Rice Says U.S. Standing Firm Against North Korea

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talked with ABC News' Charles Gibson about what is going on in North Korea, which claims to have carried out a test of a nuclear weapon, and in Russia, where yet another crusading journalist has been murdered.

On North Korea's Purported Nuclear Weapons Test

GIBSON: Madame Secretary, what is the present belief? Was it a nuclear test the night before last, or wasn't it?

RICE: Well, I think we are still trying to confirm, Charlie, what did or did not happen there. But we have to take seriously the North Koreans' claims, and of course their claim is in and of itself a threat to international peace and security, is of course coming on the heels as it does of a missile test just a couple of months ago. And so we'll take the claim very seriously. We will eventually find out what exactly happened.

GIBSON: The president said a couple of years ago, "We will not tolerate a nuclear North Korea." That's a pretty declarative sentence, "we will not tolerate," and it seems a lot stronger than, '"Well, we're going to try to get some sanctions passed."

RICE: Well, we are going to get sanctions passed because we can't tolerate a nuclear North Korea, and we are not the only ones. The important thing here is that you're getting universal international condemnation, but most importantly, you are getting condemnation and urgency and action from states that have real leverage, states like China and South Korea that can put at risk a lot of what North Korea survives on. Now, I do think you'll have a strong security council resolution, but the North Koreans also know that we signed a joint statement in September of 2005 that gave them, were they willing to denuclearize verifiably, an entry point into the international system. That's still available, but for now, the international community is going to pursue the sanctions route in the Security Council.

GIBSON: But they had to know we would go to the United Nations if this happened and they have, in effect, by having this test, thumbed their nose .... at the international communities and at the U.N. Unless you get the Chinese -- if we have guarantees from the Chinese that they will cut off oil that the North Koreans need, can sanctions really do anything?

RICE: Well, we finally actually have as a part of this coalition the Chinese and the South Koreans. That's what this president has spent the last several years building. When we went at this problem before, we did it bilaterally with the North Koreans and when the North Koreans cheated on the so-called agreed frame work, they cheated with the united states. And we didn't have the full weight of others who had real leverage or real influence with North Korea. We'll see how long North Korea can really tolerate the isolation from even those that are closest to it. But I do believe we have the right configuration now, both to make an agreement stick, if we get one, and also to pressure the North Koreans to take a different course.

GIBSON: Have the Chinese said to us, we will cut off their oil and the other trade that is most critical to them?

RICE: well, the Chinese have said that they will take serious steps to deal with the North Korean problem. We're going to have a sanctions resolution in the Security Council, we'll see how the North Koreans react to that. We'll then see what other measures are necessary, and I should note, Charlie, that it is not just a matter of assistance, it's also a matter of whether or not we organize ourselves through, for instance, the proliferation security initiative to interdict dangerous cargo that the North Koreans are trying to transfer. It is important that our security alliances make very clear to the North Koreans that we will not permit a deterioration of the security environment in this region. We have many arrows in our quiver and we'll start to use them.

GIBSON: And then there's the converse question which is, a lot of people say, the weaker North Korea is, if they are weakened by sanctions, the more dangerous and unpredictable they become. That indeed it's a double edge sword with sanctions and we could actually be hurting the situation.

RICE: Well, it's certainly a regime that is in one sense very weak in that it's basically without economic activity and growth of any substantial proportion. It's a regime that has had from time to time to starve its own people, that is completely dependant on the international community for a variety of goods. Yes, there are serious weaknesses there. We have a way for North Korea to engage the international community and to not be pushed into a corner, it just has to take that way out. But I think for now, Charlie, the way to convince North Korea that this kind of behavior is not going to be tolerated, is what you've seen in the last 24 hours. Which is a strong response from the international community as a whole, and particularly from some of the states that have been closest to North Korea.

GIBSON: Tony Snow today was talking about inducements to the North Koreans to try and get them to moderate their behavior. Isn't that exactly the kind of thing the Clinton administration tried, of which you and others in the Bush administration have been critical?

RICE: Well, I ... what's being talked about there, being referenced, is there is a joint statement of September 19, 2005 of the six parties about what the six parties would do and that means Japan, Russia, China, South Korea and the United States in conjunction with North Korea. And the big difference here is this is a multilateral agreement. This brings the weight and influence of China, the weight and the influence of South Korea, to a certain extent even Russia, into the picture. When we had the agreed framework, the North Koreans were able to violate it with impunity because of course it was really agreement with the United States and they didn't risk the ire and the condemnation of China and for that matter others who would have been a party top in that agreement. I know there was a consortium to provide some of the assistance to North Korea, but essentially this was a bilateral deal and we have to remember too that even as diplomacy continued bilaterally with North Korea into the late '90s, the North Koreans went right ahead and tested a missile that led to a real military confrontation in the region. So this is a state that behaves badly when it's one-on-one with the United States. If it behaves badly when it's in a multilateral arrangement, at least there are others to bring pressure.

