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Eason Jordan: North Korea does not want a war

Eason Jordan
Eason Jordan

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CNN's Mike Chinoy reports on the struggles of North Korea to survive and the efforts of isolated leader Kim Jong Il to maintain power in the impoverished communist country.
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CNN's Tom Mintier reports on U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly's trip to South Korea to talk with President-elect Roh Moo-hyun about the standoff with North Korea.
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The nonproliferation treaty is an international agreement that took force in 1970, encompassing 187 parties, including the five nuclear weapon states.

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(CNN) -- Not many Western journalists have been to North Korea. But CNN's president of newsgathering, Eason Jordan, has made several trips there. He joined CNN anchor Miles O'Brien Sunday morning to discuss his experiences in that country.

O'BRIEN: All right, you've had some conversations with the deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Ambassador Han, who has engaged in some conversations with Governor Richardson in New Mexico.

First of all, any news out of those conversations? Did you get a sense of how those talks went?

JORDAN: Well, Ambassador Han, I think, was pleased with the way things went with Governor Richardson, and we heard from Ambassador Pak yesterday, the actual ambassador to the United Nations, and so they're out front now, speaking very forthrightly to reflect their government's views, and I think on the whole they're pleased to be communicating. And ... to be communicating through Governor Richardson to the U.S. government.

O'BRIEN: Well ... , I want to talk about that point in just a moment, as to ... how official he is as an emissary. But let's back up for just a moment, because what comes out of those talks is the sense that the Koreans want to engage, and yet at the same time, almost simultaneously out of Pyongyang, they're talking about engaging in a "holy war" and creating a "sea of fire," if the U.S. were to somehow attack the communist country.

How do you justify those two takes? I mean, the world of diplomacy is a strange place, I know, but that is a mixed message at best?

JORDAN: Well, the North Koreans have a history of tough talk, a lot of rhetoric. They talk a lot about war, a lot about killing. It's a lot of hot air. The bottom line is, the North Koreans want to have a relationship with the United States, [which] is quite poor today. It was actually better a few years ago during the Clinton administration.

I think some people have forgotten that President Clinton nearly went to North Korea, just in the closing months of his administration. But the North Koreans, for all the tough talk, are scared of the United States. They're scared of being branded part of the "axis of evil." They think that means that President Bush has evil intentions of his own toward North Korea, and North Korea wants a nonaggression pact to try to stop any war from happening.

O'BRIEN: So, put a grain of salt in the rhetoric, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain there for just a moment, think a little bit about how they like to do business -- I wonder if the U.S. recognizes that, understands that, or if that rhetoric somehow damages any sort of effort to engage North Koreans.

JORDAN: Well, most of the people in the U.S. administration don't have much of a history with North Korea. I've been dealing with the North Koreans now for more than a decade. ... I was there in North Korea with President Carter, for example, in 1994, when he met with some North Korean officials below President Kim Il Sung at that time, and President Carter wanted to pull his hair out. He was so exasperated with the junior officials in North Korea, but once he got to the man at the top, to President Kim Il Sung, they got some very important deals done that lasted for a long time.

Now, the North Koreans eventually ended up reneging on the deal, and the North Koreans said it was because of U.S. reneged on a deal that was the outgrowth of that Carter deal as well; so, a lot of accusations back and forth.

O'BRIEN: All right, I wanted to ask you about Kim, but let's go back to Mr. Richardson, Governor Richardson ... [U.S.] ambassador [to the United Nations during the Clinton administration], formerly a congressmen [from] New Mexico. [He] has a lot of background ... with the Koreans as a result of all that, [and] actually traveled, I believe, to Korea in '94 as well, trying to get a pilot freed.

So, obviously there's a relationship there. He is in the other party, however, and I'm wondering what kind of back channel dialogue is going on with the White House. Is he an unofficial, yet official emissary?

JORDAN: Oh, I wouldn't say that. I would say that Governor Richardson has communicated with Secretary of State Powell, he's relaying messages that come from the North Koreans, but I don't think we'll see a lot of give and take there, and eventually the U.S. is going to have to sit down with North Korea and sort these things out.

O'BRIEN: OK. So [are] the Richardson talks ... , looking at it objectively ... , a step in the right direction?

JORDAN: Any communication is better than no communication, and name calling is not the path we want to go down here.

O'BRIEN: All right, now did you ever have the opportunity to meet Kim?

JORDAN: I've seen Kim Jong Il, the present day leader of North Korea, on several occasions, never spoken with him, but seen him from a distance.

O'BRIEN: [According to] one of the experts we brought on here ... , this is a psychotic individual, and I don't know whether that's the best kind of dialogue to get involved in here, at this point, but it certainly would explain a lot, when you start reading about this country and its actions. Do you put much credence in that?

JORDAN: Well, a lot of people think North Korea's a peculiar country, in large part because they don't understand it, they've never been there, they've never seen it first hand. When you talk to people who have met with Kim Jong Il -- Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, during the Clinton administration, Kim Dae-jung, the president of South Korea -- they say that they were stunned by how well informed and how smart this guy is, and that there's a lot of talk to the contrary that there -- you know, he's up to no good, and has all sorts of shenanigans going on the side, but when people actually meet him, the uniformly come away impressed.

And I'll say one other thing about him, from people who have met him, they say that he's a fanatical CNN viewer, and of course we're grateful for that.

O'BRIEN: All right, and finally, one final point, we're just about out of time, Eason, but I know it's uppermost in your mind, is getting some actually reports, and our people on the ground there; any progress to that end?

JORDAN: We're working very hard to make that happen. We've had some dialogue with North Korean officials at the United Nations, with North Korean officials in Pyongyang, and I think given the relationship that we have, the history we have with North Korea, that day will come hopefully sooner rather than later.

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