Asia Pacific / Politics

North Korea's Kim cites own children as reason to give up nukes: ex-CIA official

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

A former top CIA officer who took part in several meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has said that Kim had voiced his sincerity to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about giving up his nuclear weapons by citing the burden that they would be for his children, media reports said Friday.

Andrew Kim, who was head of the CIA’s Korea Mission Center and who helped bring about the June meeting in Singapore between U.S. President Donald Trump and the young North Korean leader, told the story during a speech at Stanford University on Friday.

Trump and Kim Jong Un are scheduled to meet for their second summit on Feb. 27-28 in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency and The Wall Street Journal both reported that the North Korean leader had made the comments during a visit to Pyongyang last April by Pompeo and others, including Andrew Kim.

When pressed by Pompeo if he is truly willing to abandon his nuclear program, Andrew Kim said the North Korean leader responded: ” ‘I’m a father and a husband. And I have children. And I don’t want my children to carry the nuclear weapon on their back their whole life.’ That was his answer.”

Kim Jong Un is believed to have three children, although this has never been confirmed.

Together with Pompeo, who was then the director of the CIA, Andrew Kim traveled several times last year to North Korea. He also coordinated with top officials in South Korea, where he was born, and delivered personal letters between Trump and Kim Jong Un.

His public remarks on Friday were his first since leaving government after he retired in December.

In the wake of the Singapore summit, Washington and Pyongyang have made little progress in narrowing the glaring gaps in their interpretations of the vaguely worded document that emerged from that meeting.

But in recent weeks there have been growing signs that the Trump administration and the Kim regime can find middle ground — including hints that both sides are willing to take a fresh look at their relationship — in what would be an extended denuclearization process.

Andrew Kim’s latest remarks, which predicted next week’s second summit would be more productive than the first, highlighted this apparent shift.

Now, “the stars kind of have lined up,” he said. “I have come to believe we have a great opportunity to engage with Pyongyang.”

Kim said he doesn’t believe the North Koreans were desperate in agreeing to talks. Rather, he said, they more likely wanted to deal with the Trump administration.

“They know that they have to strike a deal during one administration because they wait too long, they don’t know what’s going to happen after that,” he said, citing their experience in the 2000s with the transition between U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

“If Vice President Al Gore won at that election, (the U.S.) probably would have a diplomatic relationship with North Korea, but (when the) Bush administration came in, it became scrapped,” Kim was quoted as saying. “They all know this calculation and why they want to strike deal right now, they’re very focused on it. They probably have their own assessment that this is an administration they want to deal with.”

It remains unclear precisely what would constitute progress at the Hanoi summit, but both sides are widely expected to have to offer up at least some concessions. From the U.S. side, these could include establishing liaison offices or a limited easing of sanctions, such as allowing inter-Korean economic cooperation to resume.

It could also mean a so-called peace declaration, which, unlike a formal peace treaty, is a nonbinding document that would represent a symbolic end to the 1950-53 Korean War, which was halted only with an armistice.

According to Andrew Kim, the North has already signaled it is ready to put its Nyongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, the heart of its nuclear development and research, on the table for negotiations.

He said the Trump administration estimates that the site’s closure would “significantly reduce their capability to produce nuclear weapons.”

Critics, however, have said the facility is obsolete, and that the North almost certainly has other, hidden sites that could effectively perform the same tasks.

Still, the former CIA official said that closing the site and allowing inspections could be part of commensurate steps toward full denuclearization.

“I really believe this is all achievable if we do the negotiations right,” he said. “It will be a one step back, two steps forward process.”

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5