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VIDEO: John McCain Says Negotiating with North Korea is ‘Odious Option’

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Bob Woodward of The Washington Post. USNI News Image

U.S. NAVAL ACADEMY, Md. — Convincing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to give up his nuclear arsenal would require the U.S. to somehow guarantee that country’s survival, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a video interview on Thursday.

“That is an odious option,” McCain said, in a wide-ranging interview conducted by The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward for the U.S. Naval Institute 2017 Naval History Conference – Military and Politics: Proper Participation or Perilous Partisanship?

The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman said it’s not easy weighing a nuclear-free Korean peninsula against ensuring Kim Jong Un’s grip.

“Who wants to see a guy who blows up his uncle with an anti-aircraft gun remain in power? … This may be one of the greatest challenges that the United States of America and the world has faced since the Cuban Missile Crisis,” he said. “Kim Jong Un has to understand not through speeches at rallies, but he has to understand that if he continues on his path, he’s, he’s done. He has to understand that.”

More than 300 North Korean government officials were executed in an ongoing round of political purges during the five years Kim Jong Un has been in power, according to “The Misgoverning of Kim Jong Un’s Five Years in Power” a report released in late December by the South Korean think tank Institute for National Security Strategy. Anti-aircraft machine guns were among the methods used to executive officials, including the 2013 execution of Jang Song Thaek, Kim Jong-un’s uncle, according to some news reports.

Against this backdrop, President Donald Trump has suggested he’s not optimistic about a negotiated solution to North Korea’s nuclear weapons production.

“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man…” Trump tweeted on Sunday, using his nickname for Kim Jong Un.
“…Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!” Trump said in a follow-up tweet.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a test-fire of a strategic submarine underwater ballistic missile in 2015. KCNA Photo

Trump’s comments were sent to his vast social media audience and covered by the national press. Woodward asked McCain if there is there is a war camp in Washington, building what he described as an “aura of we need action, we can’t be pushed around?”

“There is legitimacy to that view, because three administrations in a row have negotiated with the North Koreans and gotten nothing to show for it,” McCain said.

Is the key to negotiating North Korea understanding what the nation wants to achieve, Woodward asked, citing what many experts consider Kim Jong Un’s ultimate goal of achieving respect, engagement, normalization, but not war with U.S.

“He doesn’t want to destroy his country,” Woodward said. “He knows the peril he puts his country in.”

McCain agreed, saying he thinks North Korea wants respect, but any negotiations also must consider the reality of how much Kim Jong Un is likely relying on possessing nuclear weapons as a way to protect his regime.

Other nations voluntarily gave up their nuclear programs, and the regimes haven’t fared well. McCain mentioned Libya and Ukraine are examples of why Kim Jong Un would be hesitant to negotiate a nuclear deal. Both nations devolved into states of civil war after abandoning their nuclear capabilities.

“He looks at Libya, he looks at, Ukraine, he looks at these other countries that agreed to get rid of their nuclear inventory, and then ended up dead or out of power,” McCain said.
“So, if you’re looking at it from his viewpoint, look these other people agreed to give up their nuclear weapons and look what happened to them. It’s going to be a very high price to pay for him to agree to stop his activities.”

North Korea’s very weak economy also complicates any nuclear disarmament negotiations, McCain said. Nuclear weapons are about all the nation has to bargain.

“Would we be paying attention to North Korea if it wasn’t for the issue of, of nuclear weapons?” McCain said. “I don’t think so. So that is his whole card, and for us to think that he’s going to bargain that away in exchange for almost anything is not true.”

  • Duane

    Senator McCain is correct, of course. If we seek to negotiate now, it is out of weakness, not strength. Our weakness would be indicated by the very act of seeking negotiations. The first party that asks to negotiate is the loser in any negotiation. That’s Negotiating 101 stuff. Make the NORKs suffer, then let them seek to negotiate. Kim must go as a prerequisite to any negotiated settlement – his enablers in the NK military and security service must know that. It’s get rid of Kim, or they all will suffer together.

    Not that we should launch a preventive war either – that would be dumb, considering the consequences. We must do everything we can to boost our missile defenses, and to make sure we have the proper military resources in NE Asia to crush the NORKs should they ever attack. And in the meantime, do everything we can to undermine the NORKs, politically, economically, diplomatically, cyber, and psy-ops. We also need to encourage the South Koreans and Japanese to strongly boost their defenses, as they appear to be in the process of authorizing already.

    • incredulous1

      I’m afraid the clock has already run on this concept of talks as well and those balloons have all been floated to no avail. To resolve this we must institute a blockade and offer an aid package if he steps down [he wont] until such time as he capitulates or provoke him into making the first kinetic move to which a proportional response if justified which would make it impossible for him to maintain power. That must be the key, not scorched earth or blame for not trying everything else first. But everything else in this case has a very low likelihood of working and time is short.

