MSNBC: Tim, North Korea is now demanding bilateral talks with the United States, saying it wants to diffuse tension – the tension it created Thursday when it announced it had nuclear weapons. Is this just a negotiating ploy for talks?
Tim Russert: We don’t know, but clearly they are yelling and screaming and jumping up and down and saying, “Mom, Dad, look at me, I’ve got nukes.”
They have developed; it looks like, between six and eight. It’s our and the world’s worst nightmare – a nuclear armed North Korea. We’re not sure what potential they have to deliver such a nuclear weapon, but that comes next.
Clearly the world is holding its breath this morning as to what the North Koreans are up to.
MSNBC: Is the Bush administration, in its second term, more likely to want to deal with issues, like what’s going on with North Korean, with diplomacy – given the kind of rhetoric we heard from new Secretary of State Condoleezza during her European trip?
Russert: That’s the unanswered question. There have been estimates made about North Korea – if we attempted an invasion in order to take out their nuclear weapons, all the war planning indicate s the north Koreans would surge across the border and there would be a minimum of 200,000 dead. South Koreans and Americans on the front line would have an extremely difficult time.
So, it looks like diplomacy is the best way to go about this.
When Colin Powell was secretary of state, he said we were going to continue the Clinton foreign policy and the president said, “No we’re not… not so fast.” And he’s tried to engage the multi-country negotiations, believing that China has the most influence on North Korea.
The great irony here is that we all sort of held our breaths about Iraq and the weapons of mass destruction and all the talk of a nuclear or mushroom cloud, vis a vis Saddam Hussein. And, while we were doing that, lo and behold, it was the North Koreans who were rapidly developing their nuclear processing and now say, “Guess what. We got ‘em.”
MSNBC: Is it harder to rally international support for any kind of action against North Korea in light of the suspect United States intelligence system?
Russert: That was the interesting question raised in debate. If the president of the United States went to the country and the world and said, “Iran has this. North Korea has this. Let me show you the photos. Listen to the wiretaps.” Would people say, “Wait a minute. We heard the same thing about Iraq.”
I think the evidence is probably a little bit cleaner cut when it comes to North Korea. But in terms of military action, I can’t find anyone who believes that military action would work at this time, at this stage, with North Korea or Iran.
MSNBC: You mention China. This situation with North Korea kind of throws the United States in the same boat as China – kind of an unusual situation.
Russert: Absolutely. It’s in the Chinese interest not to have a Korean peninsula that is a potential nuclear threat to anybody. But just what influence they can have and whether or not they want to apply it at this time, we just don’t know.
After the Cold War was over and the Soviet empire collapsed, we really thought this is the end of any potential nuclear armed conflict. Now we wake up and realize that the rogue states are probably even more dangerous than the one-on-one confrontation we had for so many years with the Soviet Union.
MSNBC: Shifting gears here… should we assume from the fact Howard Dean is expected to be elected as the next, new chairman of the Democratic National Party Saturday morning, that there will be a big shift to the left by the party as a whole.
Russert: The Republicans will certainly try to make it happen that way, by portraying Dean just as that.
The doctor from Vermont will say, “No, no. I’m a centrist. I’ve balanced budgets. I’m against expanding gun control. I’m going to focus on the mechanics -- raising money. And these labels are meaningless.”
MSNBC: He gained his left-leaning reputation mostly on the war with Iraq. Other than that, he appears to be a lot more to the center than many say.
Russert: And that’s what he’ll say. He won’t back down on the war. He’ll say he was right all along. He supported the first Gulf War, but not the second. It’s going to be something to watch – whether Dean can bring the same fundraising magic to that he brought to his campaign to the DNC.
MSNBC: Who will be your guests Sunday on Meet the Press?
Russert: We’re going to talk about Korea and the Bush foreign policy. The president says he’s read a book call “The Case for Democracy”, written by Natan Sharansky, the Israeli cabinet minister. Sharansky is going to come on Meet the press exclusively and have a debate with Pat Buchanan about the Middle East and preemptive war.
Then, Social Security. The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Charles Grassley and the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Charles Rangel will square off about Social Security – is the President’s plan alive or dead.
Rangel, himself, was a Korean War veteran. So, he’ll have some interesting observations about Korea.
All Sunday on Meet the Press.