Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talked to me Wednesday morning over the telephone. Here are the highlights of what she said.
Is it possible that neither the Clinton talk-with-North-Korea approach nor the Bush six-party talks approach works?
"It's possible that the North Koreans are just determined to do this," she said, but Rice believes it is worth pushing for six-party talks. She is "quite certain" U.S.-North Korean bilateral talks won't work, but six-party talks would allow the Chinese and South Koreans to use their "leverage" to "convince the North Koreans to take another course."
What if, a year from now, North Korea goes outside the agreement and other countries continue to give humanitarian aid or work with Pyongyang?
"I don't think you're going to see people's resolve weaken at the thought of a nuclear North Korea with long-range missile capability. This is fundamentally different. It's one thing to know the North Koreans are pursuing a program, that they are either creating plutonium or enriching. It's quite another to see them trying to move toward weaponization. This gets people's attention in ways that things in the past have not."
On David Frum's call on The New York Times op-ed page for the United States to withdraw humanitarian aid: "At this particular moment, we're actually not contributing to the World Food Program because we have had concerns about whether the food is being diverted."
And: "We don't want to use food as a weapon. These are impoverished, oppressed people who, through no fault of their own, live in probably the most repressive regime in the world. And the United States has always tried to be generous, even under the circumstances of very bad regimes. For instance, we were at one point the largest donor of food aid to Afghanistan, despite Taliban rule."
I still wonder if Kim Jong-Il will violate agreements and get what he wants. "I don't think he's getting what he wants. What he wants is for the world to acquiesce to his nuclear program. What he wants is to be rewarded for his nuclear blackmail. And what he's gotten is further isolation."
About the future of Iraq: "The real question is: Is it going to go the way of a number of other places where the violence continued but the stability also continued? I think of El Salvador, which was very violent, but after a period of time, even though there was some violence, there was no threat to stability, or Colombia, which was very violent. But even though there are still insurgencies in Colombia, still terrorists in Colombia, nobody believes that they are going to bring down the Colombian government. So, yes, I think the violence will continue for some time, as will determined violent people."
Rice praised the U.N. Security Council for having "a good year": "In the month of July, it got a resolution on Iran and a resolution on the North Korean missile test. It's about to get a resolution on the North Korean nuclear test. It ended a war in Lebanon, not without a lot of American involvement in actually putting together the cease-fire. But the international community has put together a resolution on Darfur to get troops into Darfur. So we're doing better in the Security Council."
Will Rice come back to California when she is no longer secretary of state? Will she run for governor?
"No, I'm just coming back to California."
A recent Senate Intelligence Committee report found that, in 1995, Iraq attempted to come clean with U.N. inspectors about programs worked on by defector Husayn Kamil in the hope that the regime "would gain favor with the U.N. as a measure of goodwill and cooperation." But U.N. and U.S. officials saw the gesture as proof Saddam Hussein could not be trusted.
"He 'fessed up a lot because he knew that the defection was going to produce all kinds of information. But the fact is that this information around the Iraqi WMD program was really pretty extraordinary. I think when people go back and look, there are going to be really important questions that probably can be answered from the documents, but that haven't (been) yet, as to even how widespread within the Iraqi government it was known what their programs were, what the state of them was. Because he, on the one hand, was saying that he didn't have them, and on the other hand, (was) not providing any information and data that he that would have given anybody comfort that, in fact, he didn't."
Her last word: "I don't think Saddam Hussein was misunderstood."