US intelligence officials have concluded, based on intelligence gathered since the US-North Korean summit on June 12, that North Korea is preparing to deceive the US on its plans to denuclearize, including concealing secret production sites and not giving up its nuclear stockpile, the Washington Post reports.
The evidence, collected in the wake of the June 12 summit in Singapore, points to preparations to deceive the United States about the number of nuclear warheads in North Korea’s arsenal as well as the existence of undisclosed facilities used to make fissile material for nuclear bombs, the officials said.
The findings support a new, previously undisclosed Defense Intelligence Agency estimate that North Korea is unlikely to denuclearize.
The assessment stands in stark contrast to President Trump’s exuberant comments following the summit, when he declared on Twitter that “there is no longer a nuclear threat” from North Korea. At a recent rally, he also said he had “great success’’ with Pyongyang.
North Korea experts and US intelligence officials note that the denuclearization promises Kim Jong Un made to President Trump are a repeat of assurances made for the last twenty years as North Korea continued to secretly advance their nuclear program. US officials also acknowledge that any confident statement that North Korea has been neutralized as a threat could only come after years of work and access for inspectors. There is no evidence Un is sincere, the Washington Post notes.
“North Korea has made no new commitments to denuclearization, and in fact has backed away from its previous commitments,” Abraham M. Denmark, Asia Program director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told a House committee in late June.
“North Korea remains free to manufacture more nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction — even though it has unilaterally frozen testing of its nuclear weapons and certain ballistic missiles,” he said. “There is no deadline for them to eliminate their illegal capabilities, or even freeze their continued production.”
NBC has reported further on the intelligence assessment, pointing out the imbalance of concessions resulting from the summit.
In recent months, even as the two sides engaged in diplomacy, North Korea was stepping up its production of enriched uranium for nuclear weapons, five U.S. officials say, citing the latest intelligence assessment. North Korea and the U.S. agreed at the summit to “work toward” denuclearization, but there is no specific deal. On Trump’s order, the U.S. military canceled training exercises on the Korean peninsula, a major concession to Kim.
While the North Koreans have stopped missile and nuclear tests, “there’s no evidence that they are decreasing stockpiles, or that they have stopped their production,” said one U.S. official briefed on the latest intelligence. “There is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the U.S.”
The recent intelligence report concludes there is more than one secret nuclear site in North Korea, a belief long held by the US but only recently made possible to determine as surveillance capabilities have advanced, according to NBC. The North Koreans have acknowledged the Yongbyon facility. In 2010, the US discovered a second site which has twice the enrichment capabilities as Yongbyon. In spite of the public show North Korea provided when it destroyed its main production site in June, there has been little or no indication other sites which support the production of nuclear weapons will be dismantled. A report by 38north.org, a website devoted to providing analysis of North Korea, shows that the country is making upgrades to its Yongbyon facility.
The Washington Post points out the concern North Korea experts have about the juxtaposition of the sobering intelligence assessment and President Trump’s tweet declaring North Korea is no longer a threat.
North Korea expert David Albright, a former United Nations weapons inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said the assessments come at a time when “there’s a worry that the Trump administration may go soft, and accept a deal that focuses on Yongbyon and forgets about these other sites.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testified in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday and stated that the President meant that the North Korean threat “had been reduced” when he tweeted that it had been eliminated.
The White House did not respond to a request for a comment from NBC but one senior intelligence official says that the talks between the two countries is a positive development and the suspension of nuclear and missile tests was welcome. Still, the official admits that the intelligence community is expecting Kim Jong Un to deceive the US. “Work is ongoing to deceive us on the number of facilities, the number of weapons, the number of missiles,” he said. “We are watching closely.”
Why It Matters
Diplomacy, particularly with the likes of such an intransigent dictator as Kim Jong Un has demonstrated himself to be, requires painstaking and tedious effort. It is not flashy. It does not provide immediate gratification. Accomplishments take years, decades even. It is the stuff of legacy, not tweets.
For a US president to enter into talks of such consequence with no serious preparation beforehand, make huge concessions to a murderous dictator, then come home and declare that murderous dictator no longer a threat is tantamount to malpractice.
At best, the long standing impasse with North Korea will simply continue unabated as it has for decades. At worst, a murderous regime has been empowered and given legitimacy on the world stage by a president who is more fit to play the tough guy in a reality show. Time will tell but this seems like a moment in time where Reagan’s “trust but verify” standard would be a wise position for Republicans who support Donald Trump to insist on.