Dictator Kim Jong Un, “firmly in control” of the North Korean regime, isn’t ready to negotiate about ending his nuclear and missile programs, according to the top U.S. military intelligence official.
North Korea is “no longer willing to negotiate over eliminating its nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday.
While Kim’s threats of missile launches and nuclear tests “leave North Korea more isolated economically and diplomatically, we believe North Korea’s intent ultimately is to convince the United States of the futility of continued sanctions and force the U.S. back to negotiations on terms more favorable to North Korea,” Flynn wrote in a statement released at the hearing.
Flynn’s testimony came a day after Secretary of State John Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the U.S. won’t “come to the table” for negotiations “without some pretty ironclad concept on how we’re going forward on the denuclearization.”
The DIA chief wrote that North Korea is “convinced of its need to possess nuclear weapons as a guarantor of its national security,” and “is more likely now to push for negotiations over security guarantees, a peace treaty and elimination of economic sanctions.”
Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday that Kim has been emboldened because he doesn’t expect China to react strongly to his actions.
“One of the calculations I know that has been in Kim Jong Un’s mind is that he can kind of do this and get away with it because he doesn’t believe China will crack down on him,” Kerry said.
Kerry, who met with Chinese leaders on April 13 to push for greater efforts to restrain North Korea, said the government in Beijing doesn’t want “a war on their doorstep or a completely destabilized” Korean peninsula.
“The best way to avoid that, needless to say, is to move to change the dynamic,” Kerry said yesterday. “No country has as much leverage with North Korea as China.”
Kim, who took power after his father died in December 2011, is a charismatic leader who is unlikely to risk a conflict that threatens the regime’s survival, according to Flynn.
“North Korea’s large, forward-positioned military can attack South Korea with little or no warning, but it suffers from logistics shortages, aging equipment and poor training,” Flynn wrote. “Pyongyang likely knows it cannot reunite the Korean Peninsula by force and is unlikely to attack on a scale that would risk the survival of its regime.”
The North and South were divided 60 years ago by the armistice that suspended the Korean War.
North Korea said this week the U.S. must remove all its nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula and end joint military exercises with South Korea before it will agree to talks, laying out conditions the U.S. has already rejected. The U.S. removed its nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991.
Kim “possesses a charisma that his father did not and is depicted as a caring but firm leader, much in the image of his grandfather,” Flynn said.
Kim’s regime “will likely seek international recognition as a nuclear power,” Flynn said.
Kim appears to feel “maybe more intensely than his father” that nuclear weapons are “the key to their survival,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate armed services panel.
Region on Edge
The official Korean Central News Agency, citing a statement from the National Defense Commission, said the U.S. and South Korea are to blame for increased tensions in the region and must apologize for their provocations. Kim’s regime said negotiations are possible only after North Korea has enough nuclear weapons to deter an attack.
The region has been on edge since North Korea tested an atomic weapon in February, then said annual U.S.-South Korean drills that began last month have brought the peninsula to the brink of war. U.S. President Barack Obama this week said that while he hoped North Korea would return to the bargaining table, he refused to reward its “provocative behavior.”
Navy Admiral Samuel Locklear, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, told Congress April 9 that Kim is “more unpredictable” than his late father, Kim Jong Il, and that “it’s not clear to me that he has thought through how to get out of” the cycle of provocations.
“This is what makes this scenario, I think, particularly challenging,” Locklear said.
Kim’s government last month threatened preemptive nuclear strikes against South Korea and the American mainland, which would require an ability to launch a nuclear missile that Obama on April 16 said North Korea doesn’t have.
Negotiations can’t take place until the United Nations removes sanctions and no preconditions are made to give up its “sovereign right” to develop nuclear capabilities for self-defense, KCNA said.