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Public Statements

North Korea and Iraq

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

NORTH KOREA AND IRAQ

Mr. BIDEN. Madam President, we can't afford to put either Iraq or North Korea on the back burner. Both need our immediate and sustained attention. But the crisis on the Korean peninsula, and it is a crisis—is our most urgent priority.
The situation in North Korea has gone from bad to worse. They've thrown out the international inspectors. They've turned off cameras that tracked thousands of canisters of weapons grade plutonium. They've withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

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The irony here is that the very rationale some in the administration cite for regime change in Iraq is an emerging reality in North Korea: A rogue regime and one of the world's worst proliferators is on the verge of becoming a plutonium factory. It will sell anything it develops to the highest bidder.

We know it doesn't take much plutonium to make a nuclear threat real. You only need something the size of the bottom of a water glass, about an eighth of an inch thick, two pieces. With a crude operation to ram it together at high speed, you have a 1 kiloton bomb in a homemade nuclear device.

My colleagues from New York will remember this: our national laboratories produced what could be a homemade nuclear weapon. They made it off the shelf with easily obtainable materials. Everything except the plutonium. I asked Senators Clinton and Schumer to bring that homemade weapon up to S. 407 and they walked it right in.

The threat of proliferation exists in North Korea as we speak, right now, not tomorrow or next week or next month or next year, but right now.

And by the way, if President Clinton had not completed the Agreed Framework, North Korea would already have material for dozens of nuclear weapons.

If North Korea continues down this path, we also risk an arms race in Asia. Think about it. North Korea, South Korea, Japan. And if that happens, China will build up its nuclear weapons arsenal, India will get nervous and do the same, and Pakistan will follow suit. Everything we've been working to present for decades—a nuclear arms race in Asia and beyond—will become a reality. And that could have a terrible impact on economic stability, too.

The regime in Pyongyang is first and foremost to blame for this crisis. But frankly, two years of policy incoherence on our part has not helped matters. We have see-sawed back and forth between engagement and name-calling.

And the last two weeks of taking options off the table—especially talking—has made matters worse. It tied our own hands and added tension to our already strained relationship with a key ally, South Korea. We need a clear—and clear eyed—strategy for dealing with this danger.

I'm pleased the administration now seems to be on the right track. As several of us have argued for weeks, direct talks are the best way out of this impasse.

Some claim that talking is appeasement. Well, we know that not talking could result in North Korea having the material to build up to a half dozen nuclear weapons in six months—and dozens more in the months and years to follow.
We know that taking out North Korea's plutonium program must be a course of very last resort. Pyongyang has more than 10,000 heavily protected artillery pieces just miles from Seoul—it could devastate the city, its inhabitants and many of our troops before we could respond.

We know that for additional sanctions to bite, we would need the participation of South Korea and China, neither of whom so far, wants to pursue that path.

And we know that talking is not appeasement. It is the most effective way to tell North Korea what it must do if it wants more normal relations with us. In fact, in dealing with an isolated regime and a closed-off leader, talking clearly and directly is critical if we want to avoid miscommunication and miscalculation.

We cannot and should not buy the same carpet twice. We won't if we insist on getting more from North Korea than we got last time. This should include giving up the plutonium and spent fuel it already has produced and forsaking the production of plutonium and uranium in the future—all of this verified by international inspectors and monitoring.
In turn, we should hold out the prospect of a more normal relationship, including energy assistance, food aid and a "no hostility pledge."

IRAQ

As we contend with Korea, we also must deal with Iraq. The administration was mistaken to suggest North Korea could be put on the back burner. But so are those who suggest Iraq is not a major problem. It is, and we must continue to deal with it on its own merits, but on our own timetable.

It's no secret that the State Department, the Defense Department, and the Joint Chiefs of are at odds on the best course of action in Iraq.

We have Hans Blix and the IAEA saying that the inspectors need more time to accomplish their mission—that they will have to stay in Iraq much longer to get the job done.

Secretary Rumsfeld is saying, if we get ourselves locked in for four more months we will lose our weather window and be forced to wait until the fall.

Secretary Powell is saying, look, we must make it a priority to maintain the support of the French and the Germans and everyone else, not to mention the American people. The President was right to make Iraq the world's problem, not just our own. Let's keep it that way.

In my view, the President has shown restraint on Iraq. He has gone to the United Nations. He has allowed inspectors to begin. Now he must allow them to take their course. I would say to the President, keep it going. In the eyes of the world, you're doing it right.

Inspectors are not a permanent solution and neither is our massive troop presence. But so long as the inspectors are doing their work in Iraq, backed up by the threat of our forces, it is highly unlikely Iraq could pursue a nuclear program undetected or would run the risk of selling chemical or biological weapons to terrorists. And we will sustain international support. Meanwhile, the pressure will build on Saddam. Unlike in North Korea, times is on our side, not his.

Of course, this massive deployment is costly and hard on our men and women in uniform. But going to war would be far more costly in terms of troops and treasure. It must remain a last resort.

If we do go to war, we better be absolutely certain that our friends and allies are all in the game at the outset.
Not because we cannot prevail against Saddam Hussein without them. We can—though it certainly makes sense to spread the risk and share the cost. But because without the support of other nations, we will be left with a political, financial, and, potentially, a regionally destabilizing burden after we take down Saddam. We will have to deal with the "day after" Saddam—or more accurately the decade after—on our own.

In the weeks ahead, if we move to war, I hope the President will tell the American people what he has not yet told them: How much will the war cost? How will the balance his guns and butter rhetoric with the bottom-line budget realities we face? How many troops will have to stay in Iraq after Saddam and for how long? How much will it cost to rebuild Iraq? Who will help us foot the bill? The American people deserve answers to these and other key questions?
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Under the previous order, the Senator from Kansas has 5 minutes.

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