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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson

Aired July 15, 2003 - 20:27   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: North Korea today says it has now produced enough plutonium to make nuclear bombs. The Bush administration responded, calling that a -- quote -- "serious matter." Is North Korea a more serious matter than Iraq?
Before the Iraq war, intelligence experts told CNN that an Iraqi nuke was at least a year away. Now, as far as conventional forces, Iraq had about 375,000. North Korea, on the other hand, has more than one million troops on active duty. Plus, by some reports, it has around 200 tons of chemical weapons and a biological weapons program.

The question we ask tonight, could North Korea become the next Iraq, but one that posed a much more serious threat?

To answer that, I'm joined by New Mexico Governor and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson.

Thanks for joining us tonight, sir.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: For starters, I would like to ask you about something that one of your colleagues had to say in "The Washington Post" today, in an interview, former Defense Secretary William Perry. And a lot of Americans are pretty frightened by what he wrote.

We're going to put it up on the screen now. He says that we have lost control of the situation in North Korea, that the U.S. and North Korea are on a path to war, perhaps as early as this year, and that the nuclear program now under way in North Korea poses an imminent danger of nuclear weapons being detonated in American cities.

Do you share his fear?

RICHARDSON: Well, you have to take those comments very seriously, because Secretary Perry was very respected. He knows North Korea well. He's been there. He's negotiated with them.

I wouldn't go as far as he has. But, nonetheless, the situation is serious. The North Koreans are simply saying, Paula: We want attention. U.S., you're spending too much time on Iraq, on Liberia, on the Persian Gulf. You have not dealt with our problem. What we want is face-to-face talks. What we want is a treaty that we won't be attacked. You're disrespecting us.

This is how the North Koreans negotiate. And this is what's going on right now. ZAHN: Let me ask you this. When you say, this is what the North Koreans are telling us, do you think, at this juncture, they're lying? You have talked to us in the past repeatedly about the bluffs you were exposed to in this negotiating process.

RICHARDSON: Well, I would say, the North Koreans partly are bluffing. But there is enough intelligence out there, so that they probably have started some reprocessing. They claim that they're reprocessed thousands of fuel rods. I think that is a bluff.

Just the fact that they've started to, just the fact that there have been some instances where they are being caught in the high seas trying to sell some of these materials, it's serious. And what we need to do, Paula, is say this is our number one issue of concern.

Number two, how can we get things done. I think the administration has been skillful in bringing the South Koreans, the Chinese in to put leverage on North Korea, but eventually it's going to be face-to-face talks. It is going to be dialogue, it's going to be diplomacy.

I think now is not the time to start threatening North Korea with the military option. I just think cooler heads should prevail now, but very tough diplomacy with a strong verification effort, if we are going to cut a deal with them, because in many instances they're not fully believable. But we've got to concentrate on formulating a clear policy that engages the North Koreans, that you negotiate with them. You're not going to get everything you want, but to simply ignore and simply put it on the back burner, I don't think it's the way to go now.

ZAHN: Am I reading too much into what you're saying -- it sounds like you don't have much confidence, this will lead to direct negotiations between the United States and North Korea. Clearly the United States has put pressure on China to try to move things ahead. Do you see a time when the Americans will sit across the table along with the North Koreans?

RICHARDSON: Well, I think it is important. I wish President Bush would move in that direction. I think his policy so far has been a sound one, but you can't just rely on the Chinese and the South Koreans and the Japanese and approach the North Koreans at the United Nations and the Security Council. They see the United States as the entity that they feel they have to engage in. Two nuclear powers.

Now, we shouldn't submit to their blackmail. That doesn't mean we shouldn't have some kind of a dialogue, some kind of higher level negotiations than the ones that take place at the United Nations at low levels.

My view is that Secretary Colin Powell and his team at the State Department, rather than those at the Defense Department that are looking at preemptive strikes, are the ones that should negotiate. That's what we have diplomats for, and that's what I hope the president would listen to. But I think in all fairness to the president, he has been concentrating on Iraq, he's been concentrating on Liberia. He took I think a successful African trip. Now let's have some clear policy options that involve direct dialogue, direct talks with North Korea.

ZAHN: Governor, I can only give you 10 seconds left, you said you wouldn't go as far as your colleague William Perry, which part don't you buy? Are you fearful that you will see a time that a nuclear weapon that maybe was transferred from the North Koreans to terrorists could be detonated in an American city?

RICHARDSON: Well, I don't go that far. I do think the North Koreans are a threat, I do think we need an aggressive policy, as Secretary Perry claims. I do think that Powell and the president have a policy, I just wish they would rely more on direct talks than multilaterally trying to pressure the North Koreans.

ZAHN: Governor Bill Richardson, thank you so much for spending a little time with us this evening.

RICHARDSON: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: We appreciate it.

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