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GOP Rep. Trent Franks Responds To Recent Threats By North Korea


Now we're going to get a view from Congress on the growing U.S. standoff with North Korea. Yesterday we heard from a Democratic senator, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. We now have Trent Franks on the line. He's a Republican from Arizona, and he's on the House armed services committee. Welcome to the program.

TRENT FRANKS: Thank you, sir. It's good to be with you.

SHAPIRO: As we've been hearing, President Trump's warnings to North Korea have been very aggressive, first threatening fire and fury, then saying perhaps that was not tough enough. Do you think this is constructive?

FRANKS: Well, I think that you ask yourself, what is the effect of words like that? And we only have really two ways to protect this country from nuclear missile attack from a nation like North Korea. We either have to be able to interdict them kinetically once they are fired or some other way, or we have to prevent them from being fired.

And one of the basic functions of our foreign policy for years has been that we would have a deterrent. And the deterrent is always in the mind of your opponent. And I guess you ask yourself, what effect has Mr. Trump's words had on Kim Jong Un? Have they convinced him that it's risky to attack America, that there's nothing to be gained by attacking America? I hope so...

SHAPIRO: Well it seems to...

FRANKS: ...Because...

SHAPIRO: ...Have had the opposite effect of North Korea threatening to strike the waters just off Guam.

FRANKS: Well, you know, like I say, I think that this president of North Korea, or Kim Jong Un, has been paying very close attention the last few years when we had Mr. Clinton in the White House. Mr. Clinton finally was able to bring North Korea to the table, and they did an agreement with North Korea that gave them a promise of about 500 - let's see - I think somewhere...

SHAPIRO: Without relitigating what happened during previous administrations...

FRANKS: No, I understand, but I'm going to build this case. I'm going to build this case, and you cut me off (unintelligible).

SHAPIRO: Well, I'd like to discuss what's happening right now and the accelerating rhetoric...

FRANKS: I understand, but right now has to be heard in the context of the past. Otherwise, you and I don't even have a common language. You learned language - you learned English in the second grade probably.

SHAPIRO: Given the short amount of time that we have, I wonder how you think China is likely to respond to this latest acceleration of threats. The Chinese are urging restraint.

FRANKS: Well, so you're going to ask a different question.

SHAPIRO: Do you see a way to engage them?

FRANKS: That's up to you. You can ask a different question if you want, but I'm going to go ahead and answer the first one. The first one is that Mr. Kim Jong Il - Kim Jong Un has been paying attention, and he knows that in the past, he's been able to get his way by pressing this rhetoric that he has. And the question now is, will he continue to believe that? And I think that Mr. Trump's comments are making him believe that maybe there's a different guy in the White House. Now I'll answer any other question you have.

SHAPIRO: If North Korea does fire missiles into the waters off Guam, what do you think the response should be?

FRANKS: Well, it has to depend on what's the trajectory of those - I chair the Missile Defense Caucus, and the trajectory of those missiles becomes everything. If they are on a trajectory to strike an American ally or American territory, then if we have resources, whether it be the THAAD missile batteries or whether it be Aegis offshore, then we have to be able to try to interdict that. We would be foolish to do anything else. We should shoot those down if we have that capability because otherwise, it's just completely irresponsible to let a missile land on American territory where we don't know what kind of a payload it might be carrying.

SHAPIRO: Are you confident given what you've learned through your service on the House armed services committee of the U.S. ability to intercept a missile headed for Guam once that missile has been fired?

FRANKS: Yes. If it's in its terminal phase coming down on Guam, we have a THAAD battery there in Guam. And I believe that, you know, you have only so much resources of course. I mean you're going to have so many interceptors in any THAAD battery. But if a - say, a KN-12 or - sometimes they call it the Hwasong-12 - is launched - that's an intermediate. That's probably the one that they would use. If that were in a terminal phase coming down on Guam, I think we would be able to intercept it.

SHAPIRO: Briefly...

FRANKS: We also - if we - go ahead.

SHAPIRO: Just to conclude, I think many people are afraid that this could be headed towards war. Do you think that fear is justified?

FRANKS: I think that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and we have to be careful because this country, now that has acted irrationally, now is approaching a full-blown nuclear weapons capability. It should never have happened. We'd better do some things differently in the future. Otherwise, we may see something very scary escalate in the world.

SHAPIRO: Republican Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona, we appreciate your joining us. Thanks very much.

FRANKS: Thank you, sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.