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Susan Rice speaks with Andrea Mitchell during day two of the Women in the World Summit. (Marc Bryan-Brown)

DIPLOMAT

Susan Rice on Getting ‘Jumpy’ Over North Korea and Her Brush With the State Department

Amid increasing threats from North Korea, Obama’s U.N. ambassador says the administration is staying calm. Plus, her thoughts on John Kerry at State and more.

The Obama administration is keeping its cool in the face of apocalyptic-sounding nuclear threats from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, says United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice. “Our interest is in reminding him and those around him of the benefits of a peaceful course,” she told attendees of Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s Women in the World Summit in New York, “and not getting too jumpy when he wakes up in the morning and issues another provocative statement.”

Rice, who was interviewed on stage by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, made the point several times that the United States is quite ready, willing, and able to defend itself and its allies in the region.

To some extent, the world has seen this kind of bellicose language and such feints toward war before from North Korea, Rice suggested, but “what seems to be different is the level of the rhetoric and the pace of provocation.” Kim Jong-un’s government has recently talked of using tactical nuclear weapons in the region and long-range missiles that could strike the United States. Many analysts doubt that it has such capabilities, although it is believed to have a handful of crude atomic bombs.

Rice appeared to be quite optimistic about the role China has played and will continue to play in reining in North Korea. She noted that the current sanctions on the regime were negotiated with Chinese cooperation and are being enforced by Beijing.

“The Chinese have been quite interesting,” said Rice. “Clearly with the border they have, with the economic relationship they have, they can do more.” But Rice said the Chinese “also are of the view that Kim Jong-un has gone too far.”

In the wide-ranging conversation, Rice carefully avoided passing judgment on the American diplomats in Cairo who tweeted—then tried to erase—a link to Jon Stewart mocking Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi for his crackdown on satirists and on free speech.

“We can discuss and debate” whether “Twitter is a new form of diplomacy,” said Rice, who can be quite a tweep herself. But in some cases its ultrashort format  “cheapens the message,” she said.

When Mitchell questioned Rice (politely) about the ugly way in which her name was floated, then withdrawn, for secretary of State, Rice’s defense of President Obama was unwavering. She would not concede that there is any problem with the fact that, now that Hillary Clinton has been replaced by John Kerry at State, there are no women in the top cabinet positions. (Rice’s U.N. assignment is also a cabinet post, but less significant than State, Defense, or Treasury.)

“Secretary Kerry would be the first to admit that in some ways he can never fill Hillary’s heels,” said Rice, getting a good laugh from the luncheon audience. But there is no question, said Rice, that Kerry will continue to pursue the administration’s policies promoting the empowerment of women around the world. “It’s not a luxury,” said Rice. “It’s a necessity.”

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