Meet the Press   |  April 07, 2013

1: Tensions rise in North Korea

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Fmr. Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., Michele Flournoy and Armed Services Committee member Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., discuss the seriousness of the latest threats from North Korea.

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this sunday just how big of a threat is north korea ? what should president obama do about it?

>>> a new unprecedented round of high anxiety over north korea . the threats from a new, young, and largely up known dictator have washington unnerved.

>> we take those threats seriously. we have to take those threats seriously.

>> a special discussion this morning with senator lindsey graham , republican of south carolina . and perspective from former a.m. bass dore and governor bill richardson . his experience dealing with the north koreans . former under secretary of defense, michele flournoy be a nbc news chief foreign affairs correspondent andrea mitchell .

>>> plus, presidential politics . all eyes on hillary clinton after two high-profile speeches this week fuel speculation about another run for the white house . and the obama agenda, new jobs numbers undermine confidence in economic recovery. and a new budget compromise from the president. is it nearly enough for a grand bargain? cnbc's jim cramer joins the conversation this morning.

>>> and good sunday morning. battles at home and abroad for the president as congress returns monday from a two-week easter recess. it's shaping up to be a spring filled with debate on the budget, immigration and guns. and now overseas a brewing crisis in north korea as the president tries to defuse escalating tensions. at the center of it all a young, untested leader, kim jong -un, who is making increasingly strident warnings about an imminent war with south korea and the u.s. apparently upset about new, tougher u.n. sanctions and recent joint military exercises . the escalating rhetoric has u.s. officials quite unnerved. defense secretary hagel announcing this weekend a decision to postpone a long scheduled missile test to avoid making an already tense situation even worse . secretary of state kerry left yesterday for the middle east , but he'll be traveling on to seoul and beijing laettner the week hoping to get the closest ally, china , help in dealing with this crisis. that's where i want to begin this morning. joining me republican senator from south carolina , lindsey graham . senator, with welcome back to the program. you're just back to the u.s. from being in the middle east . i want to ask you about syria as well in just a couple of minutes. let me start with north korea and what we're dealing with. a couple of headlines in the magazines caught my attention in "the economist" and in "the week week" magazine. is can kim crazy? korean roulette. this war of words escalation, are we heading to a conflict with north korea ?

>> i think what bothers me the most the tolerance in south korea for this kind of provocation is greatly -- they're not going to put up with this anymore. if there were a south korean naval vessel sunk this year, anytime soon, or a shelling by nor north korea , i think the new president of south korea would be compelled to act. i think the north koreans are overplaying their hands. i'm glad we're not doing the ballistic missile test. i'm glad we're telling our allies south korea and gentlemjapan, we literally have your back. and the north koreans need to understand if they attack an american interest or an ally of this country they're going to pay a heavy price.

>> let's talk about u.s. interests and they're quite real in the region. look at the map, first of all, to give our viewers some perspective. you have japan , you have guam where we had missile batteries placed, moving to north korea and south korea . in the south and the southern part of that peninsula you have over 28,000 u.s. troops . so the danger is real, some kind of conflict breaks out between the north and the south. we are literally right there in the middle.

>> we're in the middle. i'm glad we're there with our allies. but the big difference to me the politics in south korea are changing by the day regarding north korea . so if there's some provocation, it won't be business as usual by south korea . i could can see a major war happening if the north koreans overplay their hands this time because south korea , the united states , the whole region is fed up with this guy.

>> but what happens if there is some kind of conflict between the north and the south? that becomes a conflict with the you stays, doesn't it?

>> the north loses and the south wins with our help, that's what happens.

>> and what about the rest of the region in you're talking about japan ? talking more nuclear weapons ?

>> japan and south korea have not gone nuclear unlike the middle east , because they trust us . as long as south korea and japan trust us to be in the fight, they won't go down the nuclear road. it's important they always believe we have their back, and it's important north korea knows what happens if they engage anybody in the region associated with us, including our own troops, they lose.

>> before i ask you a little bit more about the u.s. response, who is kim jong -un? we put together some facts. his father kim jong -il ran the country. we don't know his actual age. he's about 29 years old. he came to power in december 2011 . educated in the west. i know from talking to people at the white house one of the big fears is miscalculation here. we don't really talk to the north.

