Senator Richard Lugar, a Republican from the state of Indiana, is to become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January. He was interviewed this week by VOA-TV's David Borgida. During the interview, Mr. Lugar discussed a wide range of international issues which his committee will take up when the U.S. Congress convenes next year.
MR. BORGIDA: Senator, thanks for joining us at Voice of America. We appreciate it.
I would like to take you, if we could, through four trouble spots around the world in the five minutes we have. It may be difficult, but bear with me. First, on Iraq, if you could deliver any message to the Iraqi people, what would that stress?
SENATOR LUGAR: My stress would be on disarmament, but specifically now on cooperation with the United Nations inspectors. And that would include people coming out of Iraq, scientists, workers at the sites, the weapon sites, who could give very specific information to the U.N. inspectors that would lead not only world opinion but Iraqi opinion to the truth. It would lead also to a decision, I think, on the part of the Iraqi Government to destroy weapons of mass destruction and obviate the need for more serious consequences, which surely are down the road if they do not disarm.
MR. BORGIDA: Let's turn to the Balkans. How would you see the U.S. role in the Balkans in the months ahead?
SENATOR LUGAR: The United States should stay the course in the constructive work that we're doing with other nations in Bosnia, in Kosovo, in Macedonia, in other troubled areas in which stability has come, progress is occurring. There must be confidence that the United States is going to stay the course even as we encourage many European countries to play even more significant roles.
MR. BORGIDA: Let's sweep down to the Middle East, with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still very troublesome. Would you like to see more U.S. diplomacy or are you satisfied with our involvement, or would diplomacy at this point just be not helpful?
SENATOR LUGAR: Secretary Powell feels that we should not proceed with formal public negotiations on the so-called roadmap that could lead to agreement on many issues between Israel and the Palestinian Authority until after the Israeli general election. So, that means six weeks in which perhaps a public fora for this will not be available.
I would encourage private talks during that period of time. I think we need to keep moving. We need to show progress, show interest, on the part of our country to resolution of those issues. And we may come upon other refinements in that process that will be helpful.
MR. BORGIDA: As we continue the fastest five minutes in the news business, how about North Korea? How serious a threat is North Korea in terms of its nuclear program?
SENATOR LUGAR: It's difficult to tell how serious the North Korea threat may be for the moment. I hope not very serious and that they will take very seriously our view that they should stop a highly enriched uranium program, if they have one going. They should not commence to do things further with their plutonium program. They should think, with us, with Japan, with South Korea, with China, about the future of their economy, the future of the people of the country in a humanitarian way. All of this could be a part of the agenda, and that surely has occurred to North Korean leaders.
For the moment, however, North Korea has not assured us or anyone else that they will stop the weapons of mass destruction programs, and specifically nuclear programs. They must do that. They do have a program now, and that's a potential threat, perceived clearly by South Korea and Japan and perhaps others. So, it's a tough set of circumstances but one that we have to keep working constantly.
MR. BORGIDA: And finally, to the Venezuelan political crisis which appears to be deepening. Any thoughts about the role of the United States in terms of mediating there, or is that to be left to the Venezuelan people at the moment to resolve?
SENATOR LUGAR: I'm pleased the United States is supporting strongly the OAS efforts to mediate the dispute, to find perhaps an accelerated date for an election and resolution of the democratic process. It may be, as the United States takes more of an interest in South America, that it has really more horsepower to devote to that, that we can be more effective and will be perceived that way by Venezuela and some other countries.
MR. BORGIDA: Do you think that in terms of the U.S. policy toward Latin America in general that it has become more reactive than active?
SENATOR LUGAR: I don't think the United States has paid enough attention to the whole continent - that is, South America. Really it needs to do a whole lot more to revive the opportunities we have with the Vincente Fox administration in Mexico. And so my hope is that even given the real problems that we have in the Middle East, Iraq, North Korea, and so forth, we devote quality time and personnel to Latin America very soon. Because a number of crises are building, and they will not go away, I think, without our intervention.