Former CIA Director Petraeus calls nuclear war with North Korea unlikely

Former CIA Director David Petraeus discusses the North Korea threat and more on "This Week."
3:58 | 10/22/17

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Transcript for Former CIA Director Petraeus calls nuclear war with North Korea unlikely
As we mentioned, I traveled some 7,000 miles to the sea of Japan this week. And it really felt like a world away from the political rancor here at home. The men and women who stand ready to protect this nation and its allies are lay zer focused on the mission and unrattled by the escalating threat of conflict with North Korea. The sea of Japan is bristling with warships. This is the "Uss Ronald Reagan president" where the roar of fighter jets is constant. The 5,000 sailors on board conducting five days of drills with south Korean counterparts. North Korea calling the exercise a provocation. Accusing the allies of trying to frantically start a nuclear war. In Washington on Thursday, the director of the CIA saying north Korea is mere months away from being able to hit the united States with a nuclear weapon. We ought to behave as if we're on the cusp of them achieving that objective. Reporter: And the president's national security adviser warning patience is running thin. We're in a race to resolve this short of military action. We're running out of time? We are running out of time. Reporter: Landing on "The Reagan" this week, a tailhook trap, the intensity of the exercises is evident. Everyone is aware of the tension on the peninsula. Does that factor into your exercises? We live with this kind of stuff in balance all the time. We're very keen, and aware, I think, of the tension. Reporter: This is the carrier's third trip to the sea of Japan in the lath fife months. The same waters where many of the missiles thort Korea has launched have come crashes down. The training that we conduct is about being ready to respond. And, ready to respond to whatever happens. I have control of everything that moves on the flight deck and on the hangar bay. One plus 30-minute cycle, we could launch an event from anywhere from 12 to 15 to 20-plus aircraft. Reporter: With so many moving parts, live bombs and missiles, and no margin of error, coordination is critical. Just before the fighter jet hits the deck, it goes to full power. In case it doesn't hit any of the wires. Too high, you're not going to stop. Too low, it can get catastrophic pretty quickly. We have the best pilots in the world out here. Any deviation and it can end poorly quickly. Reporter: This pilot, call sign Waldo, has been flying for 16 yeas. The ability to target an aircraft and our ability to defend ourselves makes us -- makes me feel pretty good. So from a personal standpoint, I'm not alarmed. Reporter: This carrier is only part of the military presence. The Marine Corps is leading the charge as well. We're now at the Marine Corps air station in Japan. This is the f-5. There's a squadron of these here. These are the most sophisticated planes in the U.S. Arsenal. This major has been taking part in exercises. The nation's crisis response for us. We train to fight tonight. And we will fight and win tonight. Reporter: And with the region remaining on the brink, they have to be ready to fight tonight. And we're back now with general Petraeus. Your successor at the CIA said we have about a 20% to 25% chance of a real conflict there. Can you see a diplomatic resolution at this point? I think there's still an opportunity. All of the rhetoric is named at China, not at North Korea. This is about getting president XI's attention, once he's done with the party congress, which is still ongoing. So that China will really clamp down on the umbilical cord through which 90% of the trade to and from North Korea transits. China has the ability to bring North Korea to its senses but doesn't want to bring it to its knees. They don't want to see a reunified Korean peninsula and all that that would entail. The preparations. So that if there is some kind of military engamement that we'll be the best prepared we can possibly be. Any possible scenario is ugly. And that's what everyone is intent on preventing. But it requires China's action. You talked about the rhetoric being aimed at China. There's been a lot of rhetoric from president trump. He tweeted that secretary of state Rex tillerson is wasting his time. You're saying all of this is aimed at China? This is. Secretary tillerson is undertaking the kind of strategic engadggement that is necessary here. This is the essence of this. This is China's decision to take. Whether they are going to do, which they did do one time before, 15 or so years ago. Which was to get thort Korea back to the negotiang table. Halt the missile and nuclear testing where it is right now. But you have heard this rhetoric. It may be aimed at China, but North Korea is hearing it the. Kim Jong-un is hearing it. Does this exacerbate the situation? Does it make conflict more likely? Well, before you get into a crisis, this probably gives the other side a bit of pause. The problem with this kind of approach is that if you end up in a crisis, even inadvertently, you don't want the other side thinking that you might be prone to take the slack out of the trigger. Because they may pull the trigger first. What is the strategy if China doesn't do its part? China has to understand the new strategic reality that would result. If they didn't like the air defense system, the anti-ballistic missile system that wept into Korea, they won't like all the other stuff that is going to follow, of that which will go into Japan? At what point do nuclear weapons have to go back into south Korea? When does Japan get offensive capabilities? What does Japan do about the nuclear issue? This is what China has to come to grips with. Decide once and for all they are going to dramatically tighten what goes in and out of Korea and Russia does the same. And they all approve the U.N. Security council resolutions that should, indeed, do just that. Let me ask you this simple question. As we sit here right now are you concerned there could be a real nuclear war with North Korea? Certainly concern. The question is how concerned. Likely? I don't think likely. No. All of this, again is a communications strategy that is trying to make sure that China understands that this administration is in a very different situation from any of its predecessors. Thort Korea could have the capability to hit a city in the United States with a nuclear weapon. We hope they don't do that. Nice to talk to you this morning, general Petraeus. Great being back. Thank you. 13 years after an army plat

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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