NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript
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MR. RUSSERT: Senators Biden and Lugar, welcome. Chairman Biden, let me start with you: Can we allow the North Koreans to develop more nuclear bombs?
SEN. BIDEN: No. And the main reason is not that they will use it against us, Tim. Here we are talking about 9/11 having changed the world. If you recall, you had me and others on your program. All al Qaeda needs is a piece of plutonium about the bottom of -- the circumference of the bottom of this plastic cup, and about that thick. They don't need a bomb in order to make a home-made nuclear weapon. And we are -- I think the administration is right to engage the international community. But, quite frankly, I think the prioritization is a little bit off. They talk about tailored isolation. I think we should be talking about tailored engagement here.
MR. RUSSERT: You think that North Korea poses a more imminent and dangerous risk than Iraq?
SEN. BIDEN: Absolutely in my view. And the reason they do is that, as everyone knows, if you in fact get Yongbyon up and running, we are talking about months whereby they will have significant amounts of plutonium. Plutonium is the stuff that makes those bombs go boom. And all you have to do -- you don't have to export a whole bomb. All you have to do is export a little bit of that plutonium, because the intelligence community has speculated there's a possibility to build a very rudimentary nuclear weapon. Remember, that's what al Qaeda was doing. Remember when you guys, the news media, went into those safehouses that they had in the Kandahar area? And what did you find? You found rudimentary blueprints. You found al Qaeda having met with Pakistani scientists trying to build one of these weapons. Maybe they can't build it. But let me tell you something: it sure in heck is not a risk I'm willing to take. And you have the inspectors in Iraq. There is time in Iraq. There is no urgency in Iraq, as long as the inspectors in the international community are there, there is little or no prospect of them being able to do much mischief. And it seems to me that, you know, I have great respect for the secretary. He said this is not a crisis. I measure a crisis based upon whether or not if things go bad how much damage can be done to the United States. And by any measure -- by any measure, in my view, if things go -- get out of hand in North Korea, a lot more damage can be done to U.S. interests than can be done in the near term in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: So this is a crisis?
SEN. BIDEN: I think it's a crisis, yes.
MR. RUSSERT: Should the United States begin direct negotiations with North Korea immediately?
SEN. BIDEN: No. I think the United States should pursue what they are doing with the IAEA and the United Nations for economic sanctions and other sanctions. But keep in mind this is not Iraq in another sense, Tim. In Iraq we could go it alone. In North Korea, we can't go it alone. We can't go without South Korea. We can't go without Japan. There is no reasonable prospect of being able to do this. So I think that all of our diplomatic efforts at this point should be trying to figure out how to get on the same page with the new President Roh in South Korea, work with our Japanese friends, and put considerably more pressure on the Chinese, who clearly do not have it in their interest to see the Korean Peninsula become a nuclearized peninsula. And so I think they started off the correct way. I think going through the U.N., if we can get some solidarity here, is a way in which we can find a way out for the North Koreans and us without rewarding their bad behavior.
And let me conclude by saying, you know, under international law -- everybody forgets this -- under international law they are entitled to have Yongbyon. They are entitled to produce that plutonium. They are not entitled to build nuclear weapons; they are entitled to have that. And so they are going to give up something. It seems to me one aspect of the agreed framework that should be able to be salvaged through the international community would be for them to cease and desist what is a clear, present and immediate danger, Yongbyon, and provide them fuel in the interim while we are trying to work out and/or privately -- privately having a demarche saying if you do not we will -- we will use force. That's on the table -- but privately.
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MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden, Iraq: How close do you think we are to war?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, I hope we are not that close to war. I think we haven't seen the inspectors play out that whole inspection regime yet. I think that it remains to be seen whether or not when confronted with staying in power or giving up his weapons what Saddam may do. But I think war is clearly at this point more likely than less likely. But, again, I think we have much more time there, Tim, and I think that -- I agree with everything that Dick Lugar just said about North Korea. But, you know, the key here is what Dick said about South Korea. None of this works unless we are on the same page with South Korea. And so it seems to me that there still should be the immediate focus. We can walk and chew gum at the same time. But I think that the focus on South Korea is very, very, very important.
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MR. RUSSERT: To be continued. Chairman-to-be Richard Lugar, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee Joe Biden, thank you very much.
SEN. BIDEN: Thank you, Tim.