CNN Interview: Reengaging North Korea in the Six-Party Talks

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Interview With Jill Dougherty of CNN
Seoul, South Korea
February 20, 2009

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you very much for being with us. You know, right now, the U.S. seems to be saying two things to North Korea. One would be, you’re a tyrannical, unpredictable country that insults and threatens its neighbors, and your leadership is unclear, as you put it. And then the second thing it’s saying is you’re a country that has the ability to act rationally, make commitments, and follow through on them if it wants to.

Now, isn’t this a mixed message? And does it mean that the United States really hasn’t settled on a policy toward North Korea?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, I don’t think so, Jill. I think that the past history proves that North Korea can be either of those depending upon what it’s attempting to achieve. And what is clear from the Six-Party process over the last years is that when North Korea decides to cooperate and make agreements that it believes are in furtherance of its own interests, it will do so. And when it doesn’t, it is always seeking advantage, and it uses provocative words and threatening actions to try to get attention in order to make a deal in some way-- food and fuel and other kinds of assets.

I mean, South Korea basically keeps the North Korean economy going with all of the subsidies of food and fuel and medical supplies and the like. So I think it’s calculated, and I think you have to respond in kind as you look at the behavior of the day, the week, the month, and the year.

QUESTION: You know, speaking of taking advantage, right now, you have the theory that with the economic crisis in the world affecting the United States and Asia – certainly, you’ve been talking about that here – that the North or perhaps other countries might take advantage of this opportunity to think that the outside world is so engaged with that issue that they can take provocative action. What do you think?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that’s an interesting analysis, because clearly, the new Administration has demonstrated, through what the President has said, I have said, and others that there is an opportunity for North Korea to return to the Six-Party Talks, to begin working in a thoughtful way toward the denuclearization in a verifiable and complete manner as it had agreed to. And then all of a sudden, these insults and these provocative statements start coming across the border.

Now, if North Korea is calculating that somehow, they’re going to drive a wedge between the United States and the Republic of Korea, they’re badly miscalculating that. Our alliance is stronger than ever. And it’s not only about our mutual security, but it’s also about how we’re going to deal with the global economy and so much else.

So I think that there’s a testing period and a kind of wait-and-see attitude about how this is going to move forward. And we’re hoping that North Korea will see its way clear to reengage. And as I’ve said repeatedly, if we can get to the point where denuclearization is verifiable and complete, there are tremendous advantages waiting for North Korea – not only a bilateral, normal relationship with the United States, but I think a lot of international support and aid that could come to the people of North Korea.

QUESTION: The next stop is Beijing. China has not been as directly affected by this financial crisis worldwide as some other countries. And in fact, it’s going around the world buying up natural resources – oil, minerals, et cetera. When this crisis is finally over, could it turn out that China would emerge stronger than it is now with the ability to pose a direct challenge to U.S. interests?

SECRETARY CLINTON: You know, Jill, the way that I’m looking at China and anticipating our talks there in the next two days is that the rise of China is not in and of itself threatening to the United States. It’s how China decides to act with whatever assets it has. But that’s up to how we cooperate together.

I think that the Chinese economy is incredibly dependent upon the American consumer. That has been the source of a lot of the growth in China. They have 20 million migrant workers who are unemployed as of today. They are having to do their own stimulus package. So how China moves through this economic contraction is not determined yet, just like how we’re going to move through. We’ve got to work together. We have a big stake in seeing the global economy recover. But I have infinite faith in the resilience and dynamism of the American economy, and I think that President Obama has put us on the right track now to be able to recover.

So are we going to have competition with China? Of course. You have competition with all kinds of countries. That’s nothing new. But we also hope for cooperation in a peaceful and productive manner on a range of issues where we think that China and the United States have comparable interests, whether it be global climate change, clean energy, the economic challenges we face, and shared security issues like Afghanistan and Pakistan and so much else.

QUESTION: And one question about yourself and the job that you’ve taken on: You’ve been in the job as Secretary of State for about a month. Every word, every gesture that you make is under the microscope, including your comments yesterday and today on North Korea and the issue of succession. They have grave, serious implications for U.S. foreign policy. How is this job different from the jobs you’ve had before – senator, first lady – and is it more difficult? A person that I know said it’s like wearing a silk straightjacket. Do you feel that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) I don’t feel that way at all, and I’ve always believed that you just get up every day and you do the best job you can no matter what it might be. It’s a great honor to be representing the United States.

I also have a conviction that some open, candid conversation is called for, that there needs to be an exchange of ideas, that something as commonplace as who’s going to naturally succeed at whatever time that might be in North Korea – that’s on people’s minds. It’s written about. We ought to be engaging. We ought to elicit reactions and opinions about that and many other issues.

So yes, it carries with it a great deal of responsibility, but I see it as a tremendous opportunity to continue to serve my country.

QUESTION: So it’s not a verbal minefield?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that some people invest way too much in parsing words. I think that you have to look at the complete picture, and I think it’s very clear what the Obama Administration is attempting to do and what I’m attempting to do as Secretary of State. And I also am very deliberately talking about things and trying to open up dialogue and create some space for there to be sensible discussion about the way forward on some very difficult problems.

QUESTION: Well, thank you very much, Madame Secretary.


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PRN: 2009/T1-18