TODAY   |  November 24, 2010

N. Korea flexing muscles amid power shift

Former Ambassador Wendy Sherman says that North Korea is trying to project an image of strength with its recent attack on Yeonpyeong Island as Kim Jong-il begins to transition power to his son.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

LAUER: All right, Ian Williams in Incheon , South Korea , for us this morning. Ian , thank you very much . Wendy Sherman is the vice chair of the global strategy firm Albright Stonebridge Group , and served as North Korea policy adviser to President Clinton . Wendy , it's nice to see you. Good morning.

Ambassador WENDY SHERMAN (Vice Chair, Albright Stonebridge Group): Good to be with you , Matt.

LAUER: Secretary Gates , Robert Gates said earlier this week that if you start any question on North Korea with the word "why," he can't answer it, that they are entirely unpredictable. Does that apply if we ask why they did what they did a couple of days ago?

Amb. SHERMAN: Well, it's always hard to know what North Koreans ' intentions are. But I think that these actions are really to get four things done. One, to project power out to the world , to say that North Korea 's a powerful sovereign country. Two, to create deterrents against South Korea and the United States , which North Korea sees as the last remaining superpower that could take them down. Third, to put bargaining chips on the table. We saw that with the new nuclear facility, the Cheonan incident you mentioned, and this latest horrible artillery fire. And fourth and very crucial these days is the transition of power from Kim Jong Il to Kim Jong Un . Kim Jong Il is trying to make Kim Jong Un into a very powerful military force and keep his military in line for the succession.

LAUER: Yeah, you talk about the revelation that there is this high-tech facility to enrich uranium. That was revealed in the past week, it was not previously disclosed. Let me read you what the Financial Times said about this, summing it up similar to the way you just did. " Kim Jong il is sick, isolated, in the midst of one of the most risky ventures of his life, handing over power to his untested 27-year-old son. He has few cards in his hand, but this week he's played two of them. And in the twisted logic of Pyongyang poker, they were both aces." Do you see -- do you really think they think these were aces?

Amb. SHERMAN: Oh, I think they think that they are very much aces. I think that they believe that they only have one thing to worry about, and that is the survival of the regime; that the legacy of Kim Jong Il 's father, Kim Il Sung , the great leader, will go on throughout eternity. And so they're going to do everything they can...

LAUER: But...

Amb. SHERMAN: ...to play the only cards they've got.

LAUER: And real quickly, Wendy , what good options do we have? What good options do the South Koreans have?

Amb. SHERMAN: Well, we have not a lot of very good options. The one that is most important is the conversation that Ambassador Steve Bosworth , the special envoy of President Clinton -- Secretary Clinton , President Obama had with the Chinese yesterday. China is North Korea 's last remaining ally. The Chinese have tried to be the leader here, to be a neutral broker. Neutrality is over after the death of these civilians, as well as the military in South Korea , and it's time for the Chinese to tell the north to cut it out, to get back to the negotiating table, but to stop this very dangerous, provocative and risky behavior.

LAUER: Wendy Sherman. As always, Wendy , thanks for your perspective on this. We appreciate it.