?
We'll ask Secretary of State Colin Powell and also talk with Senator Joe Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, and member of the Armed Services Committee, who's in the Middle East today.
Confronting North Korea and Iraq, on Face the Nation.
ANNOUNCER: Face the Nation, with Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer.
And now, from Washington, substituting for Bob Schieffer, CBS News Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts.
ROBERTS: And welcome again to the broadcast. Bob Schieffer is off this morning. Joining us now, Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Good morning to you, Mr. Secretary.
COLIN POWELL, Secretary of State: Good morning, John.
ROBERTS: The administration has been very careful not to characterize the North Korean situation as a crisis. Yet here we have a country and a leader who possesses at least two nuclear weapons, he's restarted a plutonium extraction plant; he's threatening to restart a reactor that will produce plutonium. He has threatened his neighbors in the past.
How is this not a crisis?
POWELL: It's not a crisis because I believe there are still diplomatic tools that we can use to deal with it and because nobody is mobilizing armies, nobody's threatening each other yet.
We are involved in a very serious situation. Some have called it a crisis. I think it's a serious situation. And what we're trying to do is control it. We're going to control it, I think, by working with our friends and allies in the region, bringing international pressure to bear.
North Korea's already paying a price for its misbehavior. The Japanese, which were moving toward normalization with a huge economic package for North Korea, have stopped moving. They have to. The South Koreans, who would like to do more for the North Koreans, have just elected a new president who is committed to unification and helping the North, but he has had to speak out strongly about North Korean behavior.
ROBERTS: But is...
POWELL: The European Union has just said this is a problem between North Korea and the whole world, not just North Korea and the United States.
So, North Korea has created a problem for itself and is in the process of isolating itself. And I think we can use that increasing isolation to the advantage, frankly, of the North Korean people, by persuading Kim Jong Il that you're not going to get anything from this kind of behavior.
What he wants is for us to believe we are in a state of panic and, therefore, we have to give him whatever he is demanding and have to appease his bad behavior. That's what we're not going to.
We are going to be patient. We're going to apply pressure. We are going to consult with our friends and allies. And we are going to hope that common sense will ultimately prevail. We're going to keep channels open, in case that there are messages coming from North Korea. We want to communicate with North Korea...
POWELL: ... and wait for an opening to solve this diplomatically.
ROBERTS: You'll keep channels open, but you're not willing to talk directly with the North Koreans?
POWELL: I have talked directly to North Korea. I talked directly to North Korea in Brunei at the end of July. I spoke to the -- I had a meeting with the foreign minister of North Korea and pointed out to him that the United States was prepared to assist his country in many ways, but not in the presence of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and not if they were participating in the kinds of programs that at that time I knew they were participating in.
ROBERTS: Mr. Secretary, you were one of the proponents of dialogue with North Korea when other people in the administration were saying, well, wait a minute, let's take a step back and take a look at this.
Is economic isolation the appropriate course here, or should there be ongoing dialogue with Pyongyang?
POWELL: I am always an advocate of dialogue. And what we did at the beginning of our administration was to say, let's review our policies, let's look at North Korean behavior, before we move forward with dialogue.
We did that, and we looked at everything that had been done by the previous administration, we looked at what the North Koreans were doing. And then this year the president made a clear statement that he had no hostile intent toward North Korea. And he said that in South Korea earlier this year.
And then he authorized me to begin discussions with North Korea. I began those discussions in Brunei with a brief coffee meeting with the -- a meeting over coffee with the foreign minister of North Korea, and then we sent Assistant Secretary Kelly in in early October.
POWELL: And Jim Kelly went in not to threaten them, but to begin a dialogue and to let them know that, if they would stop this kind of behavior, then benefits awaited them. And it was at a time of considerable promise, with the Japanese initiative, with the South Korean initiative, soccer teams going from North to South. A lot of things were in play to help the North Koreans.
And when he presented them with the evidence that we had that they had violated the terms of the agreed framework and we knew that they were beginning programs to enrich uranium, another way to develop nuclear weapons, rather than saying, "No, we're not, and prove it," they said, "Yes, we are, and what are you going to do about it?"
POWELL: Well, that is not exactly a formula for successful dialogue. And so...
ROBERTS: No, but it's typical of North Korean behavior.
POWELL: It is typical.
ROBERTS: It's "We're capable of behaving in a very bad way. What are you going to give us so that we don't?"
