Flashpoints

Pentagon report: Nukes are central to North Korea strategy

WASHINGTON — A Pentagon report to Congress says North Korea sees nuclear weapons as central to its security, an assessment that would seem to complicate President Donald Trump’s effort to persuade the North’s dictator, Kim Jong Un, to give them up.

The report was delivered to Congress in April, one month after Trump agreed to meet Kim to discuss the North’s denuclearization. It was based on the Pentagon’s analysis of North Korea’s military capabilities and strategies through 2017, when it was widely believed in the U.S. government that Kim had no intention of surrendering his nuclear weapons.

Hope for defusing a longstanding nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula was raised in March when South Korean officials said Kim was open to negotiations over his nuclear weapons and Trump agreed to meet Kim. The outlook has grown cloudier in recent days, and Trump told reporters during an Oval Office appearance Tuesday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in that his planned meeting with Kim on June 12 in Singapore could be delayed.

President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-In in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, May 22, 2018, in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP)
Trump suggests summit with Kim Jong Un could be delayed

President Donald Trump suggested Tuesday that a planned historic meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un could be delayed. He said, “There’s a very substantial chance that it won’t work out” for June 12.

Without referring to the Pentagon report, Trump touched on one of its main points, that the North sees nuclear weapons as a means of ensuring its survival and perpetuating the rule of the Kim family dynasty. Trump was asked by a reporter whether the U.S. would “guarantee the safety” of the Kim regime if it were to relinquish its nuclear weapons.

“I will guarantee his safety, yes,” Trump said. He did not say how he would do that. “He will be safe. He will be happy. His country will be rich.”

A copy of the Pentagon report was posted Tuesday by Steven Aftergood on his Secrecy News blog. Later in the day the Pentagon made it available on its website. It was first reported by Bloomberg News.

In this April 21, 2018, file photo, people watch a TV screen showing an image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea. The signs read:
Road to North Korea’s denuclearization is littered with failure

While Seoul and Washington welcomed Pyongyang’s declaration on Saturday to suspend further intercontinental ballistic missile tests and shut down its nuclear test site, the past is littered with failure.

The report offers little suggestion that the Pentagon anticipated a circumstance in which North would consider giving up its nuclear weapons. It says the North ultimately seeks the capability to strike the continental U.S. with a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, and that nuclear weapons are central to its strategic calculus.

“Pyongyang portrays nuclear weapons as its most effective way to deter the threat from the United States,” it says. “However, regime propaganda began emphasizing ‘final victory’ over the United States and Republic of Korea in 2017, suggesting Kim Jong Un has larger ambitions, including use of nuclear weapons to deter interference if it attempts to reunify the Korean Peninsula.”

The Republic of Korea is the official name of U.S.-allied South Korea.

The report called perpetuation of the Kim dynasty the “primary strategic goal” of North Korea.

The North’s goals and motives have come under closer scrutiny since Kim began a peace offensive this year. He announced in April he was suspending nuclear tests and ICBM launches. Earlier this month North Korea said that it will dismantle its northeastern Punggye-ri nuclear test site between May 23 and 25 in the presence of international media.

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