Exclusive: U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty talks new role, N. Korea - WSMV News 4

Exclusive: U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty talks new role, N. Korea, safety for Americans

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Bill Hagerty (WSMV) Bill Hagerty (WSMV)
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Bill Hagerty has long been an ambassador for the state of Tennessee.

He was the driving force behind a number of Japanese companies building headquarters in the state – a huge part of why Tennessee was the No. 1 state in the nation for job growth and economic development.

He even funded the hit show “Nashville” when he served on the Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission under Gov. Bill Haslam.

In his new role as U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Hagerty is tasked with bringing in more business to the country to reduce the almost $70 billion trade deficit with Japan.

"The easiest way to address that trade deficit is to go after the biggest component, which is automotive," Hagerty said. "If they were to produce the cars and parts in the market where they're consumed, America being the largest market, that would take care of the trade deficit by itself.

"They're thinking very hard about that," he added.

With the threat of nuclear weapons in North Korea, however, he said his top priority is keeping the 230,000 Americans living in Japan safe.

"I think the world should be scared and concerned, and we are," said Hagerty in an exclusive one-on-one with News 4's Tracy Kornet. "The world has spoken through the UN Security Council, and we're marching in unison to see the Korean peninsula denuclearized."

On Aug. 17, 2017, Hagerty moved from Nashville to Japan with his wife and four young children.

Eleven days later, North Korea's Kim Jong Un fired the first of two ballistic test missiles over Japan.

"I got the call when the missile was in air, that it had launched,” Hagerty said.

Hagerty said his family was in their residence at the time.

"Everybody's concerned," he added. "Tensions are high in the region. At the same time this has been going on, these provocations have been going on, and I think that people are in many ways, concerned, but getting accustomed to it."

Hagerty is President Donald Trump's representative in that country, and as such has tried to send clear messages to the Japanese people.

"The president and Prime Minister Abe have been extremely clear every time they're together that the U.S. and Japan are standing locked arms in defense of that region against the North Korean regime. Everyone wants that regime to step back and think carefully about what they're doing,” Hagerty said.

When it comes to diplomacy, Hagerty said America is done with dialogue, that the U.S. has tried it for 20 years.

"We've tried a number of things to get the North Koreans to stop this progression toward nuclear capability. They've not worked. The escalation that took place in 2016 was enormous. The number of test shots, number of rocket launches, those activities grew at a geometric pace in 2016," Hagerty said.

"So whomever the president of the United States was in 2017 was going to dealing with North Korea on the precipice of something very horrible," he added.

Hagerty said this administration is trying something different: a steady set of systematic sanctions, such as a 30 percent restriction on oil imports, almost doubling gas prices in Pyongyang; and stopping the flow of cash into the country, which is funding the regime.

"So he's (Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin) looking at companies and countries facilitating that and is giving them a very simple choice: do you want to do business with the U.S. or do you want to do business with North Korea? You choose. It can't be both," Hagerty said.

Hagerty agrees these messages are getting lost on Americans amid Trump's twitter feed and his headline-making sound bites.

"Like you said, the American people may not be getting that through the news media. And that's unfortunate,” Hagerty said.

He hopes Tennesseans will hear him.

"The pressure is increasing. I think it's working. The real key to this is bringing China and Russia along,” he said.

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