>> if you sold this as a movie script, a 30-year-old guy whose father was born out of a mountain, who had nine holes in one the first time he played golf, this is a surreal place. they're afraid of reunification. they don't want a democratic korea next to china , so they're propping up this crazy regime, and they could determine the fate of north korea better than anybody on the planet. we up our game regarding china .

>> i want to ask you about syria before we get more perspective on north korea . you met with opposition forces in syria . you have been talking about more actively helping them, getting the u.s. more involved. do you have a different view about that now?

>> a bit. the syrian opposition council replaced the syrian national council . they want more assistance. i think we should give them more assistance. there's two things that drive my thinking on syria . the key to jordan is a casualty. the worst is yet to come regarding syria if we don't fix this soon. jordan is being overrun by syrian refugees. and before i would arm the rebels, i want a commitment by them that they will allow an international force to secure the 17 chemical weapon sites, enough weapons to kill millions of people, and commit to destroy destroying those weapons. in the new syria they will reject owning chemical weapons . if they would do those two things, i told them, i think there would be more involvement by the congress, there would be more willingness by the congress to help them. they have to commit to destroying those weapons, allowing us and the international community to control those weapons. i don't know what they're going to say. but if they publicly made those two statements, i think it would be easier for congress to help them. and the radical elements in the syrian three army are growing by the day. the worst is yet to come. we could lose to the king of jordan . this could be the nightmare in the making with the chemical weapons following into radical islamists. the number on the ground is growing every day this war goes on.

>> let me get to more perspective on north korea , our lead story. governor, you've got a lot of experience with north korea . what is going on here?

>> i think kim jong -un is playing to three audiences, and this is why he's doing these provocative acts. by the way, andrea was with me on one of the eight trips i did. first, he's playing to the north korean generals. they run the show, are the military. he's play iing to the korean workers party , are the leadership there. secondly, he's playing to his own people. he got burned by that missile test that failed, and he feels he has the buttress his domestic standing, and i think the third thing he's doing, he's testing the new south korean president . every year -- every five years or so when a new south korean president comes in, north korea does a provocative act. so the issue is what do we do about it? i think what we've done in terms of the military posture , the stealth activity makes sense. but i think eventually there's going to have to be some diplomacy and the six-party talks i don't think are working. i think china has to be the key. we have to really get them to lean on north korea . but i think a new diplomatic track is needed. some out of the box diplomacy involving the u.n., the world bank , some special envoy outside of government, because i think we need to get to this new young leader who i don't think is calling the show but nonetheless because it's a daie it ty, because he is nominally in charge, is probably the key player there.

>> michele flournoy , secretary of defense hagel underlining how serious this issue is when he talked about the threat.

>> they have nuclear capacity now. they have missile delivery capacity now. and so as they have ratcheted up their bellicose, dangerous rhetoric and some of the actions they've taken the last few weeks present a real and clear danger.

>> two things going on there. one, kind of ratcheting up the escalation in words which the administration wanted to tamp down, but kim jong -un is saying i don't want to talk about losing my nuclear weapons . i won't even get into those discussions. so from a diplomatic point of view, what do you do?

>> we have to convince this new, young, inexperienced leader he's playing a losing hand. that the only way out of the box to get the economic development he wants, to get the progress that he wants is to ratchet back the rhetoric, come back into compliance with the international obligations that north korea has and to get serious about trying to implement some of the commitments he's made at the negotiating table in the past. i think in the mean l time the u.s. has been right to focus on bolstering deterrents, bolstering defense, standing shoulder to shoulder with our ally, south korea .

>> i would only add this. i think the goal should not just be to calm him down, to cool the rhetoric down. the goal has to be how do we get north korea back to the negotiating table on nuclear proliferation , on denuclearization? they have to do it because that whole asian area is a tinderbox and we have enormous interest. we have 30,000 american troops. they've got hundreds of missiles. they've got maybe up to five to six nuclear weapons . they've got a belligerent leadership. it's in our national are to try to diplomatically defuse the situation. i think secretary kerry is the kind of person that can come up with that.

