Ambassador Baker discusses North Korea on NHK

Broadcast Exerpts of Interview with Ambassador Howard H. Baker, Jr. on NHK's "World Network," with Anchor Aiko Doden and Foreign News Editor Toshiyuki Sato

May 4, 2003

AMBASSADOR BAKER: I think the North Koreans perhaps don't understand what a dangerous game they're playing. They've engaged in serial provocations.

QUESTION: How do you evaluate the result of the trilateral talks in Beijing?

AMBASSADOR BAKER: I think that no one really expected that the talks would be final and conclusive, and provide a resolution for the nuclear issue in North Korea, but I think the very fact of having them was important. Depending on how the situation develops, there may or may not be other talks.

QUESTION: The biggest news for us was revealed after Sunday, on the possession of nuclear arms by North Korea. How did you see their statement, and how do you analyze it?

AMBASSADOR BAKER: America has felt for some time that they had a limited number of nuclear weapons. That seems to be fairly well established, and to be so for a while. What was surprising to me, and I believe to the American government, was the North Korean assertion that they had not only begun, but had virtually completed the reprocessing of the 8,000 fuel rods or thereabouts from the reactors. That was news to us, and that's very important news to us, because if in fact they've gone ahead with reprocessing as they say, it means first that they've done it in violation of the agreement between Japan and North Korea and the United States, as well. But it also means that they're in a position now to add very materially to their stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium and, therefore, the ability to build initial weapons.

QUESTION: If they do really possess the nuclear weapons, does the U.S. government still negotiate, or will the negotiation be over?

AMBASSADOR BAKER: No, no, the negotiation stage is not over. I don't know what form negotiations will take, but it is the stated policy of the U.S. government, repeated more than once by our President, that we seek a diplomatic solution to this problem. The President has also said that while we seek a diplomatic solution, that no options are off the table. I might say, by the way, I think the North Koreans perhaps don't understand what a dangerous game they're playing.

AMBASSADOR BAKER: I think that the Framework Agreement was a perfectly good approach to the issue, and we had every reason to believe that it would solve the issue. Now we know that either while that negotiation was going on, or shortly after that, North Korea was involved in producing enriched uranium--a parallel method for getting weapons grade material. It has a disillusioning effect to know that when we were negotiating in good faith on the Framework that North Korea was secretly providing for another method to build nuclear weapons. In the American saying, "we have been burned once, and we're not going to be burned again," which does not mean it's not possible to negotiate a settlement. But it does mean we'll be more careful and cautious in making sure that if we do negotiate a settlement, this time it is truly effective, and is not defeated by secret and surreptitious effort by the North Koreans to get around their commitment.

QUESTION: When and how will Japan become a party to the multilateral talks? And what role is expected of Japan?

AMBASSADOR BAKER: A very good question. I can conceive of a variety of ways that that might happen, but I believe I state correctly the U.S. position that for any future meetings with North Korea, Japan and the Republic of Korea must be participants. I believe that is the firm and stated policy of our government. I think it's entirely appropriate.

In response to a question on the war in Iraq:
AMBASSADOR BAKER: Not only have America and the UK and others in the coalition made a major sacrifice, that conflict also raised a major responsibility. As we fought there, we have a responsibility now to try to repair Iraq, and to provide for civil government and economic prosperity. So we have the first responsibility. But I think once again it is clear that we wish to have international participation, including Japan's participation. And by the way, I think Japan has been very good, very forward leaning, on this issue, and I would fully expect, and anticipate, that Japan will play an important role in the Middle East, including in Iraq.

QUESTION: Many Japanese are concerned about the diplomatic policy of the Bush Administration, that it is influenced by "neoconservatism" or it has strong tendencies to be "unilateralist," and it considers preemptive attacks against any dangerous countries for protecting the homeland. What do you think about these concerns?

AMBASSADOR BAKER: What [the President] said was that in this age of weapons of mass destruction, at a time when rogue states and terrorist groups can attack without warning, as they did at the World Trade Center in New York. In this day and age, nations cannot any longer wait to be struck first. We've got to identify the threat, and try to avoid it. That's what he said, and that's what he meant. I think that's a sound, basic policy. It's a frightening policy, in many ways, but it meets the demands of this age.