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.
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.
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.