>> andrea , a more basic question. it's very hard to explain to your children how north korea can exist this way in the 21st century and yet we continue with belligerent lead ership, with a starving population, with a country completely isolated from the rest of the world . how is had this possible?

>> the question for your children and all children, for all of us, who are really children in watching this because it is so inexplicable. it is a cartoon leadership. it has to be done through china . i think the new chinese president , she is the only leverage that we have. there have been some promising signs and conversations according to secretary kerry . i'll be with him on this trip next weekend. we'll be on sunday morning in china . and the whole hope is that he is finally and the new leadership, but this is a critical time, is trying to prepare to exert maximum pressure because as bill richardson and senator graham and michele flournoy have said, no one knows really what is motivating him except trying to assert his leadership. who is the puppeteer? the military more than likely. is he going to do something irrational or will there be a miscalculation? i've been there a couple of times, to pyongyang with bill richardson , and the proximity, 800,000 forward deployed north korean troops and south koreans and americans, we would object lit rate north korea . you have 35 million people living within miles.

>> how dangerous -- you once said that north korea was as dangerous as iraq the last decade. do you still think they're that dangero dangerous?

>> crazy people and nuclear weapons , those who pro-liver yate throughout the world are incredibly dangerous. that's why we need to stop syria from getting chemical weapons . the one thing i'm trying to stress is the politics in south korea are strained. there will be no more tolerance for sinking south korean naval vessels or killing civilians by north korea . they need to understand that. that's my biggest fear, guys, that if there's a provocation, south korea is not going to take it anymore. and the reason they don't have nuclear weapons and japan doesn't, they trust us . and so i appreciate what this administration is doing, staying with our allies.

>> michele, what do you do with the south koreans right now from a military point of view to tell them to trust the united states , as the senator says, and not act too rashly?

>> i think we hold them as close as possible. we do as much as we can to rae assure them. the fact that we have gone ahead with these annual exercises that we sent b-2 bombers, a sign of our extend ed deterrence, strategic deterrence to south korea , all that have is in incredibly important. we've also done extensive planning with them on how to deal with various scenarios of provocation and how we would respond together as an alliance so that they don't feel that they have to lash out unilaterally by themselves.

>> a quick question about diplomacy. it's great to say negotiate with the north, but bill clinton 's white house tried to. george w. bush has trade to. they got the deal on blowing up their yongbyon reactor . he seems to take the grain, take the fuel, take the money, and then go right ahead and break agreements or at least this regime does. so diplomacy is really a big challenge with this regime.

>> a big challenge but we have to do it. what's the alternative? i think we have to recognize probably the longer range threat is the spread of nuclear materials . you don't want north korea selling enriched uranium to iran. they did it to syria , pakistan. that's -- and i remember asking north korean leader, are you guys exporting nuclear materials ? he said, maybe. if you continue sanctions we've to get foreign exchange . now, you know, that's pretty devastating. so, look, i think diplomacy has been tried. i think president clinton probably was the most successful getting an agreement done. president bush , i think, started to negotiate with him. they're very difficult but i think we need a new negotiating track and i think the key is going to be the united states and china . south korea is a major player but i think for domestic reasons they have to be.

>> i have a couple seconds left with you, senator graham, and i want to talk about immigration and the budget. do you think that the president's framework that he announced, including change cpi , a gradual way to cut social security benefits, is a good-faith effort on his part? do you think he can actually win some new revenues as a budget deal by doing it?

>> there are nuggets of his budget i think are optimistic. it's overall a bad plan for the economy, but when you look at cpi , we're beginning to set the stage for the grand bargain. harmonize social security with medicare. in return flat ep the tax code , generate about $600 billion of revenue. and if you look at these changes over 30 years, this $4 tril wron to $5 trillion in savings. i'm looking at the biggest spending cut in history by reforming entitlements and the president is showing a little bit of leg here. this is encouraging. his overall budget is not going to make it but he has made a step forward to then titlement reform process that would allow a guy like me to talk about flattening the tax code .

>> do you think a grand bargain is possible by july?

