Alex Witt   |  March 30, 2013

Kim Jong Un continues ‘cycle of provocation’

Fmr. Assistant Secretary of State PJ Crowley joins MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts to discuss the latest threats being made by North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> p.j. crowley, former assistant secretary of state. sir, it is great to have you here. as you're hearing the reporting this morning from our kristen will kerr there at the white house earlier in the hour, we had a report from andrea mitchell talking about authority korea being this hermetically sealed country and how this should not be dismissed as pure bluster, secretary of defense chuck hagel saying it only takes one mistake if this is a miscalculation on anybody's part moving forward. is the difference in the rhetoric this time because it's coming from an untested leader like kim jong -un?

>> well, sure. he is a black box . the only american that's talked to him is dennis rodman . i mean at one level we've seen this kind of cycle of provocation, you know, before. and there is a kind of a wag the dog , if you will, quality to it. as long as it stays at the propaganda level, we'll work through this. the real -- the real new variable if there is one here is, as much as kim jong -un is creating this crisis to solidify his base in north korea , he's challenging a brand-new president, president park , in south korea . and the difference here is that political dynamic. that, you know, from south korea 's standpoint, there have been the nuclear tests, the missile test, going back a couple of years, the sinking of one of their ships, the shelling of one of their islands. so the real danger here is one of provocation, escalation, miscalculation, and then, you know, if north korea does something provocative towards the south, the south is likely to respond in some fashion, and then you move into dangerous waters .

>> meanwhile the u.s. continues to show its support for south korea with its military exercises , joint military exercises . and when we talk about the capability of north korea carrying out their most extreme threats, obviously we know what their threats are to the south, and that they are capable of carrying those out. but what about to the u.s., and the mainlands here? is there the potential that one of their missiles really has the capability of getting here?

>> i mean, down the road, i'd say yes. right now it's a limited -- right now, what they're threatening to do, they really do not have the capability clearly the tested capability to carry out. but certainly within the region. they can be a threat to south korea , you know, to japan, and that's why the military exercise was important. it sent a variety of messages to south korea , to japan, as the president says we have your back. you know, to china, or to north korea it says, hey, if you -- if you go further, we are prepared to respond. we will protect our friends in the region. and to china, another variable in this, they're saying we know you don't have the same relationship with the new leader that you had with his father, but you've got to do what you can to rein this kid in.

>> so, could china, though, convince north korea to shut all this bluster down? i mean, would that relationship be able to do that?

>> no. north korea , you know, has become, you know, much more bellicose in recent years to the frustration of china. china has some leverage, particularly on the economic side. but ultimately, because china does not want to see an implosion of north korea , it has some influence but we shouldn't overstate it.

>> all right. so based on that variable would the u.s., or what would it take for this escalation to reach a point where preemptive action by the u.s. is necessary?

>> well, if it's just words, we'll work through this. if it's actions, then you have a real political challenge in south korea president li the former president had become exasperated enough where he pledged that if, if, if north korea , you know, sinks another ship, shells another island or takes some sort of overt action that south korea will respond. and i think president park is going to pick up where president lee left off. so that's the real danger here. it's an action that requires a reaction, and then you have a cycle of escalation that is very uncertain.

>> former assistant secretary of state p.j. crowley. sir, thanks for being here. i appreciate it.

>> all right, thomas.