POWELL: The answer is, it is typical North Korean misbehavior. And you don't reward misbehavior of this kind by asking them, "What will it take you to stop misbehaving?" We found that that's what was attempted with the agreed framework.
It did work. I give credit to the Clinton administration for freezing the Yongbyong facility for those eight years. But at the same time, within a few years of that agreement, the North Koreans had already started working on another way of developing nuclear weapons. So they were violating it long before this administration came in office.
And now what we have to do is to persuade the North Koreans that you may have the capacity to go from two weapons to five weapons, but we are not going to be any more intimidated and we are not going to find ourselves in a sense of crisis or a period of crisis where we have to reward your good behavior, or your misbehavior rather, in order to get you to behave well.
ROBERTS: I want to get on to some other topics, but I need to ask you this question. In 1994, the Clinton administration nearly went to war over a very, very similar issue.
Why is military action an option that's off the table?
POWELL: Military action is never off the table in the sense that it is not an option. The president has every option available to him. We just don't think the circumstances at this time require us to point a gun at someone's head. We believe that we can mobilize the international community.
We also have to be quite considerate of the views of our South Korean friends who are not anxious to see a crisis break out at a time of transition from one president to a new president. And we have to be considerate of the views of the Japanese, the Russians and Chinese.
So we believe there are other tools available to us that we can use in this time of seriousness, short of threatening somebody with a weapon. And it's fascinating that this administration, which is often criticized for being unilateralist and always reaching for a gun, in this instance is, by some measures anyway, being criticized for not threatening somebody with a gun.
ROBERTS: Well, on to the issue where you are taking some heat for reaching for the gun, on Iraq. Do we have a commitment from Saudi Arabia for their cooperation in the event of war, to be able to use air bases, command and control facilities?
POWELL: Saudi Arabia has been a good friend of the United States for many years and has been very forthcoming and cooperative in the campaign against terrorism.
I don't want to get into any specific issues on bases or things of that nature because it really belongs to the Department of Defense.
ROBERTS: Are you getting everything you want?
POWELL: We are in consultation with the Saudi Arabians on all of these issues. The president has made no decision to use military force, so the issue of what they might or might not provide in the event we are going to use military forces is really not before us at the moment.
ROBERTS: But you're not unhappy with what the Saudis have offered?
POWELL: No, I'm not unhappy with the level of cooperation we've received from the Saudis on all aspects of the global war on terrorism and what we are doing with respect to Iraq.
ROBERTS: Now, you have been there before, it's safe to say. Are you comfortable -- I mean, obviously, we have overwhelming military force, and Secretary Rumsfeld has said we could win this war decisively, if not swiftly.
But are you comfortable, Mr. Secretary, that the administration has a concrete plan for, not the morning after, but the morning after the morning after?
POWELL: We are spending a great deal of time considering what would be required, in the event of a conflict, on the day after that conflict. We would want to put in place, with the international partners that we hope we would have with us, a government that is representative of the Iraqi people, and that we will use the wealth of the Iraqi people for their own benefit and not for the development of weapons of mass destruction.
And so we are in contact with people outside of Iraq, Iraqis outside of Iraq. A conference was held in London recently bringing all of those groups together. We are in touch with groups inside Iraq, as to how they would help put in place a government that is representative of the people.
ROBERTS: But when you have the Shi'ites in the south, the Sunnis in the middle and you have the Kurds in the north, is there not a real potential here for the balkanization of Iraq?
POWELL: There is that risk. We are sensitive to it. We do not believe that would be in the interest of anyone. So we are committed to keeping Iraq intact and not allowing it to break up into three Balkan-like pieces. And any government we would support would be supported because it had such a commitment.
ROBERTS: Some members of Congress have said the White House has failed to make its case against Saddam Hussein. We keep hearing about the so-called evidence from people in the administration, yet we've seen none of it.
Isn't it time that the American people saw some of the evidence that you have that Saddam Hussein does have weapons of mass destruction, that would be a casus belli to go to war?
POWELL: Well, we have put out a great deal of information. We have briefed the Congress extensively with classified information. The CIA has put out an unclassified white paper. The United Kingdom has put out an unclassified white paper.
I think the case has been made, maybe not to the satisfaction of all, that this is a regime that has pursued weapons of mass destruction in the past, has had weapons of mass destruction in the past, and we believe continues to have weapons of mass destruction and has lost none of its desire to produce them.
ROBERTS: But are you saying what we've seen so far is all we're going to see?
