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CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" - Transcript - North Korea

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CROWLEY: Joining me now Arizona Senator John McCain. Senator, when you put this in context of the history of North Korea with the grandfather of Kim Jong-un, with the father of Kim Jong-un, can you tell me whether this is more serious, less serious? I mean, how do we view this?

MCCAIN: I think it's probably more serious because of their increased capability. But you're right, this has been going on for decades: a cycle of confrontation, negotiation, aid, and the false hope that somehow the North Koreans would give up their efforts to acquire nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.

Without that, North Korea is totally irrelevant. I mean, both Republican and Democrat administrations have fallen prey to this, well, if we give them food, if we give them oil, if we give them money, if we do the -- then they will come around.

And they take our money and run. It was the Bush administration that they lifted sanctions, freed up a bank account that they had. Always we have been of the belief that somehow we can entice them into giving up this capability. They are not. They are not.

But can I just say I don't think they're going to do anything more than their predecessors did, but they have greater capability. And they don't think like us. And they do have the ability to set Seoul on fire.

CROWLEY: So let -- yes, they do. And we've seen them actually attack Seoul in the last two, three years, and not only inflict damage but kill South Korean soldiers.

MCCAIN: But I mean, they've got artillery along the DMZ in caves that it would be capable -- before we could take them out, they would be capable of shelling a city of millions of people.

This is dangerous. Anybody who has read Barbara Tuchman's "Guns of August" know that many times in history conflicts have started by accident, by escalatory measures. And, again, do not believe that this young man thinks like we do. He doesn't.

CROWLEY: One of the things that you have said is if he launches a missile, I don't care whether if it's a test or aimed at someone, we should take it out. I wanted to play you something -- this comes from a man named David Kang who is at the University of Southern California in the Korean Studies Institute. Something he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DAVID KANG, KOREAN STUDIES INSTITUTE, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: One of the questions is, if we try and shoot it down and we miss, it looks a lot worse than if we don't try at all. Many of our missile systems haven't been tested in real world situations. And I'm not sure that we want to use this one as the first time. But that's a decision that has got to be made by the military.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: So that is a danger, right? That they fire something and we miss it.

MCCAIN: Actually, I think the decision is made by the president. But look, if we showed Kim Jong-un that he really doesn't have the ability to launch a missile that would strike Guam or the United States of America, I think let's do something different from what we've been doing in the past, but also the most important and key element of all this is China.

China is the only country that can affect North Korean behavior. They can shut down in a short period of time their economy. And remember, this is a country that has 200,000 people in a gulag where people are being tortured and the worst regime in history, where is our advocacy for human rights?

CROWLEY: In North Korea?

MCCAIN: North Korea.

CROWLEY: But there is some indication, is there not, that China actually can't be that helpful. I mean, they said to North Korea last year, do not shoot up a missile. And what did North Korea do? It shot off a missile test.

MCCAIN: And what did China do in response? Nothing. So what China needs to do is start squeezing their economy. Without China, their economy would collapse in a relatively short period of time.

And China has got to start stepping up, whether it be on cyber security or we've identified a building in Beijing where these attacks come from, or whether it be in the South China Sea where they are confrontational, or whether it be in the United Nations where they, along with Russia, veto efforts to rein in Bashar al-Assad.

China is -- it's time now for China to step up.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you, there was quite the to-do this week when at least a portion of what we thought was the Defense Intelligence -- which we know was the Defense Intelligence assessment, Congressman Doug Lamborn of Colorado read it. He thought it was unclassified, it was, but apparently, you know, was not supposed to have been. And...

MCCAIN: (INAUDIBLE) confidence.

CROWLEY: That's right. Makes you a little worried. And part of this was -- part of the quote was, "the DIA assesses with moderate confidence, the north," meaning North Korea, "currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles, however the reliability will be low."

And for the next two days everyone said, oh, no, we actually don't think that. Can you interpret this for me? Does North Korea have the wherewithal to put a small nuclear device on top of a missile?

MCCAIN: I don't think we know for sure. There have been other miscalculations by our intelligence agency, but have no doubt that they're on the path to achieving that capability. Look what they've achieved over the last 10-15 years, and also exported including to other countries, including Iran.

And so they are a danger. So I think it's a matter of time before they have that capability. Whether they do or not right now, I don't -- it's not clear.

CROWLEY: Doesn't sound like anybody actually knows for sure.

Let me move you to guns, the other big issue. Are you on board with Toomey-Manchin, which expands universal background checks to gun shows but allows, it seems, personal sales, private sales, you know, to a friend, to a relative, and also handing a gun to a relative. Are you on board with that? Can you go with that?

MCCAIN: I'm very favorably disposed. But first of all, I would like to thank Pat and Joe for their work together. We need to do a lot more of that. And I'm very favorably disposed towards that. Eighty percent of the American people want to see a better background check procedure.

The Internet aspect of it, which I need more explanations -- greater explanation of, but, look, I appreciate their work. And the American people want to do what we can to prevent these tragedies. And there's a lot more that needs to be done particularly in the area of mental health.

CROWLEY: And indeed it does look as though there will be some mental health amendment to this. So preliminary thumbs up for this, it's something that you could vote for, you think?

MCCAIN: Yes -- I've got to give them credit. And I want to look at it, but I'm very favorably disposed.

CROWLEY: OK. And finally, big immigration rollout. You've been working on this with the so-called -- other of your seven colleagues for the "gang of eight." Do you have any idea how the White House will respond to this? And have you talked to your conservative colleagues?

MCCAIN: A lot of my conservative colleagues have significant questions, and they're legitimate. This is a start of a process. This is a vehicle that requires hearings, requires input. And we welcome all of that. I think that my other seven colleagues have done a great job. I am guardedly optimistic that we will see finally the end of this long, long trek that a lot of us have been on for many years.

CROWLEY: Indeed, Senator John McCain, so many issues, never enough time. But thank you for your stay.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Candy.

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