AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The war of words continues to escalate between the Trump administration and North Korea. Last night, North Korea's military called President Trump's fire-and-fury threat a, quote, "load of nonsense." And it said that only absolute force can work with him.
On Tuesday, President Trump issued the memorable warning to North Korea that it would be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. Here's how White House adviser Sebastian Gorka interpreted that warning on Fox News yesterday.
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SEBASTIAN GORKA: He's saying don't test America. And don't test Donald J. Trump. We are not just a superpower. We were a superpower. We are now a hyperpower. Nobody in the world - especially not North Korea - comes close to challenging our military capabilities.
CHANG: Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican of South Carolina, told CBS that he sees Trump's warning as a strategic move.
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LINDSEY GRAHAM: President Trump has basically drawn a red line saying that he'll never allow North Korea to have an ICBM missile that can hit America with a nuclear weapon on top. He's not going to let that happen. He's not going to contain the threat. He's going to stop the threat.
CHANG: All right, well, joining us this morning, we have the top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee. Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, thank you for being with us.
BEN CARDIN: Ailsa, it's good to be with you. Thanks.
CHANG: So what do you think of Senator Graham's view that President Trump's words are strategic and could actually help contain the North Korean threat?
CARDIN: Well, I think the global community looks to the United States for leadership - that we have a game plan in order to prevent a conflict with North Korea that could involve nuclear weapons. I think now they're questioning whether we, in fact, have a game plan or not, or whether this is just going to be threats and words, rather than a strategic plan to get all parties, together, changing the calculation of North Korea that it's important for them to negotiate with us.
CHANG: You issued a statement after Trump's words, that it was inflammatory language he used. But, you know, in truth, the U.S. has been issuing threats against North Korea for more than 15 years, both in the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. In fact, Bush called North Korea one of the axis of evil countries. Is there any reason President Trump's threats are more disturbing to you?
CARDIN: Well, I - yes, absolutely, because what we need to do is get North Korea to negotiate a freeze of their program and ultimately, the elimination of their nuclear weapon program. To do that, we need to get the cooperation of China. China needs to be much more aggressive because China could change the equations for North Korea. So I don't understand the threats against North Korea - how that's going to change the calculations in the region. I think it just makes them more dangerous.
CHANG: Well, on the other hand, the U.S. has tried more nuanced, diplomatic talk for years with North Korea. And there's no evidence that's done anything to deter the country from escalating the situation. This White House just seems to be making clear it can't be pushed around. Is there anything to be said for that tactic?
CARDIN: Well, clearly, there has been some progress made with the U.N. vote on additional sanctions. Congress has imposed additional sanctions. We know that they're having an impact. We also know that, if China were to enforce these sanctions and really cut North Korea off, North Korea would be in a much more difficult position not to sit down and talk.
Lastly, we believe that North Korea's calculations is basically to preserve a regime. And China can help us in convincing North Korea they don't need nuclear weapons in order to do that.
CHANG: But how do we incentivize China to adhere to the sanctions resolution and to help us exert more pressure on North Korea?
CARDIN: Well, China does not want a nuclear Korean Peninsula. China want - does not want a unified Korea peninsula. So I think what we need to do is put the unification of Korea on one side and say look, let's work to preserve the security of the countries of the region without the use of nuclear weapons. You already have a nuclear power in China. North Korea doesn't need another nuclear power for that.
I think the challenge here is that both China and the United States understand there really is not a military way to solve this problem without severe consequences. Let's find a way to move diplomacy.
CHANG: All right, that's Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, who is the top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee. Thank you very much for joining us.
CARDIN: It's good to be with you. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.