POWELL: No. I think the inspectors are still hard at work, and we are providing additional information and intelligence information to the inspectors. And we'll see what they're able to come up with.
Now, Saddam Hussein says he's not doing it; he's stopped it. Well, we'll establish whether or not that is the case. We do not believe he has stopped. But the inspectors are hard at work, and we have intelligence information that we are sharing with the inspectors to assist them in their work.
ROBERTS: We are sending over two carrier battle groups. We're sending over two amphibious landing groups. We're sending over the hospital ship Comfort at some point in the near future.
Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has said, "Perhaps Saddam will get the idea that the game is over. Maybe he'll just take his family and leave Iraq."
From your experience with Saddam Hussein, is that something he is likely to do, or do you think that, as he did in 1991, he'll take this all the way?
POWELL: From my experience with Saddam Hussein, I wouldn't predict what he would do.
I think that if military action has to be the way out of this situation, it will be decisive, as Secretary Rumsfeld has said. There is no doubt about the ability of the armed forces of the United States and other like-minded allied nations being able to prevail in such a conflict. And if I were Saddam Hussein and saw that these forces were coming after me, it would certainly be on option I would keep on my table.
ROBERTS: Secretary of State Powell, thanks for being with us this morning, sir.
POWELL: Thank you. Happy New Year, John.
ROBERTS: Appreciate your time. Happy New Year to you, too.
We'll be back in just a moment on Face the Nation with Senator Joseph Lieberman. Stay with us.
ROBERTS: Welcome back to Face the Nation. Joining us now from Tel Aviv is Senator Joe Lieberman.
Good morning, Senator. And do you agree with Secretary of State Colin Powell when he says that the North Korean situation has not approached that of a crisis?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, D-CT: No, John, I think it is a crisis. Look, I think it ought to be an unshakeable premise of our foreign policy that a nuclear North Korea is not acceptable.
And thus far I'm afraid the Bush administration has taken a difficult situation and turned it into a dangerous one, because they have taken action which has encouraged the North Koreans to start up that nuclear plant they stopped in '94 as part of the agreement with the Clinton administration, and therefore made it more likely that they will have more nuclear weapons soon.
They can produce enough plutonium to start turning out nuclear weapons perhaps as soon as within a year. And that's dangerous.
So I think we ought to be confident enough of our strength -- and we are, after all, the strongest nation in the world -- to go right back to direct negotiations with them. And I'd put the military option on the table as part of those negotiations.
ROBERTS: The administration says that it won't respond to North Korea's threats. Wouldn't opening dialogue with Pyongyang really be just playing into their hand of blackmail?
LIEBERMAN: No, I think quite the contrary. A lot of people that I've talked to, both from within South Korea and experts in America on North Korea who have been there, who have talked to the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, think that in his own very unusual and provocative and irresponsible way, what this is all about is trying to create a dialogue with the United States to achieve more normal relations.
And there's an interesting point to make here. In the specific agreement that the North Koreans made as part of the '94 framework agreement with the U.S., they kept the bargain -- they shut that nuclear plant down. They did not turn out any plutonium in the last eight years.
What they didn't keep their word on was the spirit of the agreement, as they started a uranium enrichment program, which, incidentally, takes a lot longer to get to creating nuclear weapons than the plutonium program does.
So I think the administration made a mistake and escalated this counter-challenge challenge, like two people yelling at each other, and if they don't watch out they end up getting into a fistfight.
I think it's time to lower the rhetoric and, knowing our strength, to sit down with the North Koreans and say, "Look, the military option from the United States is on the table. Stop your uranium enrichment program. Let the inspectors back into Yongbyon nuclear plant, and let's talk about having normal relations and getting you reunified with the south."
I think that would be best for security in the region, exactly what our South Korean allies want, and very good for the United States of America, as well.
ROBERTS: Senator, do you believe that the crisis in North Korea is more pressing than the situation in Iraq?
Many Americans can't understand why we treat Iraq, which is suspected of having a nuclear program, one way, threatening force every day, and then North Korea, which already possesses nuclear weapons and seems to be bent on developing more, gets treated in a wholly different way.
LIEBERMAN: Yes, I understand those questions. What is different in the immediate present is that the North Koreans have taken more aggressive action as a result of the sequence of events that you and I just talked about.
