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North Korea Nukes

Aired October 18, 2002 - 12:43   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The list of countries developing weapons of mass destruction may surprise you, and the threat has never been more real. Lewis Simons is a veteran reporter at "The National Geographic," who spent a year, investigating the world's weapons of mass destruction for a special report of the magazine's upcoming November issue. Simons has traveled to at least six countries for this assignment, including North Korea and the Iraq-Iran border.
Mr. Simons, thanks for coming in. Brilliant piece. I recommend it very highly. But one of the things you do say, and I'll quote it specifically, in many ways the world is more dangerous today than at any time since 1945, including the Cold War when we were hiding under desks worried about the Cuban Missile Crisis.

LEWIS SIMONS, "NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC": Definitely. The answer being that during the Cold War, although we may not have realized it at the time, there were a set of rules in place. People on both sides of the Atlantic and on both sides of the ideological divide understood what could and could not be done, understood who was the enemy, understood that to unleash nuclear weapons, one against the other, was to invite certain destruction, and it was suicidal. Now, you have no rules in place.

BLITZER: As a result, there's the unpredictability factor.

SIMONS: Utter unpredictability. Who is the enemy? Where is it coming from? Who is going to use it? And what is it? Is it a nuclear weapon? Is it a chemical weapon? A biological weapon? We have no idea.

BLITZER: Let's talk about biological weapons, and we have some of the maps that you created in the new issue of "National Geographic." We will go to our telestrator. You can see it right up here. We're talking about biological weapons. They're all over the place, if you take a look at the highlighted part, for example, up here and, of course in China. The United States has biological weapons. Certainly in the Middle East, there is clear evidence Iraq does.

How serious of a problem is biological weapons right now?

SIMONS: In my judgment, having spent a year on this piece, I am more frightened of biological than I am of nuclear weapons and certainly of chemical weapons. They are everywhere indeed. They are capable of being manufactured in the backs of pickup trucks, in shopping malls, in back rooms. They are more capable of being transported in somebody's hip pocket, in a briefcase. Nobody thinks to stop someone carrying a jar of powder, or a canister that looks like a shaving cream can, and that sort of thing can be carried into a sports arena, into a major shopping mall, anything of that sort where crowds get together. They're released silently. By the time the people in that crowd come down with a disease, those who have let it go are long gone. We don't know where it has come from.

BLITZER: The biological weapon is deadly, obviously. But chemical weapons, and we have a map showing the chemical weapons capabilities around the world. We do know, for a fact, of course, China and the United States, Russia over here, China over here, and a lot of these countries that have chemical weapons, including the Iraqis, the Iraqi case is unique to a certain degree because they've used chemical weapons.

SIMONS: Look, we have between us and the Soviets or the Russians today, we have more chemical weapons than anybody else in the world. Now we are both, Russia and the United States, in the process of destroying those chemical weapons.

As to the Iraqis, as you noted, I reported from the Iran/Iraq border, among the Kurds who were hit from these weapons, and I would like to take a moment to take exception to what Condoleezza Rice said last night on the air...

BLITZER: In the interview with Ted Koppel.

SIMONS: Exactly -- in which she accused Iraq of being the only country to have used weapons of mass destruction against its own people and against its neighbors. We're first on that list. We dropped nuclear weapons in Japan. We have tested biological and chemical weapons and nuclear weapons in this country, and have made a lot of people in this country sick and have killed a lot of people in this country. So did the Soviets. So did the Japanese in World War II in China, killed hundreds of thousands.

BLITZER: But there is a difference between deliberately killing someone and accidentally killing people.

SIMONS: Yes, well, we deliberately killed people in Japan.

BLITZER: In Japan, in World War II, you can go through an argument whether that is good or bad, but that's another matter.

SIMONS: I just wanted to set the record straight.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the nuclear factor, very briefly, and We have a map showing no nuclear power. Of course the United States over here, Russia, China, obviously India and Pakistan. A lot of people think that's one of the most dangerous spots on Earth because of Kashmir right now.

But the fact that the North Koreans are now saying they do have a nuclear weapons program under way, how alarming should that be?

SIMONS: Well, let's bear one thing in mind. What's the news there? The news is not that they have the program. We know they have the program. It's in my article, and I've been preparing that article for a year. It's in other literature several years old. We have long known that they've been developing them. We've know that they had capability to develop one or two. What's news is that they've admitted it. So how alarmed should we be? I'm not sure that we should be alarmed. Maybe we look at it in a positive way, I don't know. North Korea is utterly unpredictable.

BLITZER: That's the unpredictability factor that causes the South Koreans, the Japanese, a lot of nervous people in Asia right now.

SIMONS: Indeed, they have every good reason to be nervous. And so do we.

BLITZER: All right, we have to leave it right there. But let me recommend once again to our viewers, a brilliant piece in "The National Geographic" and I recommend it. I learned a lot.

SIMONS: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Lewis Simons, thanks for joining us.


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