President Donald Trump's warning of "fire and fury" against North Korea if it threatens the United States was "strong," former Sen. Joe Lieberman said Wednesday, but he is concerned about Kim Jong Un developing the capability for a bioattack on the United States.
"We've tried for years and years, really decades with diplomatic language and a lot else with the North Koreans and it hasn't worked," Lieberman, the co-chairman of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Biodefense, told CNN's "New Day" about Trump's tough talk.
"I think it is a statement that President Trump made not only to show the seriousness with which we take the rapidly escalating capabilities of the North Koreans, but it is also a statement I think even more important to China."
He pointed out that in the 1990s, then-President Bill Clinton negotiated an agreement with current North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's father.
"[It] gave the North Koreans billions of dollars in exchange for a promise to stop their nuclear program, put the brakes on it, then stop it altogether," Lieberman said. "They essentially took the money and ran."
He said he is worried, though, about the "potentially disastrous possibility" of an infectious disease epidemic or pandemic, which is a naturally occurring phenomenon, or of a direct strike with a bioattack weapon, as the United States is not "organized or prepared" to prevent either from happening, he said.
"We fumbled the response, and we're lucky, I think, to Zika and Ebola," said Lieberman. "We still don't have vaccines for either of them and they're still both out there and at any moment could flame up."
Lieberman said the panel has mandated that the Trump administration do a national bioterrorism strategy, at a cost of about $6 billion.
"We don't even know exactly what we're spending on biodefense," said Lieberman. "We've got to bring it together and push it harder because truthfully, as Bill Gates said a while ago, more people could be killed as a result of a catastrophic bioterrorist attack or an infectious disease epidemic than even by nuclear weapons."
The threat, he continued, is that just as Kim has developed the new nuclear capability, that he could "put a scientist to essentially develop a synthetic flu virus, a flu, that they would then inject in an opponent's population."
"We're about 100 years from the flu epidemic of 1918 in which within one year, 50 million to 100 million people died from that epidemic," Lieberman said. "The numbers are not even clear. Now we're traveling much more, so we got to raise our defenses to this."
He said there is no direct intelligence to point that a bioterror attack is part of Kim's schemes, but the Blue Ribbon panel, co-chaired by former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, has been working on the matter for a few years.
Meanwhile, China was the most important audience for Trump's threat, said Lieberman, because the Asian nation is necessary to avert disaster. The Chinese have leverage against North Korea but they are not using it.
In addition, the United States cannot stand by and accept North Korea becoming a nuclear power, and that is the problem, Lieberman said.
"We aren't talking here about, say, Russia and China, two great nuclear powers with which today we have difficult, hostile sometimes relationships," Lieberman said. "We're not really worried about a nuclear conflict with them or being attacked by them because they ultimately have rational leadership. That is not the case with North Korea."
There are many guesses about why China is not doing more to stop North Korea's aggressions, he continued, but part of it is because China benefits when North Korea keeps the United States, South Korea, and Japan on edge.
In addition, the People's Liberation army of China has a separate relationship with the military of North Korea that really goes back to the Korean War, Lieberman said.
"I know that literally XI Jinping, the leader of China is the head of the army, but there is a way in which I think they operate separately here, and they can't get away with that anymore," he added.
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