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Interview: Robert Einhorn Discusses How the Bush Administration Will Manage A Policy Toward Iraq That Differs From the One It Has For North Korea

All Things Considered: October 17, 2002

Policy



JACKI LYDEN, host:

The US policy on Iraq is affected by last night's revelation about a nuclear weapons program in North Korea. The White House revealed that Pyongyang has admitted to developing nuclear weapons and to possession of weapons of mass destruction. The 1994 pact negotiated by the Clinton administration is now declared null and void unilaterally by North Korea. To discuss where the Bush administration might go from here, we asked Robert J. Einhorn to join us. He was assistant secretary of State for nonproliferation from 1999 to 2001.

Welcome.

Mr. ROBERT J. EINHORN (Former Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation): Thank you very much.

LYDEN: And that would mean that you worked for both the Clinton and the Bush administrations in this area.

Mr. EINHORN: Yes. I carried on with that post until end of August 2001.

LYDEN: Now the Bush administration already appears, Mr. Einhorn, to be distinguishing between North Korea and Iraq. Yesterday the president made what many regard as his harshest remarks yet with respect to the situation in Baghdad. Given that the administration has known about North Korea for nearly two weeks, why the focus on Iraq?

Mr. EINHORN: The focus on Iraq is because of the current situation and debate in New York. North Korea was the focus because Jim Kelly, Assistant Secretary of State Kelly, went to Pyongyang and accused the North Koreans, justifiably it turns out, of having an active nuclear weapons program, and this was confirmed by the North Korean side. Part of the world has been saying to the Bush administration, `We're not sure if we believe you. Show us the evidence. Show us the smoking gun.' And it's been difficult to show a smoking gun in the case of Iraq. Here is a case now with North Korea that admits that Bush administration concerns were justified. I think this will tend to bolster the credibility of the Bush administration's case on Iraq.

LYDEN: Well, by that argument, then, why not invade North Korea?

Mr. EINHORN: I think there are number of real differences. Saddam Hussein has denied that it is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. It denies that it has chemical and biological weapons. So it's very difficult to negotiate with it; it's simply in denial. The North Koreans, interestingly, now are saying, `Yes, we have a program.' This is perhaps an opportunity for bargaining with the North Koreans. There's also another difference. The North Koreans are desperate. They're hungry. They need external assistance. They hope that by reaching out to the world they can get the support they need to survive. And so the prospects for persuading North Korea not to pursue this program are much greater.

LYDEN: Do you think that the international community will perceive this being somehow a disingenuous approach with diplomacy against one member of the axis of evil and harsh rhetoric and attack against another?

Mr. EINHORN: I don't think it will be seen as disingenuous if these different strategies are pursued effectively in each case. I think there's appreciation by the American public and by the world community that these are three serious problems, but they require different solutions.

LYDEN: Were the United States to attack North Korea, there would be a fear presumably now of nuclear reprisal. In other words, one has to regard North Korea as possessing or very near to possessing a nuclear weapon. In Iraq, that's not the case. So is there a sense here that the US is moving against Iraq because it can and not against North Korea because it cannot?

Mr. EINHORN: I think you've put your finger on something very important. There are risks in striking Iraq. There are risks of using chemical or biological weapons against Iraq's neighbors. But we don't believe Iraq has nuclear weapons. So I think the risks are manageable in the case of Iraq. The risks in the case of North Korea are not manageable. In the first hours of any military conflict with North Korea, North Korea could cause tens of thousands of casualties--not just with nuclear weapons, with conventional weapons in the artillery that they've got along the DMZ. So confronting North Korea militarily is a much riskier proposition than confronting Iraq. That's one of the reasons we've adopted different means for dealing with each of these cases.

LYDEN: Thank you very much, Mr. Einhorn.

Mr. EINHORN: Thank you.

LYDEN: Robert J. Einhorn is now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here in Washington.

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