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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Where Do 'Axis of Evil' Countries Stand Today?

Aired August 27, 2003 - 20:18   ET

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

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush introduced the phrase axis of evil during his 2002 State of the Union address in a speech that drew both applause and condemnation. The president accused Iraq, Iran and North Korea of promoting terrorism and he vowed to take all necessary steps to oppose them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: In the year and half since President Bush made that speech, the United States has gone to war in Iraq, deposing that country's rulers and beginning the arduous task of rebuilding that nation.

The Bush administration also continues to keep a close eye on Iran and North Korea. And over the next several minutes, we're going to take a closer look at where things stand there.

We begin in Iraq, where U.S. forces continue to battle remnants of the old regime. Two more U.S. soldiers died in combat in Iraq today. And while the human toll continues to rise, so does the financial cost. The Bush administration still isn't saying how much it will cost to rebuild Iraq, but the final figure is expected to be well into the billions. Some estimates are higher than others.

Anita Dancs is research director of the National Priorities Project. It describes itself as a nonpartisan organization supporting policy priorities that promote social and economic justice. She joins us from Springfield, Massachusetts.

Welcome. Glad to have you with us tonight.

And as you look up there, you see her. Anita, can you hear me?

ANITA DANCS, NATIONAL PRIORITIES PROJECT: Good evening.

ZAHN: Dr. Dancs, I apologize. I'm going to attempt to ask a question here, because I'm not sure if we have this technical problem solved. Let's talk a little bit about the ongoing debate about what this war potentially could cost. A great furor was caused by some very public remarks that Senator Byrd made in the Senate chambers at the beginning of July. And let's listen to that.

And I think we've lost Dr. Anita Dancs. And I think we have lost Senator Byrd, so why don't we move on to another country now?

Let's move on to the issue of North Korea, some very, very important high-level meetings held today. We have talked a lot about what might be in store for us coming out of that meeting.

We have an official with us, Ambassador James Lilley, who knows an awful lot about that. North Korean officials, as we said, met with representatives, all six countries in all today.

Ambassador Lilley, I hope you can hear me. Are you with us?

JAMES LILLEY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SOUTH KOREA: Yes, I can hear you, Paula, very easily.

ZAHN: All right.

Do you expect anything to come out of these meetings?

LILLEY: Well, I think this meeting is a single step that goes on the journey of 1,000 miles, as the Chinese like to put it.

Today was a little rocky. It's to be expected the first day of any negotiation, hard positions. I gather, what I hear, is, the North Koreans were sweetness and light to all other nations except the United States. And when we broke away from them for about a 40-, 30- minute talk, they laid upon some pretty tough terms. I gather what they said was something to the effect of: We're prepared to demonstrate our nuclear missiles if the following conditions aren't met.

And then I think what they want to do is to go back to the other countries and say: Look, it's up to the United States to meet our conditions or we're not going to do anything.

We, on the other hand, are going to have to get other nations involved in their own economic incentive and disincentive programs for North Korea.

ZAHN: So, Ambassador, what kind of economic incentives do you think are appropriate and at what point in the process?

LILLEY: Well, I think they should start very soon. I was told by influential South Koreans today that the north is absolutely desperate. They're in very bad shape economically. And they have made this very clear to South Koreans, who went up there and saw the fuel wasn't there, the power wasn't there. And so they're desperate. And they're making appeal on humane grounds, "Please support us or we will die" kind of a thing. It seems to me that what we can do with the North Koreans is to begin to push them towards a situation where, if they behave in ways that we can approve of and our friends , get agreement on this, not a road map, but just get general agreement on it, and if they go into these tests, they will pay a price. And it's a price that comes from China, South Korea, us and Japan. It has to be a coordinated thing.

So I think this kind of thing will probably take time to deliver. But we have worked very hard to get alliance management working, multilateral cooperation. It's like herding cats. But we have done a great deal on this. And I think the North Koreans face a very formidable array of friends and allies that share a lot of the principles.

ZAHN: What kind of threat do you really think North Korea represents today?

LILLEY: They are a nasty, if you want to use the word -- and you can use it -- evil country. They have a very bad track record, usually in things like assassinations and sabotage and this kind of thing.

But I think that they are dangerous because they have these weapons. They have this gigantic goose-stepping military, obscene. And they have these weapons. We don't know how many nuclear weapons. And we know they have chemical and biological weapons and the delivery system, the Scuds. But it seems to me we've made it very clear, if they use these weapons, it's the end of them. It's suicidal.

So this is a very realistic prospect they face. So I think that limits their ability to use those weapons, because they would be wiped out. And I think...

(CROSSTALK)

LILLEY: Go ahead.

ZAHN: Oh, I'm sorry, sir, I didn't mean to cut you off. I heard a little pause here.

