Monday afternoon on CNN, to Wolf Blitzer's astonishment, Ted Turner, just back from a visit to North Korea, declared his belief in the sincerity of North Korea and how the U.S. can trust the regime's new deal to not build nuclear weapons. Turner rejected the "despotic" characterization of Kim Jong Il, insisting that "he didn't look too much different than most other people," or that he treats his people brutally since Turner saw the people "were thin," but "they were riding bicycles."
When Turner declared North Korea is not a "threat" to the U.S., Blitzer suggested their missiles could reach the U.S., prompting environmentalist Turner to dismissively retort: "Well, what, the Aleutian Islands? There's nothing up there but a few sea lions."
The lively exchange, caught by the MRC's Megan McCormack, took place at 3:25pm EDT on The Situation Room with Blitzer in DC and Turner via satellite from New York City.
Blitzer set up the September 19 segment: "The White House as they say is cautiously optimistic of a new pledge from North Korea to end its nuclear program. That announcement came today during six-party nuclear arms talks in Beijing. In a statement, North Korea says it's, quote, 'committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs.' North Korea also says it wants to return to the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. At the White House this morning, President Bush said he hopes North Korea lives up to its promise." President George W. Bush: "They have said, in principle, that they will abandon their weapons programs. And what we have said is, great. That's a wonderful step forward, but now we've got to verify whether or not that happens." Blitzer: "'Trust, but verify,' as they used to say. We want to talk a little bit more about today's developments involving North Korea with CNN founder and Chairman of Turner Enterprises, Ted Turner. He's joining us once again from New York. You spent some time recently in North Korea, Ted. Did this agreement come to you as a surprise?" Ted Turner: "No. No. I talked with quite a few of the North Korean leaders and South Korean leaders, too, and spent really the most time with the head negotiator for North Korea. And I was really over there to try and persuade North and South Korea to make the DMZ into an international peace park when, when they sign a peace treaty, which I anticipate will be fairly soon, now that we have the six-party talks, we have agreement there. But I had a great time. I am absolutely convinced that the North Koreans are absolutely sincere. There's really no reason -- no reason for them to cheat or do anything to violate this very forward agreement. I mean, I think we can put the North Korea and East Asia problems behind us and concentrate on Iran and Iraq, where, where we still have some ongoing difficulties." Blitzer countered: "I've got to tell you, Ted, given the record of North Korea, especially the fact that, in the Clinton administration in '93-'94, they made a similar pledge, which they violated and they backed out of, I'm not exactly sure that I accept all your optimism." Turner: "Well, you know, I was optimistic about the Cold War when I got to Russia, too. But I looked them right in the eyes. And they looked like they meant the truth. I mean, you know, just because somebody's done something wrong in the past doesn't mean they can't do right in the future or in the present. That happens all the, all the time." Blitzer: "But this is one of the most despotic regimes and Kim Jong Il is one of the worst men on Earth. Isn't that a fair assessment?" Turner: "Well, I didn't get, I didn't get to meet him, but he didn't look, in the pictures that I've seen of him on CNN, he didn't look too much different than most other people." Blitzer: "But look at the way, look at the way he's, look at the way he's treating his own people." Turner asserted: "Well, hey, listen. I saw a lot of people over there. They were thin and they were riding bicycles instead of driving in cars, but ah-" Blitzer: "Lot of those people are starving." Turner: "I didn't see, I didn't see any, I didn't see any brutality in the capital or out in the, on the DMZ. We went, we visit, drove through the countryside quite a bit to get down to Panmunjom and Kaesong. We traveled around. I'm sure we were on a special route, but I don't see, there's really no reason, North Korea's got enough problems with their, with their economy and their agriculture. I think they want to join the western world and improve the quality of life for their people just like everybody else. And I think that we should give them another chance. It doesn't cost us anything. We already have agreements. And North Korea never posed any significant threat to the United States. I mean, the whole economy of North Korea's only $30 billion a year. It's less than the city of Detroit. It's a small place, and we do not have to worry about them attacking us." Blitzer: "You know, they have a million troops within literally a few miles" Turner: "A half million." Blitzer: "Well, best estimates are a million. A million troops along the DMZ." Turner: "We have a half a million troops, of which 28,000 are Americans and they've been there for 50 years. One of the things I said in both North and South Korea is it's time to end the Korean War officially and move on. And get those hundreds of thousands of young men that are sitting there back building hospitals and roads and schools in North and South Korea and improving the gross national product. It's just a waste of time and energy for them to sit there." Blitzer: "I think the bottom line, though, Ted, and I think you'd agree, they had this opportunity in the '90s, when they signed this first agreement and they cheated. They didn't live up to it. Now they have a second chance. I hope you're right. I certainly do." Turner: "Well I hope I'm right, too. But you know it's, in the Bible says you're supposed to forgive seven times seventy, or something like that, but just because, just because, you know, I mean, in 1940, the Germans were our enemies. For the last 50 years, they've been our allies. Same with the Russians were our enemies before '91 when the Cold War ended. Let's give 'em a break. Give 'em a break And besides, even if they do -- even if they do threaten us again, the threat is non-existent to the United States. They can't threaten us. I mean, it's like a fleet attacking an elephant." Blitzer: "What about those ground to ground missiles that they have, and the CIA-" Turner: "They can't reach us." Blitzer: "Well, they can reach Japan. They can reach South Korea. They can reach a lot of our allies-" Turner: "They can't reach the USA, and we can pound them into, into oblivion in 24 hours." Blitzer: "But, you don't want to get, you don't want to get to that. There are some estimates, by the way, that could reach Alaska." Turner: "Well, what, the Aleutian Islands? There's nothing up there but a few sea lions." Blitzer: "Well, you know, this is a serious issue. I hope you're right, as I said-" Turner: "I know it's a serious issue. I mean, I didn't go over there to waste my time." Blitzer: "No, no, no. I'm just, I'm just saying the point you said-" Turner: "Have you ever been there?" Blitzer: "I've been to South Korea. I've been to the DMZ." Turner: "Have you ever been to North Korea?" Blitzer: "No, I've never been to North Korea." Turner: "Well, you know, I mean, at least go up there and look in their eyes and have a chat with them before you -- before you accuse them of-" Blitzer: "By the way, I've made several requests, but they haven't let me into North Korea. But maybe if I go with you the next time they'll let me in." Turner: "Alright, I'll take you. I took Christiane Amanpour with me this time."