Fox News Interview: North Korea and the Six-Party Talks

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State, Secretary of State
Interview With James Rosen of Fox News
Seoul, South Korea
February 20, 2009

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you for this honor. I want to begin by asking how it’s going in terms of securing me a better seat on the airplane. Are you making any headway with that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: You know, James, you all decided on a lottery system. You know, I believe in empowering people to make their own decisions. That’s part of smart power. And so we gave you all the opportunity, and you drew the middle seat.

QUESTION: This is very encouraging.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Now, next time, I’m going to wish for bigger seats for you.

QUESTION: Okay. Let’s talk about Afghanistan to begin with. At the NATO defense ministers’ conference, our allies only agreed to contribute an additional 1,400 troops. That’s got to be a disappointingly low figure.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we are only at the beginning of that process. Secretary Gates knew that there were some who were ready to commit now, and obviously made the ask. But we are in the midst of our policy review, and I think that a number of countries are waiting to see more specifically what our plan is, why we think that their contribution of troops would be helpful. But also, it’s important, James, to point out that we want their civilian help as well. We want their help training the Afghan army. We want their help training the Afghan police. So there’s going to be a number of ways people can contribute.

QUESTION: I want to ask about North Korea. And in doing so, I would like, because you’re an attorney, to use a legal term of art. I wish to stipulate in advance that it is the plutonium reprocessing operations in North Korea that are of paramount concern.


QUESTION: However, to the extent that highly enriched uranium programs are of intrinsic concern to American policymakers, I hope that we can discuss it solely on its own merits.


QUESTION: I’ve been following your statements closely and, without parsing words or splitting hairs, taking them quite literally. Your statements on this issue have progressed just in the last few days. At the Senate confirmation hearing, you said it was never quite verified that that program exists. En route to Elmendorf Air Force Base, you said there was a debate within the intelligence community as to the extent of the program. And then yesterday, en route to Seoul, you said that one day you look forward to inspectors being able to determine what, if anything, existed.

Now, it’s one thing to say we don’t know if it presently exists. It’s another thing to say we don’t know the extent of it or how far it’s progressed. But you’re not in any doubt as to whether, quote, “if anything existed” at any time? You do believe that there was a program at some time?

SECRETARY CLINTON: James, I am going to be as clear as I can be about this. I think that there is a sense, among many who have studied this, that there may be some program somewhere, but no one can point to any specific location nor can they point to any specific outcome of whatever might have gone on, if anything did.

And I hate to be so parsing, but I think it’s important to underscore this point again. Do I believe that the North Koreans, if they could engage in producing highly enriched uranium, would attempt to do so? I mean, that seems to be their nuclear ambition. I don’t have any doubt that they would try whatever they possibly could. Have they? I don’t know that and nobody else does either. And I think what’s important is to remember why this debate is still going on.

Clearly, there was some reason to believe that something having to do with highly enriched uranium - whether it was happening in North Korea, whether it had been imported into North Korea - was part of the information derived once we got inspectors into North Korea.

But I do believe it was an error to tear up the controls we had on the plutonium. Because what we do know for sure is that they went and reprocessed the plutonium. So we do have to work hard to figure out what, if anything, there is about highly enriched uranium, but that should not – that debate should not detract from our continuing emphasis about disabling their capacity to reprocess more plutonium. And sometimes those get – it’s like, well, if we can’t figure out one and do them both, we shouldn’t do the other, and I just don’t agree with that.

QUESTION: You’ve led me to my next question. You have been fairly explicit at various points along the way in this trip in stating that it was a mistake for the Bush administration to jettison the Agreed Framework. And to a Japanese interviewer on this trip, you stated that the Bush administration changed its policy over time, and that you believe that the ending policy was where they should have started out.

Yet, when one of my colleagues in the traveling press corps at the Japanese foreign ministry the other day asked you if it was a mistake for the Bush administration to de-list North Korea in the absence of any more tangible concessions from the North, you said, I’m not going to get into an analysis of the past. Now, you’re clearly content to analyze the past on some occasions, so I think it’s fair to put the question to you again: Was that a mistake?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m not going to comment on that, because that is part of the process we’re engaged in right now. So this is still an open effort on our part, to get the North Koreans back to the Six-Party Talks. The role that that decision did play and might play in trying to engage them once again is of paramount concern to me right now. So I guess we could slightly amend what I said. And the immediate past – I think, we should, you know, look on going forward.

But I do think that we could have gone after the North Koreans based on whatever evidence we had about highly enriched uranium without giving up the control that we had established over the plutonium.

QUESTION: I have less than a minute left and I want to pursue a topic of extreme importance to me - you mentioned on an Indonesian television program your love of the Beatles. Two questions – number one, are you more partial to the irrepressible melodies and hand-clapping of the “Please Please Me” era or to the world-weary drug fueled existentialism of their later work?

SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) Well, like so many Beatles fans, it depends both on mood and stage of life. I have to confess, since I am older than you, that the hand-clapping mode was what I first was captured by. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was an anthem, as you might imagine. But then as I went through my angst period – (laughter) – and you know, struggled with the challenges of living in the real world, the more existential message struck home.

QUESTION: Do you have a favorite Beatles song?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it sort of is on the more existential side. I have always loved “Hey Jude.” Now, don’t ask me why, because that’s almost biblical in meaning, as you know.

QUESTION: I do know.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes. And I know that you’re a collector --

QUESTION: (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: -- of memorabilia. And I always have been sort of moved by the range of emotion in the Beatles. But at the end of the day, I think Lennon and McCartney were geniuses, and I’m just glad I got to live through that period.

QUESTION: I suppose it was too much to expect that the American secretary of state, on her first trip overseas, would advocate on behalf of “Revolution.”

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. In fact, you understand the reasons why that might not be appropriate. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, James.

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PRN: 2009/T1-19