U.S. Negotiator Weighs In on N. Korea Missile Plan
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This next story begins with a carefully worded diplomatic warning. The speaker is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her words are directed at North Korea, which is reportedly preparing to test a missile with enough range to reach the United States.
Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (United States Secretary of State): It would be a very serious matter, and indeed a provocative act, should North Korea decide to launch that missile. We will obviously consult on next steps, but I can assure everyone that it would be taken with utmost seriousness.
INSKEEP: American officials say they believe the North Korean missile has been fueled and prepared for launch. To learn more, we've called Christopher Hill. He's the chief U.S. negotiator at six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program, which have been stalled for months. He's in New York.
Mr. Hill, good to speak with you again.
Assistant Secretary CHRISTOPHER HILL (United States Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs): Good morning.
INSKEEP: You've been in the room with North Korean officials. What do you think they're up to?
Assistant Secretary HILL: Well, you know, you'll have to ask them, because frankly what they're doing I don't think makes a lot of sense for their interests or for anyone else's. You know, it may just be a lashing out in anger; it may be some misplaced sense of how to, you know, gain some advantage in the negotiations. It's really hard to fathom, because it really is a bad idea.
INSKEEP: You're so familiar with the negotiations and the status of them that you might be in a unique position to know if they're angling for advantage here in some way.
Assistant Secretary HILL: Well, I mean, they're always angling for advantage, and, to be sure, it could be some idea to sort of remind us of their capabilities. But, you know, it's not terribly effective, and what it's doing is helping the five countries, that is the five members of the six-party talks, to get even closer together and to consult, and that's what we want to do.
INSKEEP: The secretary of State, we heard, described this as a provocative act, or said the launch would be a provocative act. Does that mean that if there's a launch it will definitely provoke a response from the U.S.?
Assistant Secretary HILL: Well, I think the secretary's words speak for themselves. The secretary made very clear that we would work closely with our partners and consider our next steps. But clearly this is, as she said, a very serious matter and we have to respond in some way. But I think it's important to understand, you know, we're not going to respond in a way that's not in our interest. We're going to continue to work this process through these multi-lateral channels. This is a multi-lateral problem. This missile, if it is launched, will go over some other countries, as well. This is a serious matter that we all need to work together on.
INSKEEP: Sounds like you're still hoping for a diplomatic resolution here. It's not that a missile launch would provoke some military strike.
Assistant Secretary HILL: Well, I think what we're looking at is a response that would probably end up deepening the isolation of North Korea. I mean, they are making some very bad choices, and I think one of the most serious of which is the fact they've stayed away from the talks for some eight months.
INSKEEP: Ambassador, can you describe for us the current state of preparations, as you understand them, at this missile launch site?
Assistant Secretary HILL: Well, you know, I am not a rocket scientist. But from what I can tell, we're looking at some preparations, which, according to the experts, are preparations that are entirely consistent with a launch. But, you know...
INSKEEP: Does that mean...
Assistant Secretary HILL: (unintelligible) hard to say.
INSKEEP: Does that mean the missile has been fueled? That process is going on or continuing?
Assistant Secretary HILL: Well clearly, there's a fueling process, but I'm not an intelligence analyst. And even if I were, I'm not sure I really should talk to you in too much detail except to say that, obviously, the rocket's going to need fuel, and there does appear to be some kind of fueling process.
INSKEEP: Is there any indication that North Korea has been working - in the present tense - is working with Iran, sharing technology, such as missile or nuclear technology?
Assistant Secretary HILL: Well again, there are branches of the U.S. government that track this sort of activity very closely. This sort of thing, though, is in intel channels, and it's not something we talk about on the radio.
INSKEEP: Okay. Ambassador, one other question about these six-party talks, which have been stalled since September. You did receive an invitation from North Korea for what they described as direct talks. Are these talks anywhere close to resuming?
Assistant Secretary HILL: Well yes, they did extend an invitation through the media. I think we have made very clear to them on numerous occasions that we are quite happy to have direct discussions with them, provided they're in the context of the six-party talks. So during a time that they're boycotting the talks, we don't think it would be a good idea to go off and have bilateral discussions.
So what they have in mind is hard to say. But I can tell you the offer was made through the media. And if they had some specific ideas, they know that they can come to the six-party process and we can deal with them there.
INSKEEP: Ambassador, thanks very much.
Assistant Secretary HILL: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Christopher Hill is Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. And he's the Bush administration's lead negotiator in dealing with North Korea's nuclear program.