Interview with U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - April 6, 2009

JUDY WOODRUFF: After days of anticipation, the missile launch was announced with a triumphant flourish on North Korean state television.

Today, a North Korean official said Kim Jong-il was at the launch site yesterday. The reclusive North Korean leader has reportedly been recovering from a stroke.

CHOI BAE JIN, Chief Director, North Korean National Planning Committee: We cannot hide our joy and excitement over this achievement and the news of Kim Jong-il visiting the launch site and watching the satellite launch.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There is no indication that the rocket and the satellite it was said to carry went into orbit, despite North Korean claims to the contrary. Rather, the three-stage missile ended up somewhere in the western Pacific Ocean.

Lee Sang-Hee is the defense minister for South Korea.

LEE SANG-HEE, Defense Minister, South Korea (through translator): What we have judged is that the first level, second level, and the third level all fell into the sea, and, for now, we have estimated that nothing has been put into orbit.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The rocket, most likely the Taepodong-2 intercontinental ballistic missile, did manage to fly more than 2,000 miles. The test deepened concerns that the North is inching ever closer to developing a missile capable of both carrying a nuclear weapon and reaching the western United States.

There was near-unanimous condemnation of the launch. President Obama spoke in the Czech Republic yesterday.

BARACK OBAMA: North Korea's development of a ballistic missile capability, regardless of the stated purpose of this launch, is aimed at providing it with the ability to threaten countries near and far with weapons of mass destruction.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The timing of the launch collided with the larger purpose of the president's speech in Prague, a call for global nuclear disarmament.

BARACK OBAMA: I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.

I'm not naive. This goal will not be reached quickly, perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change. We have to insist, yes, we can.

Such treaties would require not only the approval of the U.S. Congress, but cooperation among the major powers in the United Nations.

Yet this weekend's discussions at the U.N. Security Council failed to reach any accord on responding to the North Korean missile launch. Russia and China blocked action. The Chinese urged a go-slow approach. Consultations continued today among Security Council members.

For more on the story, I spoke to the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, earlier today.

Ambassador Susan Rice, thank you for joining us.

SUSAN RICE, U.N. Ambassador: Good to be with you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is the United States certain that this missile fell into the Pacific Ocean and isn't up orbiting the Earth as a satellite, as the North Koreans say?

SUSAN RICE: Judy, the best information we have is that there's no evidence that there is any object in orbit as a result of this missile launch yesterday. So it would seem that the North Koreans' claims of a satellite broadcasting music from Kim Jong-il is, in fact, not the case and that this was, in fact, a failed attempt.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, now analysts are saying that, even if it did fall into the sea, it evidently traveled something like twice as far as any missile they've fired before has gone, and therefore it demonstrated progress on their part. Do you agree with that assessment?

SUSAN RICE: I'm not a technical analyst, and so I wouldn't want to make a technical assessment. What I will say is that this is something that the United States and our partners in the region, our allies, Japan and South Korea in particular, take very seriously.

The reason we urge that this not happen and the reason why we are working for strong international action as a consequence is because any ballistic-missile related activity -- whether a satellite, a failed or successful launch -- not only violates international law and previous United Nations Security Council resolutions, but is designed to advance their ballistic missile capability.

So even a failed launch is problematic, and it is illegal and needs to be responded to clearly and with strength by the international community.

SUSAN RICE: I don't think a failed launch -- if that's, in fact, what we're dealing with -- gives them more clout. The bottom-line goal that we are all trying to achieve -- the United States and our partners in the six-party talks -- is the verifiable and permanent denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. That's the goal.

We want to prevent North Korea not only from maintaining and growing its nuclear weapons capability, but having the ability to have systems that can deliver those weapons and potentially proliferate those systems.

The larger picture here is that a North Korea with nuclear weapons adds to the larger proliferation risk. And our aim, working with partners in the six parties, is to prevent that from happening.

JUDY WOODRUFF: If that's the long-range goal, then what's the shorter-range goal? We know that President Obama said yesterday there needs to be a strong international response. He talked about nations need to stand shoulder to shoulder to pressure the North Koreans to stop this sort of thing. How do you do that?

SUSAN RICE: The short-term imperative is to try to demonstrate that actions such as this, violations of international law and international obligations, have consequences. So we will work in a variety of channels, one of which is up here at the United Nations Security Council, to send that message in a clear fashion to North Korea.

Yesterday, Judy, we had an initial meeting of the Security Council where countries came in and presented their respective positions. Out of that, there was broad agreement that there was concern on the part of all 15 member states that this was a serious action that undermined regional peace and security and, indeed, international peace and security.

Different countries had different prescriptions for how best to proceed. We're now in the process of going into smaller group consultations with key member states to try to forge an agreement on both the form and the substance of the appropriate response.

So this is a process that will take at a minimum some days. If people think about an analogy, the Security Council -- indeed, the United Nations -- is not much different than our Congress. It takes time to gain agreement on a piece of legislation or, in the case of the Security Council, a statement or a resolution.

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