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CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Saddam Hussein May Not be Biggest Danger to America

Aired December 17, 2002 - 07:33   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, back to the issue of Iraq. As the world watches, there are warnings that Saddam Hussein may not be the biggest danger to America. Some disturbing revelations have surfaced about other so-called axis of evil states. Iran is reportedly building nuclear facilities. And then on Monday, Secretary of State Colin Powell called on North Korea to pull back from its nuclear policy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: We stand ready to move forward once North Korea does what I believe it is obliged to do, and that is to end this activity with respect to the enrichment of uranium.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: So how great is the danger?

Well, Peter Brookes is a former deputy assistant secretary of defense. He joins us now from Washington.

Good morning, Peter.

Thanks for being with us.

PETER BROOKES, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Good morning, Paula.

Thank you.

ZAHN: How do you see this playing out?

BROOKES: Well, I think that we absolutely the administration's declaratory policy that North Korea needs to move back on their violations of these four international agreements before we start negotiations is absolutely right. We need to continue to work together with the Japanese and the South Koreans and with the Chinese to try to use some diplomatic pressure to get them to move back. They've already broken an agreement. It's hard to talk about starting a new agreement when they've broken the old one.

ZAHN: But what incentive do the North Koreans have to roll back that program?

BROOKES: Well, North Korea has a host of problems, as you know, Paula. I mean they have an ongoing famine that's been going on for, you know, for seven or so years that probably two or more million people have died. The regime is really on the edge of collapse. And they have, they need international engagement. They need food aid. They need energy aid. And if people decide to isolate them, if they continue to have this sort of provocative behavior, it could be very hard for the current regime to survive. And I believe that is exactly what this regime wants to do, is survive.

ZAHN: All right, so if they want to survive, what happens next, then? Do they make the next move and they encourage everybody to go back to the table and discuss this?

BROOKES: Well, I think that they do. I mean remember that North Korea has a whole host of things going on here. Tomorrow, I mean Thursday in South Korea there will be elections. And I think that North Korea wants this, the American, the relationship with the United States and South Korea to be an issue in this election. In fact, the elections are too close to call at this point.

So I think what they have to do is that we have to have China and Russia and South Korea and Japan, the United States, and even the E.U. get North Korea to move back, to retrench on this nuclear program before we start talking about it. There's other ways to open negotiations than to cause a crisis and I think that's what they're trying to do here.

ZAHN: You just mentioned the U.S. being among those countries that's got to push this thing forward. And yet in the "New York Times" over the weekend, there was a piece highly critical of the Bush administration's efforts so far. And I'm going to put up a small part of that on the screen to have you react to. "Washington seems to think that it can afford the luxury of deferring the North Korean problem until it has finished disarming Iraq. It cannot. At best, the Iraq crisis will not be resolved for many more months. Dealing with the North Korean weapons threat cannot wait that long. The danger is too grave and immediate."

Do you think the Bush administration's dropped the ball here?

BROOKES: No, I do not. I think that the "New York Times" assessment is premature. Now, first of all, North Korea just is throwing their arms up in the air, they're throwing a tantrum, they're blustering. Right now they have to actually do certain things. They have to kick the inspectors out. They have to remove the cameras that are monitoring these facilities. They have to uncan 8,000 fuel rods. They have to open up these reactors again. They have to start building these other reactors. They have to come up with the capital to do that. It takes time to do this. I think it's five or six or more months before they could even get to the point where these reactors were up and running again.

Remember, they've been in hibernation for, you know, for since 1984,m for eight years. So I think that what the "New York Times" has said is probably premature at this point. This is not a crisis. We don't have to make it a crisis and the United States certainly does not want to insert itself in the South Korean elections that will start on Thursday and will take place in...

ZAHN: All right, if you're not calling this a crisis, would you call it a stalemate at this point?

BROOKES: I would, I suppose it is a stalemate. I think that both sides are making their positions known. The United States just was in New York yesterday with Colin Powell and Kawaguchi, the foreign minister of Japan. They've come out very strongly. We have not said that Japan cannot deal with North Korea. We've got these elections on Thursday. I'd say we're in a stasis right now, but I don't think that -- well, maybe not even a stasis. We are moving forward. We are trying to get international pressure to be brought upon North Korea. But it's certainly not a crisis at this point.

ZAHN: We want to move you on to another subject, because you brought up the issue of Secretary Powell and you had some pretty pointed things about the Iraqis not living up to their declaration yesterday and obviously made it quite clear that that doesn't rule out the possibility of military action down the road.

What did you read into his remarks?

BROOKES:

Kawaguchi

ZAHN:

Iraqis not living up to their declaration yesterday and obviously made it quite clear that that doesn't rule out the possibility of military action down the road.

What do you read into his remarks?

BROOKES: Well, I think that we're going to see in a few days the administration's take on these 12,000 pages. It must be a Herculean task to look at 12,000 pages of Arabic, getting people to, you know, to analyze it, doing a side by side comparison of these two documents. And I think perhaps by the end of the week the United States will come out and say this is where we see problems with these documents.

But, remember, this is supposed to be final and complete and then we'll have to see where we go forward with that. We're also supposed to see the inspectors come back shortly to the United Nations with a very initial assessment of their operations there.

ZAHN: Peter, finally, how troubling is it to you, this NBC report that Iraq has deployed surface to surface missiles with a range that has violated U.N. restrictions?

BROOKES: Well, we know that. Based on the armistice, based on the conditions in the U.N. Security Council resolutions from the early '90s, we saw that they could not develop missiles with ranges longer than 90 miles. They've done that. We know that. That should be part of their declaration. They're not allowed to have them. I'm not surprised that they're deploying them. They probably see at some point they're going to be caught in this fallacious document that they've produced and they're probably starting to make military preparations for the potentiality of a conflict. ZAHN: Well, we loved having your perspective this morning.

Love to have you back.

BROOKES: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: You really helped cut through a lot of complicated stuff here this morning.

Peter Brookes, appreciate your time.

BROOKES: Thank you.

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