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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

IAEA Refers North Korea Issue to Security Council

Aired February 12, 2003 - 12:01   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's begin with our national security correspondent David Ensor. He's been listening in as the CIA director has been briefing lawmakers on the latest terror threats to the United States and its allies.
David, tell us what George Tenet is saying.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I haven't heard a more grim analysis than what the national security picture is for the United States from Tenet or previous CIA directors in all the time I've been covering this subject. A lot of questions, of course, from senators about the tape that you mentioned, that is believed to be Osama bin Laden's voice, and that calls on Muslims, and specifically, Iraqi Muslims, to fight the Americans.

Here's a taste of that tape, quickly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OSAMA BIN LADEN (through translator): Our brothers, the Mujahadeen in Iraq, don't worry about America's lies, about the powers and the military might. The smart bombs they talk about will do nothing when it comes to bunkers. They need very clear targets. The bunkers won't do. What they will do is they will fight and they will blow places randomly if they don't see a specific target.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ENSOR: So there you have Osama bin Laden, at least we think it is, and U.S. intelligence believes that is his voice, describing how he feels that he got away with fighting the Americans and getting away safely in Tora Bora and advising the Iraqis how do the same if there's a war with the United States. Tenet was pressed for his analysis of the tape.

He said, they're still working on it, but here's his first look at it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE TENET, CIA DIRECTOR: He's obviously raising the confidence of his people. He's obviously exhorting them to do more, and whether this is a signal of impending attack or not is something we're looking at. I can on tell you what the history is. What he said has often been followed by attacks, which I think corroborates everything that we're seeing in terms of raising the threat warning in terms of the specific information that we had at our disposal last week.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ENSOR: So, as I say, a sense of foreboding about the possibility of terrorism in this country. Some sharp questions about why the administration is stressing so much the danger from Iraq and not focusing more on the dangers from North Korea. You had the director confirming that he believes North Korea has one to two plutonium-based weapons, and he believes it's possible North Korea may also have a missile that could reach the West Coast of the United States. So he conceded there is danger there. He was not willing to use the word crisis, however, about that problem.

There were some Democrats on the committee who pressed for the U- 2 flights to be starting over Iraq, with Senator Levin saying, they should start whether or not Iraq agrees -- Wolf.

BLITZER: David Ensor, thank you very much for that report, and the voice, believed to be that of Osama bin Laden, is urging his followers to help Iraq in its fight against the United States, even though he calls those in Iraq's government a bunch of infidels.

And while most Iraqis and Arabs are dismissing Bin Laden's latest message, the White House insists it does show Iraq has some ties to Al Qaeda.

John King is standing by with the latest reaction at the White House -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the White House insisting that this tape is more proof for its argument that Iraq makes perfect sense, as the president says, as the next potential front in the global war on terrorism.

Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary today, rejecting the criticism from those who say this tape sounds much more like a message of solidarity with the Iraqi people, not with the Iraqi government. Ari Fleischer saying he does not believe that to be the case, and just because Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden have not had an alliance in the past does not mean they cannot form one in the present. Ari Fleischer saying specifically -- quote -- "This is the nightmare people have warned about, linking Iraq with Al Qaeda." The White House press secretary going to say, "The world cannot afford to be in denial," in denial in Fleischer's view about the prospect that Saddam Hussein, facing an imminent invasion, a U.S.-led invasion, might share chemical or biological weapons with Al Qaeda at a time, as David Ensor just noted, that the CIA believes Al Qaeda is planning new attacks on the United States and its allies and interests overseas.

The White House hopes to use this tape to buttress its argument at the United Nations, that it is time to move from an inspections regime, that the White House flatly says has been a failure, to possible military confrontation. Already today, Wolf, more indications of the tough sell the Bush White House faces. The government of Germany says it has analyzed the bin Laden tape and finds the message to be disturbing and sobering, but says there is no evidence in that tape at all in its view, again the government of Germany's view, that there is any relationship, any direct link between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

BLITZER: John, we're standing by to listen to Mohammed ElBaradei. He is the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency about to announce the North Koreans are in breach of international treaties, refer the entire issue of the North Korean nuclear program to the United Nations Security Council. North Koreans have said in the past, the government of Kim Jong-Il, that if the Security Council takes this up, they will see this as a virtual act of war.

This is an enormous crisis, coming on the heels of the Iraq crisis, the terrorism crisis. Does this White House feel overwhelmed right now?

KING: Add questions about the strength of the U.S. Economy in the wake of all this, including before and possibly the impact of a possible war. Overwhelmed, they say no. They say any president has to deal with the many issues and sometimes many crises he faces. We should make note that when the debate goes to Security Council, the White House view right now is that it does not want the Security Council to immediately push for any sanctions on North Korea. The White House believes that would be a provocative step in the view of Pyongyang and make it harder to reach a diplomatic solution, but certainly North Korea bubbling up again, just as the president tries to focus on Iraq.

BLITZER: John King at the White House, thanks very much. And let's go to Vienna and listen to Mohammed ElBaradei. He is the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, with important word on what to do with North Korea.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

MOHAMMED ELBARADEI, DIRECTOR GENERAL, IAEA: Just to give you background with the motion of events that led to the decision today.

