As It Happens

Trump's rhetoric could see U.S. 'blunder into a war' with North Korea, warns former negotiator

William Perry, former U.S. defence secretary and Pyongyang negotiator fror president Bill Clinton, says Trump's "loose rhetoric" could have deadly consequences.
Former U.S. defence secretary William Perry says Trump should pursue a peaceful, diplomatic agreement with North Korea. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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U.S. President Donald Trump's "loose rhetoric" on North Korea could have deadly consequences, says the former U.S. defence secretary who negotiated with Pyongyang for the Clinton administration.

"In any war with North Korea, North Korea would surely lose. They know that, so they're not seeking a war," William Perry told As It Happens guest host Rosemary Barton.

"But we could blunder into a war, and this kind of loose rhetoric probably makes that more likely than less likely."

Even with conventional weapons, it could be at least as bad as the first Korean War, in which more than a million people died.- William Perry, former U.S. defence secretary 

Perry says he came close to brokering a deal with the regime in 1999 to not develop a nuclear arsenal, but negotiations came to a halt when George W. Bush took over the White House from Bill Clinton.

He spoke with Barton about the escalating threats being exchanged by Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un. Here is part of their conversation. 

I'm going to get you to start by responding to the president's comments today, when he said that the United States is "locked and loaded." What do you make of the president and this very hot rhetoric that he continues to make in relation to North Korea?

I'm not a fan of hot rhetoric when it comes to the use of nuclear weapons. I'd much prefer a calm, sober dialogue on the issue. 

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un have been trading threats over the last week. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press, Korean Central News Agency/Reuters)

What would a war look like, then?

It could start off with ... a relatively minor military conflict, but it could very easily escalate into a much bigger military conflict.

And if it escalated into a full war and we had another Korean war, even with conventional weapons, it could be at least as bad as the first Korean War, in which more than a million people died — so it's a very, very serious consideration.

Unlike the first Korean War, this one always has the potential of escalating into a nuclear war.

I do not believe that North Korea would initiate any attack with nuclear weapons because I do not believe the leadership is suicidal. They're not seeking martyrdom; they're seeking to preserve the regime in power. But they're playing a very dangerous game.

Do you think, as some have suggested, there would be any consideration or benefit to an American pre-emptive strike?

That would be exceedingly dangerous. It would almost certainly lead to a North Korean military response on South Korea.

A man watches TV news at a railway station in Seoul on Wednesday. (Jung/Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)

That could very well then escalate into a general Korean war, with the horrible consequences of the first Korean War and beyond that.

We have learned today, according to an Associated Press report, that the Trump administration has had some backchannel diplomacy with North Korea for a number of months with Joseph Yun, the U.S. envoy for North Korea. What does that tell you? 

I would certainly hope it were true that besides dealing with this with bluster, we're dealing with it with a sober, cautious attempt to enter into a dialogue with North Korea to see if we can resolve this crisis through diplomacy instead of through a military conflict. That's why Yun is over there — to see if he can find a peaceful solution.

Joseph Yun, the U.S. representative for North Korea, has reportedly been pursuing a diplomatic solution to the mounting tensions. (Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images)

It seems as though all kinds of things have been attempted to negotiate with North Korea. What would it take to bring something that is more lasting given what you did back in the late '90s?

I think what we can learn from the negotiations I had was how it was then possible to reach an agreement with North Korea to deal with the nuclear weapons and, indeed, it might be possible still today to do that.

Although, it's a much more difficult negotiation today because in 1999, all I had to do was get them to agree not to develop nuclear weapons.

William Perry, left, talks with former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung in Seoul, Sept. 22, 1998. (Reuters)

Today we have to get them to agree to drop nuclear weapons they've already produced, so that's a much higher job to accomplish.

What would be the negotiating position for the United States to try and get them to give up the nuclear weapons? 

It would require a co-operation with China to make this happen, and to do that, China would have to be convinced that our goal is not to overthrow the regime.

When you see the rhetoric that is being exchanged between Kim Jong-un and the American president, is this a different level of provocation?

It is a different level of provocation and I think it's very dangerous. 


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