>> i think if you do immigration and the grand bargain this year will dominate the 21st century , yes. the key to the grand bargain is can we solve immigration ? if we can in a bipartisan fashion fix a broken system to regain our lost sovereignty, control who comes to the country, who gets a job, a robust temporary worker program and as to republicans the politics of self-deportation are behind us. mitt romney is a good man. he ran in many ways a good campaign, but it was in a practical solution, quite frankly . it was offensive. every corner of the republican party from libertarians, the rnc, house republicans and the rank and file republican party member is now understanding there has to be an earned pathway to citizenship. that gives us leverage on immigration with our democratic friends.

>> i want to follow that on a second but i want to full up -- you're putting new revenue, as a republican, on the table.

>> if we do substantial entitlement reform that will save $4 trillion to $5 tril trillion --

>> what the president is talking about in your view substantial?

>> this is a step in the right direction, but harmonizing the age for retirement, means testing both programs, cpi adjustments gets you pretty much where you need to go.

>> the republican leader of the senate there yet?

>> well, i can tell you this, that the republican party would benefit as well as the democratic party from saving the american economy from becoming greece. if the president will lead on this, and he showed some leadership, no democrat will get to his right. nobody is going to adjust the age for retirement if the president doesn't embrace it. nobody is going to adjust cpi if the president doesn't embrace it, so he's showing some signs of leadership that's been lacking. i'm encouraged and that puts the burden on us to do the same thing. i think we will.

>> on immigration , what stands in the way of a deal?

>> we have an agreement between labor and business about the guest worker program , but we're revisiting that. we're hoping to get this thing done in the next couple of weeks is the guest worker program . high skill and low skill labor. how can you access it in an affordable fashion? if we're reasonable with 11 million, if we give them a pathway to citizenship that's earned and hard and fair, get in the back of the line, pay taxes, then the democratic party has to give us the guest worker program to help our economy. that's what we're arguing over.

>> will marco rubio be there for you.

>> he has been a game changer in my party. he will be there only if the democrats will embrace a guest worker program and immigration system to replace the broken one and we gain our sovereignty back, securing our borders and having control of jobs. marco will be there. if we get the 11 million on our side it puts the pressure on the democrats to come up with a workable guest worker program . marco has been indispensable.

>> one more political question before you go, and that is -- before i do that, let me get governor richardson 's take on this, on the immigration fight, where you think it's going?

>> i'm very pleased with the work of the gang of eight. i'm pleased with this labor agreement between the afl-cio and the chamber of commerce . if they could get together, republicans and democrats can get together. but i have some significant worries, and i'm a hispanic-american. one, the path to scitizenship. don't make it too burdensome. make it achievable. i've seen reports of this 13 years to get there. you know, let's be reasonable.

>> the president wants it to be certain.

>> right. and it not be conditional. number two, tying legalization -- the path to citizenship to border security , i was a border governor. you know, there has to be dramatic improvement in border security but so many people coming in and then you can legalize, that is unacceptable. and, lastly, have some way -- have some way that the drop dead date as late as possible so as many of the 12 million that are here can get in. you know, i just think that this gang of eight work is important, and i hope it continues, but, you know, we have to recognize the humanity and the improvements on the economy of the millions of workers that are here and, also, the politics.

>> let me get a final thought on this before we take a break.

>> we're not being over run by canadians but people who live in poor and corrupt countries who come here to get work. i understand that. we have to regain our sovereignty, control our border, and there will be border security tied to a pathway to citizenship. there will be an earned pathway to citizenship. you're not going to break in the line. it will be available to everybody who works hard, pays a fine, passes a background check, but we are going to secure that border, and it will be tied to pathway to citizenship or there will be no deal.

>> we'll talk after this break about presidential politics , waiting for hillary clinton . if she's the nominee can republicans beat her?

>> i think after eight years of barack obama if things don't change the next democrat running for president will be in trouble. she will be a formedable candidate. i think her time as secretary of state is mixed. benghazi is yet to be told completely. anybody underestimates her on the republican said would do so at peril. anybody can be beat in this country.

>> all right, senator graham. thank you as always. good to have you here.

>>> we're going to come back after a break and joining me will be politico's maggie haberman who vote a viewer's guide to hillary clinton 's future this week as well as our friend republican strategist mike fmurphy and andrea will stick around, michele flournoy , thank you very much for being here. we'll be back after this.