South Korea’s U.N. Ambassador: ‘War possible, but unlikely’
And now joining me is South Korea's ambassador to the United Nations, Kim Sook.
Ambassador, welcome. You heard what Kyung Lah said from Seoul. Is it possible, do you think, that there could be war?
KIM SOOK, SOUTH KOREA AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Well, always possible. But at the moment, whether it is practically possible I think rather negative because we have seen this kind of situation before, at the very -- the high level of the rhetoric and this time around invectives. We have seen many times before.
But this time, it is a bit different because the level and intensity of that invectives and slandering is different. But people in Seoul and by and large the South Korean people are not in panic. And they don't expect the war could happen anytime soon. But we leave nothing to chance. We are very prepared to any kind of provocation and we are prepared to any kind of contingency.
AMANPOUR: Ambassador, obviously they are -- there are great concerns, we just heard from our correspondent. What about the president? I just asked Kyung Lah about this challenge, this really early challenge to President Park.
And she said just yesterday, she said, "If there's any provocation against South Korea and its people, there should be a strong response in initial combat without any political considerations."
This is a pretty difficult thing for a new president to undertake.
KIM: Yes. Well, if we go back several decades and see what happened when every president from the South, well, (inaudible) North Korea by and large tried to test the texture of the new president in her or his political will. I think, well, one of the reason that North Korea is very harsh on the United States and on the Republic of Korea is to test the new leadership in Seoul right now.
AMANPOUR: Does -- let me just ask you. You talked about the fact that she's a woman, the first woman president. And, frankly, the North has been very, very strong against that fact. They called -- they blamed her, quote, "venomous swish of skirt" for the recent tensions between the two countries.
Is the fact that she's a woman playing into this?
KIM: Well, well, I cannot speak for North Koreans, what they think of my president. But the female president does not necessarily mean she's weak.
She is politically very solid and, well, her parents (sic - means one of her parents - her mother) were tragically assassinated by North Korea some decades ago. So -- and she has gone through such difficult period and I firmly believe that my new president is as firm and solid in dealing with North Korea.
But she placed out the so-called trust politics as her main part of the policy, which says building confidence is first before anything else. So far North Korea did not answer positively.
AMANPOUR: So, ironically, she's the president who wanted to try to reestablish less tension between the two neighbors.
Let me ask you whether you feel confident that the United States is protecting you well enough. We spoke to the Pentagon press secretary; we know about all the military maneuvers, the joint operations and the U.S. sending flights over and sending a warship to the area. Listen to what George Little told me on this program yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE LITTLE, U.S. ASST. SECY. OF DEFENSE: Our recent activities with our South Korean allies have been about alliance assurance, about ensuring them that we are there to protect them. We also have 28,500 U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula and we have other friends in the region, too, like Japan. And it's about their security that we're most concerned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So the U.S. saying all of this is not necessarily a show of force against the North, but to convince you and to give you the good feeling of being under the protective umbrella.
Do you feel that?
KIM: We are quite satisfied with the current alliance relationship between the Republic of Korea and the United States. And on --
AMANPOUR: Do you feel safe?
KIM: I feel safe. And the people are safe, feel safe, in general. And I'm quite happy that there is no daylight between the Republic of Korea and the United States.
AMANPOUR: So what do you think it is that the North Koreans want? Why, in your analysis of what's going on, do you think the restart of Yongbyon, the threats against the United States and South Korea, you heard Professor Hecker tell me that he thought it was to raise its strength and to be a deterrent against the United States.
KIM: According to the pronouncement by spokesmen in Pyongyang, the hostile (ph) policy of the United States is the main cause of North Korean, the attitude.
But I think, well, United States, along with the allies and friends, tried many times to reach out North Korea. But every time they refuse to be engaged in a dialogue as sincerely and serious as possible. They have lost many opportunities to get involved and engaged in a constructive dialogue.
AMANPOUR: They've always said they want direct talks with the United States. The U.S. and its allies, including yourself, and Japan and obviously China want to do it as a group effort, so to speak.
Are you sure that China, which is practically the only country with leverage over North Korea, can have an influence now?
KIM: Well, China may be the only country in the world that have some influence on North Korea.
AMANPOUR: Can they use it?
KIM: Well, and -- but China does not upset that theory easily. But China is also as frustrated and angry about the recent narrative violation and contravention of Security Council resolution. And they are trying, still trying. They never give up.
And we appreciate Chinese attempt, the serious attempt, repeated attempted to persuade North Korea to come out of their nutshell and be engaged in dialogue in a constructive way.
AMANPOUR: So if it's not war, you think dialogue is still on the table?
KIM: Of course, of course. Yes, dialogue is by and large the first and foremost ways to engage North Korea.
AMANPOUR: Ambassador, thank you so much for joining me.
KIM: Thank you for having me.