Susan Rice: North Koreans 'Were Not Prepared to Be Serious' When Obama Was President

By Susan Jones | June 11, 2018 | 8:45am EDT
Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice (Photo: Screen capture/CBS)

( - Appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday, one of former President Obama's top advisers was asked why Obama didn't try to negotiate with Kim Jong Un during his eight years in office (when the North Korean nuclear threat accelerated).

"There were efforts at discussions," Rice responded. "The problem is that, at every turn, the North Koreans would make commitments and then break them."

"The fact of the matter is that I believe the North Koreans were not prepared to be serious under Kim Jong Un with respect to sitting at the table until they perfected their nuclear program and their missiles."

Rice, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and then as National Security Adviser, said the Obama administration did "incrementally" increase the pressure on North Korea, but she said the North Korean dictator wanted to perfect his  nuclear weapons program before negotiating.

I myself negotiated for tough Security Council resolutions, imposing increasingly harsh penalties on North Korea. My successor, Ambassador (Samantha) Power, did the same. Ambassador (Nikki) Haley has continued that effort. And we have layered on increasing pressure. I think that is appropriate.

We, in fact...during the Obama administration, had the opportunity -- you recall the Leap Day negotiations, where we tried to sit down and tried to work on an arrangement with the North Koreans, and they blew it up on the spot," Rice said.

So, I don't think it is accurate to say there weren't diplomatic efforts. And, in fact, (former Director of National Intelligence) Jim Clapper himself went to North Korea.

The fact of the matter is that I believe the North Koreans were not prepared to be serious under Kim Jong Un with respect to sitting at the table until they perfected their nuclear program and their missiles.

"So you don't think a diplomatic breakthrough would have been possible in the Obama administration because of that goal?" Brennan asked.

"I think that the critical thing, from the North Korean point of view, was to be able to come to the negotiating table, when they did come, with having demonstrated to the world that their nuclear capacity and their missile capacity has been perfected," Rice responded. "And that's in fact what Kim Jong Un said."

[Clapper went to North Korea in 2014 to bring home two Americans who were being held there. Clapper later said the North Koreans were disappointed that the release of the Americans did not produce some kind of "breakthrough" from the United States.]

Asked if she gives President Trump credit for being willing to take such a "high-level risk," Rice responded:

"Well, I think, you know, it is clear that the past set of efforts have not succeeded. I am a believer in diplomacy. And I am open to new methods of trying to accomplish the consistent objective that we have of full denuclearization.

"I think the question is, are we walking in prepared? Are we walking in with our allies behind us? Are we in a position to understand that one meeting -- it's not going to be one-and-done. This is the start of a serious negotiating process."

Rice said the "best possible outcome" of the Kim-Trump meeting "is that we have more than a photo-op or even a cordial conversation, but that the two leaders agree to some very concrete steps that they can then pass on to their negotiators in the form of a framework, that the negotiators can then flush out into a substantive agreement.

"It is going to take quite a while," Rice said. "This is very complicated set of issues. And success can't be declared on the basis of a happy meeting."

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