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CNN SATURDAY

Interview With Clifford May, Kenneth Adelman

Aired January 18, 2003 - 18:17   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: South Korea's president elect is down playing what many describe as a growing anti-American sentiment in his country. But keep in mind, the U.S. has about 37,000 troops in South Korea. And that brings us to our next issue. Should they stay, or should they go? This is the question that is seriously being posed once again.
We are looking for answers from two authorities right now, Kenneth Adelman, a former U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency director; and Clifford May, the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

Good evening to both of you, and thanks very much for being with us.

CLIFFORD MAY, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Good evening.

KENNETH ADELMAN, PENTAGON DEFENSE POLICY BOARD: Good to see you.

LIN: Ken, let me begin with you. You actually say that withdrawing troops from a shaky peninsula would actually be a good thing. Why is that?

ADELMAN: I say that because I am very disturbed by what the South Koreans are doing, especially the South Korean president who is coming in. And what he's doing is making this seem like a U.S. versus North Korea situation.

If South Korea doesn't want American troops there anymore then I think we should take them out. And I think we should do it for three reasons.

Number one, to see if the South Koreans are sincere, that they no longer want to be protected by America.

Number two, to energize Japan, China and Russia, who have the most at stake in the region to get off their duffs, stop watching the United States and start doing something about the crisis. That affects them most.

And number three, to send a message that Americans are not out for material gain, for territorial gain when we're involved overseas. We will have troops nowhere where they are not wanted and needed.

LIN: So, how many troops, and when should they withdraw? ADELMAN: Well, I would certainly do it in a staged way. And probably start with a fourth or a half of the troops right there. And even a leak by the Bush administration that it was considering withdrawing some of our troops from South Korea would certainly electrify the region.

And it would send the signal to Russia, China and Japan, and South Korea, that by god, this is not the United States' problem. This is the problem of civilized countries around the world. And they should stop playing the part of just a detached observer.

LIN: So, Clifford May, you're also saying, though, that by withdrawing the troops that is actually a victory for North Korea?

MAY: Well, yes, with all due respect for Ambassador Adelman, and I have great respect for him and I share his frustrations. And I agree with many of his points, I think there are three reasons not to do this.

One is, it would appear -- and in perhaps in fact -- give a great reward to the North Korea regime. We don't want to give Kim Jong Il, a terrible dictator, any reason to break out the cigars and bongo drums and say, you see, you threaten the Americans and they run away. That's a terrible signal to send.

I think, secondly, those troops may be a bargaining chip. If at some point we can get an agreement that is enforceable and verifiable to make sure that they have no further weapons, then we may want to have those troops leave, under those conditions.

And, third, and not least, that military base we have there, we may need in the event of a military confrontation. Something we must not ever rule out, because at the end of the day we may have to do something militarily about this terrible regime that has starved 2 million of its people over the last seven years.

LIN: Ken?

ADELMAN: Yes, I think that the arguments there -- Cliff made them very nicely on the other side. The fact is, when you looked at it the South Koreans are protesting who? They are protesting Americans and American involvement. They're not protesting the North Koreans. Why?

Because over the years it has built up into almost a dysfunctional relationship, somehow we, America, is responsible for keeping the South clear from aggression from the North. Somehow we are responsible for the North Korea nuclear program. And it relieves everybody else of any responsibility.

And the incoming South Korean president can say the most outrageous things, like he wants to be an honest mediator between North Korea and the United States. Well, listen, our troops are there to make South Korea prosperous and at peace. And they have worked that way for 60 years. We gave up, you know, something like 35,000 American lives to protect South Korea. And that is being forgotten right now and I'd like a reminder of that. We sacrificed enormously for the South Koreans and it kind of bugs me, what they're doing right now.

LIN: Well, Clifford, what it seems that Ken is talking about is taking a moral stance on this. Why be in a country where you're not wanted. I mean, they have signs hanging in South Korean restaurants saying, Americans are not welcome.

MAY: I think that is a logical reaction and I'm urging Ken and others to resist it only because I think we have a longer strategic interest in the Korean Peninsula and we need to about. I think had the troops been brought out five years ago, that might have been a smart idea. We didn't really have much of a policy five years ago toward the Koreas.

I think if we take the troops out in five years that may be a good idea. But taking them out right now, again, would seem to reward Kim Jong Il and we don't want to do that. We also have to make sure that an entire world knows that this is not by any means just our problem. It is the South Koreans' problem. It is the Chinese's problem as well. And it is a Japanese problem.

Because we're talking about a regime that could become a little nuclear arms factory, turning out nuclear weapons and giving them to terrorists and terrorists can be a very effective mechanism for delivery. We're not going to have that. We can't have that. We'd be crazy to allow that to happen.

But the Chinese have to understand, I think, that our relationship with them depends on their cooperation in this exercise.

And by the way, let me also say this, and I think Ken will agree with me, where the heck is the U.N. in all of this. We've had 2 million Koreans starved. We've had about 300,000 Korean refugees. There is a terrible human rights situation. Where is the Security Council? Where is Kofi Annan? Where the rest of the world? Why isn't this their problem at all?

LIN: But where is the evidence that South Korea still even wants or needs the troops there?

MAY: Well, Ken can answer this, perhaps, better than I can. But the reason --

ADELMAN: Very little.

MAY: Yes!

(LAUGHTER)

ADELMAN: That's your answer, very little.

MAY: Well, I think -

ADELMAN: They're resentful and the resentment has been built up against us. And to tell you the truth, I'm tired of it.

MAY: You know, you're exactly right, but wouldn't we all hate to see the North Korean army pour across the DMZ, the artillery and rockets they've had lined up there, used against Seoul, which is only 35 miles away.

We did fight a war; we saved South Korea. We helped make South Korea the prosperous democratic nation that it is. I would -- just imagine how we would feel if we were to pull out and Kim Jong Il would say, now is the time. Let's destroy Seoul. Let's see if we can re- conquer the South.

We don't want that. How do we make sure that doesn't happen? It isn't going be easy. We don't have good options, but I would say among the options they're going to be to play every diplomatic card we have with the Japanese, with the Chinese, with the Russians, with the South Koreans. And then keep on the table the possibility that at some point, we may have to engage in a war there.

LIN: All right.

ADELMAN: One footnote, let me make clear, that I'm for taking half the troops out over a period of time. And for keeping the U.S. security, you know, a relationship with South Korea. But sending the signal by taking out those troops. I'm not for doing it immediately and taking all troops out.

LIN: All right, well, thanks for clarifying that. As well, we should tell the audience, this is not under serious consideration, but it is definitely a point of serious debate. But no concrete plans to withdraw troops from the Korean Peninsula just yet.

Kenneth Adelman, thank you very much; Clifford May, always good to see you.

MAY: Thank you.

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