GIBSON: So you would reject what your predecessor, Republican Jim Baker, who was former secretary of state, said over the weekend, that we should be talking to our enemies ... nothing wrong with talking to our enemies one on one.

RICE: Well, there is a misconception here. Of course we've talked to the North Koreans, we've talked to them in New York, we've talked to them within the context of the six-party talks. Chris Hill had dinner with the North Korean representative to the six-party talks, just the two of them. But we didn't want to bring it outside of the context of the six-party talks because if Ambassador Hill, who is our representative to the six-party talks, just disengages from the other parties and just talks to the North Koreans, the North Koreans have exactly what they want. They can bring pressure to the United States to do things, they can use others to bring pressure on the United States. This way they face a united front of all the parties that have influence. We've also talked to others which we disagree. It's not a matter of talking, it's a matter of whether they respond.

GIBSON: And what's your read of Kim Jong Il's gain here? Is he trying to use this as a threat or is he trying to use this as a lever to get himself some leverage with the international community?

RICE: Well, far be it from me to try and judge his motives. If what he wants is an entry point into the international system, if what he wants is movement towards better relations, greater assistance, that's available to him through an agreement that we signed in September. If what he wants is assurance that the U.S. does not intend to invade or attack North Korea, the president has said that multiple times including standing in South Korea. So it's all on the table. But the North Koreans sometimes have a tendency to want to, to bully instead, to want to intimidate instead. But this time their efforts of intimidation have brought roundly and universally condemnation from the international system.

GIBSON: And do you honestly think that sanctions have a chance of getting him to give up or moderate him nuclear program?

RICE: Well, I certainly think that sanctions and pressure have a chance to get him back to six-party talks with a plan for implementation of the joint statement. That's what we are looking to do. Because the joint statement itself allows for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula verifiably. So that agreement is already in place, but what we need to do is get him back to those talks so that that implementation can move forward and frankly, Charlie, without the help of China and South Korea and others, it's not going to be possible. That's why this is a much better configuration, this six-party configuration, than this one-on-one with the North.

On the Murder of Russian Journalist Anna Politkovskaya

GIBSON: There's one other thing I want to ask you about. The case of Anna Politkovskaya in Russia. What pressures are the United States bringing to get to the bottom of who killed her?

RICE: Well, first let me say that this woman was a real heroine. She was somebody who was in the best tradition of a journalist, who went to the most difficult issues and tried to find out the truth. And it was a sign of new Russia that she was doing that. It's a very sad event and one that needs to be fully and totally investigated by the Russian government that she was killed in this brutal way. I would hope that the Russian government understands that everybody is watching, that an investigation of this event is absolutely necessary because she was the embodiment of what a free press meant in Russia.

GIBSON: We've had 13 journalists killed since President Putin assumed that job and we've had zero cases solved. A, do you really have any confidence that it's going to be fully investigated? And B, do you have any reason to believe that the Russian government is simply killing its critics?

RICE: well, I don't have any reason to believe, or any evidence, that the Russian government is involved. But I think the Russian government does have a heavy burden to demonstrate that it is both interested in and determined to find the killers of these journalists. You're right, there have been too many of these and there have been too many that have been unsolved. So one has to be concerned about the atmosphere and one has to be concerned that the Russian government will do everything. And I just, I know the international community is saying to the Russian government, "This case and others really need to be resolved." There are a number -- the case of Paul Klebnikov is another case -- where resolution would make a very big difference.

GIBSON: You know Russia well. Is there any free press there left?

RICE: Well, there are multiple small newspapers. But you know, we've been very concerned about the fate of the press in Russia. We've been very concerned especially about the electronic press, where one gets minimal criticism of very sensitive issues any longer. Russia's a strong county. It's a country that is in transition and it's a country that can stand, that can tolerate, that would benefit from a free press. And so when we talk to the Russian government about the need for a free press, it isn't because anyone wants to see Russia weaker. It's because it's our firm belief that a free press would actually make Russia stronger.

GIBSON: Madame Secretary, I appreciate you talking to me.

RICE: Thank you, thank you very much, Charlie.