      • Duane

        What talks? I said the opposite – prepare for war, and do everything else we can to force the Kim regime to its knees.

        • Jim Higgins

          First Strike.

  • FrankBBB

    “Kim Jong Un has to understand not through speeches at rallies, but he has to understand that if he continues on his path, he’s, he’s done. He has to understand that.”

    What exactly is Kim supposed to “understand”? The preposterous claim that while the US has been completely unwilling to attack North Korea up until now, that somehow further improving and building up his nuclear arsenal will make us more willing to do so? If he believed that bullshit he really would be a madman.

    Washington can keep pretending that we’ll sanction our way into North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons. Washington can keep up the line about how we “don’t accept” a nuclear armed North Korea (about as meaningful as I saying I don’t accept that the Earth is the third planet around the Sun). Washington can even be so delusional as some are to still deny this month that they have a real nuclear capability. Meanwhile the North will put their finishing touches on their current ICBM program, and then start serious work on a solid fueled follow up.

    • incredulous1

      Heretofore, Un has been careful to place is rockets on a trajectory that would not trigger being shut down. But one day he will either get desperate or one will malfunction causing us to have to shoot it down. which by the way would have been my way to provoke him into shoot his wad of ICBM’s whereafter supply would have been choked putting his program to an end. However there’s a risk the he will mindlessly retaliate with something else triggering a unpredictable war. Will China re-supply? Will they run the blockade? Will they supply troops? WIll they openly fight US troops? Unless they fear economic annihilation or the end of the “Chinese Dream” through a trade war with the US and allies, they will likely do one or more of the above.

      • DaSaint

        I’m not so concerned with resupply, blockade, or fighting. I’m concerned with the first 2 hours of him lighting up every IRBM and ICBM, not to mention short range rockets, artillery pieces, and ASMs. When the dust settles after those 2 hours, S. Korea and parts of Japan may be no more, while US bombers would still be enroute.

        The immediate death and devastation will make Iraq I and II, and Afghanistan look like Grenada, while the radiation that will be swept around Asia and indeed the world will cause untold illness, disease, and death.

        Yes, there is a military option. But unless you can tell me the 1st paragraph I wrote can’t happen, then it’s not much of an option.

        • incredulous1

          That is the best way to take care of his arsenal. Get him to shoot his wad and take them all out one by one. We have 6 Aegis enabled ships with full BMD capability and Japan has 5 and Korea has a couple. It’s a matter of coordination. Then we are defending and he is expending and looking like the true madman he is. So many have bought into the concept of devastation of Seoul, which is absolutely not necessary. Nothing will reach Japan and only a few shells will land in South Korea which already seems to happen in their Bi-annual skirmishes. He will have no command, control, or communication with any assets, several of which will have become craters along the DMZ. What prevents such an effect OP from working right now is buy off from UN members, not the least of which are China and Russia who don’t want to lose their buffer and who are against the inevitable re-unification. But this game of “Prisoner’s Dilemma” where we allow Un to take everyone down with him is nuts even with all the enabling and kicking the can down the road that has happened.

  • kye154

    The problem with U.S. sanctions are, they don’t work very well when there is no trading in U.S. dollars. Unfortunately, America doesn’t seem to grasp that idea. It is why sanctions don’t work against Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. 17 years ago, Saddam Hussein took Iraq off of trading their oil for U.S. dollars, and went to trading in Euros, to get around U.S. imposed sanctions after the first Iraqi war. When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, the very first thing the U.S. did was to put Iraq back on the dollar, essentially to protect the U.S, hegemony, and trade value of the dollar. Venezuela is doing the same thing today, to get around U.S. sanctions. Many countries are getting fed up with the U.S., and looking at ways to protect their own interests, and the way to do that, is stop dealing in U.S. dollars. I am sure North Korea is laughing at us, because it is not going to stop them from buying the materials they need to make nuclear weapons, or missile technology, or fuel. Also, what the U.S. sanctions do is target the wrong people. Note: the sanctions included stopping the trade in seafood! Fish and rice are the main diets of many Asians. That sanction was meant to starve the people of North Korea, and had nothing to do with armament. All that is going to do is harden the resolve of the North Koreans, (not to mention, they are the most tenacious people on the planet), to continue to develop a nuclear deterrence, (or trump card against the U.S.), to keep from starving to death under U.S. sanctions. Needless to say, America seems to work against its own best interests. Chalk it up to blatant stupidity, but, America needs to get down to the serious business of negotiating and making amends (not demands), with North Korea, because the military options that we have are not sufficient to protect us, or our way of life, either from retaliation, the potential for crashing the value of the dollar and our economy, or resolving any of the problems we have been having with North Korea since 1953. And, if we choose to fight, then our fight will not be with just North Korea. Like the last Korean war, China and Russia will become involved militarily, if the U.S. either strikes or uses nuclear weapons against North Korea. Anyone noticed that the Russians are flying recon missions along our west coasts, or that China shadows our navy around Korea? You can bet the intel about the U.S. military activities will get into North Korean hands in some way.

