Sanders and Tarrant disagree on North Korean nuclear problem

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(Host) U.S. Senate candidates Bernie Sanders and Rich Tarrant have very different positions concerning how the United States should deal with North Korea’s efforts to build a nuclear bomb.

Sanders says the Bush administration should consider direct talks with North Korean officials to solve this crisis. Tarrant opposes that approach, because he says it would amount to diplomatic blackmail.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Sanders says the Bush administration hasn’t fully focused on the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program because the administration has been fixated on the war in Iraq.

Sanders argues that the United States should have been much more concerned about the development of nuclear weapons in North Korea than over non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Sanders also thinks U.S. efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the North Korean situation have been undermined by the war in Iraq:

(Sanders) “The other thing that Iraq has done is that it has so much isolated us politically from the world — and so much lowered the respect that countries around the world have for us — that we’re losing our leadership capability to develop the kind of coalitions that we need to deal with North Korea.”

(Kinzel) That’s an assessment that Tarrant strongly disagrees with:

(Tarrant) “Given what’s been going on in North Korea, I can’t imagine they would have taken their eye of the ball. My guess is that it’s more of the converse: that North Korea thought that there wasn’t much we could do about it given that we were so involved in the Middle East.”

(Kinzel) The Bush Administration has refused to hold direct talks with North Korean officials. Instead, the administration has insisted on multi-lateral negotiations that include China and Japan.

Sanders thinks the time has come to consider direct negotiations:

(Sanders) “Given the volatility of the situation given the real danger of an unstable authoritarian government like North Korea having nuclear weapons I think any and all approaches should be on the table.”

(Kinzel) Tarrant thinks direct talks are a big mistake:

(Tarrant) “I think now there’s not much choice, because if suddenly we decide to talk bilaterally all of a sudden we were blackmailed into doing it and everybody else will try to do the same thing. I think we’re kind of where we are and I think none of us really know is what are the real negotiations behind the scenes? “

(Kinzel) Tarrant says he opposes the imposition of economic sanctions against North Korea. Instead he thinks the United States should offer a comprehensive package of humanitarian aid to encourage North Korea to dismantle their nuclear program.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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