But what is also different and critically important is that in the case of Iraq, who we have reason -- I certainly conclude that they have weapons of mass destruction, chemical and biological, they were within a year of a nuclear weapons program prior to the Gulf War in '91 -- they're dangerous, under a dictatorial and inhumane leader.
And we have tried everything with the Iraqis in the last decade -- diplomacy, economic sanctions, inspections, limited military action -- and it hasn't worked. And that's why we've correctly -- and I think the president is right here -- correctly focused on Iraq and said to Saddam Hussein, "Disarm or we will disarm you."
In the case of North Korea, in this recent escalation, which is a crisis, we're not really even trying diplomacy. We're just hurling insults at them and removing the fuel shipments. I think they're ready to negotiate, and we ought to try it. We don't lose anything with North Korea if we sit down immediately with them and tell them, "Stop your nuclear program, and let's see if we can negotiate a more normal relationship."
ROBERTS: Senator, you've been in the Middle East for a days now. You've been touring areas like Bahrain and Qatar, if I'm not mistaken. You've been meeting with leaders there.
ROBERTS: What's your sense of where the situation with Iraq is going? Are we inevitably heading toward war, and do you believe that war is imminent?
LIEBERMAN: Well, it's all up to Saddam Hussein.
But I can tell you this; I visited with American troops on Christmas day and the day after in Saudi and Qatar and Bahrain. They're in good spirits. They have a tremendous sense of the importance of their mission, if the call comes in Iraq, the importance of that mission to American values and American security, and they're ready to go.
We have a very impressive group of people, very well supported by the most sophisticated military equipment in the history of the world. And as you indicated earlier, Secretary Rumsfeld signed an order to deploy more troops and more equipment to that region right now.
So, we'll be ready to go. And it's all up to Saddam Hussein to prove to us that he doesn't have the weapons of mass destruction that we're convinced he does, and then we can avoid war. If not, we've got to change that regime in Baghdad.
ROBERTS: Secretary of State Powell said just a little while ago, and you heard him say, that they've put a body of evidence out there. Do you believe that the White House and the administration has shown the world, particularly the American people, enough evidence to prove that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, or does there need to be more?
LIEBERMAN: I think the U.S. and the British administrations have put out enough to certainly raise a very strong presumption that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction.
They have more. I've seen it in the classified briefings. But we've got some time. Mr. Blix and the inspectors don't report back to the United Nations until the end of January. And we're being, I think, very patient and methodical about this.
I'll tell you this from the perspective of my visit here to the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. American diplomats in this region, American soldiers are being prepared to face the prospect of chemical and biological weapons, as are the citizens of Israel. Now, that's not being done casually. That's being done because we believe Saddam has that kind of weaponry, those kinds of weapons and may well use them in a conflict.
ROBERTS: Senator, I also wanted to ask you about a topic very close to your heart. You co-authored the Homeland Security Bill.
We hear the Democrats are preparing to attack President Bush on the issue of homeland security and terrorism as we move toward the 2004 election. How is it that you believe he is vulnerable on this issue?
LIEBERMAN: Well, I don't view it so much as an attack on the president as an effort to try to make sure that this administration is doing as much as it possibly can to protect the safety of the American people at home from terrorism.
George Tenet, any number of other administration officials, have said another terrorist attack is inevitable. And today, I can tell you from all the work I've done, that we're only a little bit safer, the American people are only a little bit safer than they were on September 11, 2001.
We all ought to be talking about this publicly, so that we can be sure that we're doing everything possible to help the local firefighters, police officers, and everyone else working at the borders and at ports and railroad terminals and tunnels, to stop terrorism before it hits America again.
ROBERTS: Senator Lieberman, one quick question. We've got to do this very quickly if we could. You've indicated your intention...
ROBERTS: ... that you may run for president in 2004. Should you make that decision, will you ask former Vice President Gore for his support?
LIEBERMAN: I certainly will ask Al Gore. As a matter of fact, I already asked him if I ran, would he support me.
But I don't expect that support soon. I'm on my own now, and I've got to earn Al Gore's support if I run, just as I have to earn the support of every other American.
ROBERTS: Well, Senator Lieberman, thanks very much for being with us this morning from Tel Aviv. A Happy New Year to you, sir.
LIEBERMAN: Thanks, John. Happy New Year to you and your viewers.
ROBERTS: All right. And we'll be back with a final word in just a moment.
ROBERTS: That's our broadcast. Bob Schieffer will be back again next Sunday. Thanks for watching. Happy New Year.