  • incredulous1

    This discussion from the Senator must be music to Xi Jinping’s ears. If this were to come to pass China’s manipulative mission will have been a roaring success for two reasons. They maintain their buffer which is vital to them and Russia wanting to see US influence in the region diminished. And they will have damaged US national putative power and prestige which in their zero sum game world is required for them to realize the “Chinese dream” of becoming a superpower. It would seem that the UN has no further stomach beyond stifling incrementalism and the DPRK has had sufficient time to adjust to each and every increment of sanctions rendering them practically useless other then to further impoverish their own people, which maintains Un’s hold on power and actually strengthens it vis-a-vis dependency on his govt.
    It would seem that the last opportunity to resolve this without either US capitulation or a kinetic war passed along with the 6 Party Talks. We all know how that happened….

    Finally, when looking into McCain’s motivation for such a discussion, it becomes apparent that he prefers a legacy of peace keeping in his final influence on matters, as opposed to his previous reputation in the legislative body. I would posit that this would be far worse to cement his legacy as one who was instrumental in insuring the end of US hegemony, at least in Asia, and placing China firmly in charge. I urge the Senator to reconsider this kind of talk, but we all know he takes counsel to less than a few.

  • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

    If Trump agreed a peace accord with North Korea….. McCain would vote against it.

  • Jim Higgins

    McCain is a senile and bitter old man that still thinks HE should be President.

  • seamarshal

    What McCain says is irrelevant. No one cares what he says especially to a guy like Woodward. McCain is a has been, he just doesn’t know it. Why is anyone giving him press time. He voted against getting rid of OBama care and know he thinks he’s a foreign policy maker. Pull the plug on his mick.

  • RTColorado

    The basic premise is flawed from the outset…how to convince a paranoid regime that the target of all their fear could be trusted to guarantee its safety. It’s an insane presumption. But for a second, let’s set aside the obvious problems with Sen. McCain’s thought process and assume for the sake of argument that North Korea would actually trust the U.S.’s guarantees of its safety. What would that accomplish ? It would leave the Korean Peninsula in the same position it is now, North Korea threatening “tidal waves of burning fire to engulf….etc., etc., etc.” infinitum. We’d be in the same exact position we are now. What are the colors of the sky on a planet where anyone lives that could be so self-deluded to think North Korea would divest itself of the technology to build a nuclear weapon…even if North Korea dismantled its program, it could start one up in a matter of months. Once you’ve built a nuclear weapon, it’s just a matter of having the material to do it again. The same threat of significant death and destruction of Seoul would exist, even if North Korea used conventional artillery. I suspect Sen. McCain’s illness is very serious and for that I am truly sorry, but it is very obvious that his judgement is impaired.

  • omegatalon

    If negotiation and war is not possible, then McCain is suggesting that the United States surrender to North Korea.. most Americans would let Trump roll the dice and simply nuke North Korea than surrendering.

    • Boston02116

      US would never use nuclear weapons against NK. We’d destroy them in 10 minutes with conventional weapons.

  • Ed L

    Tens of Thousand of Drones loaded with food to be deliever to the North Koreans

  • Daniel S. Schwartz

    This morally bankrupt “solution” is only exceeded in its stupidity by the belief that North Korea would abide by such an agreement. Just like it did for Presidents Clinton, G.W. Bush, and Obama.

  • Boston02116

    McCain is delusional. He basically says they will have Nuclear weapons.

  • McCain the “hero” from the Forestall fire (fake news). To avoid an investigation he was transferred ASAP to Orskinay (spelling). The clown that got thru the naval academy by the skin of his teeth and his father and grandfather’s reps. The Navy Captain that made his rank by never holding a combat command. Training squadron in Jacksonville dose not count. Lost what little respect for him when he walked on to the senate floor and did the thumbs down for repeal of the ACA. The chemo therapy in exasperating his stupidly. Go West Johnny boy, head into the sunset, glowing as you go. MMCS(SW)(SS) USN Ret.

  • John Jorgensen

    At this point I compare any educational value of listening to McCain against public speaker and war correspondent of 20 years Chris Hedges . A beam balance would suffer damage to one of the travel limiters on this . South Korea is in a position to lose big should the pre – emptive strike crew be unleashed , Chris has been there ; worth a listen . There is a financial issue to be addressed .