DPRK have been in (INAUDIBLE) noncompliance with its obligations since 1993 when it barred the agency access to verify what we believed was plutonium that was produced in DPRK and was not declared to us. And since 1994, with the conclusion of the Agreed Framework between the U.S.A. and North Korea, DPRK sought shelter behind the DPRK to delay and circumvent its compliance with its safeguard agreement.

That situation, however, was aggravated during Christmastime, as you remember, in December, when, upon our requests of clarification of reports on an undeclared enrichment program, DPRK responded by cutting all seals (ph), disabling the inspectors' cameras and ordered our inspectors to leave the country.

That, obviously, was not in any way in compliance with their nonproliferation or safeguard obligation. I reported that issue at the time to the board of governors. The board, at the time on the 6th of January, expressed its deep concern about DPRK action as a matter of defiance of its nonproliferation obligation.

However, the board, at the time, decided to give DPRK another chance to come into compliance and requested that I make every effort to bring DPRK into compliance with its nonproliferation obligation. They also requested me to report to the board as a matter of urgency on my efforts.

Unfortunately, all my repeated efforts in so many different ways to engage the DPRK went in vain. The DPRK declared that the resolution of the board was unjust, and a few days after decided to withdraw from the nonproliferation treaty with instant effect as of 11th of January, despite the fact that we believe that DPRK, in accordance with Article 10 of the nonproliferation treaty, required three months withdrawal notice.

That, obviously, is a matter of the (INAUDIBLE) to interpret, but it was our view, which was today again shared by the board of governors, 34 members of it out of 35 are partners to the NPT, and all of them were in agreement that the safeguard agreement remains in force and binding which means that the DPRK is still party to the NPT.

The current situation clearly sets a dangerous precedent because what we are trying -- what we are trying to do is to make sure, in fact, that the NPT becomes universal in character rather than open the door for countries to walk away from nonproliferation and arms control obligations.

It also, therefore, as I stated today, to the board, it is very important that the international community deals with all cases of nonproliferation -- noncompliance with nonproliferation obligation in a consistent fashion.

And whether it's in Iraq, whether it's North Korea, cases of noncompliance with nonproliferation must be addressed with the same approach: zero tolerance.

I think the board and I are naturally aware of the other issues that need to be addressed relevant to the DPRK.

BLITZER: Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, announcing that the 35-member board of the IAEA has just decided to refer the entire issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons program to the United Nations Security Council, where it will be considered, a very important development, a new game, if you will, in the diplomacy under way involving North Korea. The Security Council, as we just said, has been handed this dispute to try to decide what, if any, punitive action should be taken against North Korea.

Let's get some insight now into what may follow. For that, we turn to Wendy Sherman, who's a special adviser -- who was a special adviser to former President Bill Clinton. She is now a principal in the Albright Group.

Thanks very much, Wendy, for coming in. Give our viewers a sense, what does this decision mean today to go to the -- to bring the whole issue before the U.N. Security Council?

WENDY SHERMAN, THE ALBRIGHT GROUP: It is a very serious step. It is really what the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, must do, because although it tries to carry out the NPT, the nonproliferation treaty, nuclear nonproliferation treaty, it can't enforce action when a country does not comply. And North Korea, having kicked out inspectors, having restarted its nuclear facility, the IAEA really doesn't have much of a choice.

But now that it's gone to the Security Council, if the Security Council does take any punitive action like economic sanctions, North Korea said this is tantamount to going to war. And this is where we were in 1993 Bill Clinton faced a similar crisis.

BLITZER: So this a threat that the international community from the North Koreans has to take very seriously. Can the North Koreans intimidate the U.N. Security Council because they have one or two nuclear bombs already, according to the CIA?

SHERMAN: Well, I'm not sure they can intimidate the Security Council, and I don't think, quite frankly, the Security Council is going to take immediate action, like economic sanctions. They have a number of options. The president of the Security Council can step out and make a statement of concern, and ask the IAEA to continue to pursue the issue. The Council can pass a resolution. Or they can take more punitive action, like economic sanctions.

What I think is going to happen, however, is we will have to see whether the Bush administration now takes the fact of the Security Council involvement, which creates a multilateral framework, as a cover for beginning the direct talks with North Korea that are so absolutely necessary to resolve this crisis. The other thing...

BLITZER: In other words, what you're saying is that the North Koreans, the government of Kim Jong-Il, they want respect from Washington. Is that what you're saying?

SHERMAN: Absolutely, they have said time and time again, the only people they want to deal with is the United States of America, because they believe we are the threat to their security.

BLITZER: But why should the U.S., the Bush Administration, give them any respect? They lied. They cheated, throughout the Carter -- the Clinton administration after they agreed in '93, '94 to stop this nuclear program, clandestinely, they continued it throughout.

SHERMAN: They actually probably didn't continue it throughout. They continued their ambition throughout, but the HEU program -- the highly enriched uranium program -- that the Bush administration discovered, probably had been going on in seriousness for about two years. And the agreed framework did hold for a number of years and kept them from producing 50 to 100 nuclear bombs. That said, we shouldn't trust North Korea, any kind of dialogue, any kind of negotiation has to be verifiable, step by step, but the consequences of not having diplomacy is to face war, and that would be catastrophic on the Korean peninsula.

BLITZER: Wendy Sherman, always good to get your insight, thanks very much for joining us.

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