Finally, tonight, I guess the question I have for you, when you talk about the importance of this alliance, how concerned are you that, if the alliance makes some kind of economic incentive available to the North Koreans, it will be perceived by other countries as caving in to the North Koreans?

LILLEY: Incentives only come when they take positive, irreversible, verification-able steps to get rid of that nuclear program. Then they get it. It's not like it was in 1994 with the agreed framework. This is going to be tough conditions. They're going to have to meet them. And I think we have got really a degree of concurrence from our friends and allies that would make this stick. And I think we can make it stick.

ZAHN: Well, Ambassador Lilley, thanks for the patience. It's been sort of an unusual ride on the audio front. You're hearing my voice in odd ways in your ear. I'm hearing -- you're on delay. But we got a lot of information out of this segment. Thank you very much for your insights.

LILLEY: Thank you.

ZAHN: Now, we are going to try to get back to Dr. Anita Dancs, who is the research director of the National Priorities Project. And we attempted to ask her about what she believes this effort in Iraq might ultimately cost U.S. taxpayers. And we had attempted to include some of Senator Byrd's remarks, where he was pushing Donald Rumsfeld for some exact numbers.

In the end, where do you think those numbers will end up?

DANCS: Oh. Well, I believe we're going to spend somewhere in the area of $100 billion to $200 billion.

But you said it earlier, that the administration has not told us yet how much this war is going to cost, how long we're going to occupy Iraq. So it's very difficult to put numbers on this.

ZAHN: What is a your breakdown month by month and does it square with what we've been told so far?

DANCS: Well, the Department of Defense estimates that we're spending $4 billion a month. But that doesn't include troop deployments and things like that. But -- so, we're going to spend likely $50 billion a year, at least. So far, we've spent probably around the range of $65 billion.

ZAHN: And let's talk a little bit about how these estimates are arrived at, because, in the end, it's possible to project in an exact way what a war may cost. But it was based on the first Gulf War, right, without reconstruction costs?

DANCS: Well, certainly, National Priorities Project came out with an early figure last fall, when talk of war was out there, that the war might cost $100 billion. And the reason for that was, if we figure out what the first Gulf War cost in today's dollars, it would be about $80 billion.

But because this war implied regime change and other things, this war is likely to be much more expensive than that. So I think $100 billion is the starting range of what we will spend.

ZAHN: Dr. Anita Dancs, I apologize. I know you're getting a little feedback back in your ear. And we have a little gremlin with us tonight. We're working on that. But thank you for your patience and your expertise.

DANCS: Thank you.

ZAHN: Meanwhile, the Bush administration is also very worried about the nuclear program in Iran. The Islamic Republican shares a border with Iraq in one of the most volatile regions of the world. And it has long been a source of U.S. concern. Well, now the International Atomic Agency reports, its inspectors found particles of highly enriched uranium at an Iranian nuclear facility. Is Iran destined to be the world's next nuclear power?

Reuel Marc Gerecht is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Middle East specialist for the CIA.

Welcome.

REUEL MARC GERECHT, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Pleasure.

ZAHN: What is it you think Iran wants right now?

GERECHT: I think they want nuclear weapons. And I think they have been working quite diligently for at least a decade on acquiring them and that the American government has had profound suspicions about their nuclear program going back for years.

ZAHN: And what is it they expect to get out of their nuclear ambitions?

GERECHT: I think primarily two things, power and security.

There's a broad consensus in the clerical community, from the left to the right, that developed certainly after the Iran-Iraq war and the first Gulf War, that they needed nuclear weapons to defend themselves and to project power. And I think they are quite determined to obtain those weapons.

ZAHN: And how quickly is the Iranian program progressing?

GERECHT: Well, it's difficult to say. It certainly appears to be progressing fairly rapidly.

When they found the gas centrifuges at the Natanz facility less than a year ago, it certainly revealed that they had made more progress than many people believed. It is conceivable that they might have nuclear weapons within two years. Certainly, I think most people who look at it think they would have it within five.

ZAHN: Do you ever see a point in time where the United States might have to consider military action against Iran?

GERECHT: Yes.

I think, right now, the administration is trying to take -- obviously, take the diplomatic track. They're trying to build an international coalition that can ratchet up the pressure and deploy some type of sanctions regime against the Iranian government if it doesn't comply with more rigorous inspections.

That has two big problems. One, it is unlikely that they'll be able develop a sufficiently rigorous international coalition. And, two, it's entirely possible that the Iranians now have all the foreign technology they need and it's really only a question of time before they develop indigenously their own nuclear weapon. ZAHN: Reuel Marc Gerecht, thanks for your time tonight.

GERECHT: My pleasure.

ZAHN: Appreciate your dropping by.

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