WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Weeks before a second summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the top US military commander for Asia on Tuesday echoed an intelligence assessment that North Korea is unlikely to give up all its nuclear weapons.
Although he expressed optimism about the Febuary 27-28 Hanoi summit in verbal testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Admiral Philip Davidson, head of the Indo-Pacific Command, expressed doubts about North Korean intentions in his written submission to the panel.
“USINDOPACOM’s assessment on North Korean denuclearisation is consistent with the Intelligence Community position. That is, we think it is unlikely that North Korea will give up all of its nuclear weapons or production capabilities, but seeks to negotiate partial denuclearisation in exchange for US and international concessions,” he said.
Last month, US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told Congress he believed it was unlikely North Korea would give up all its nuclear weapons and that it had continued activity inconsistent with pledges to denuclearise.
While Trump has cited North Korea halting its nuclear testing and no new missile launches in 15 months as proof of progress, a report by UN sanctions monitors has also cast doubt on Pyongyang’s intentions.
Pyongyang “is using civilian facilities, including airports, for ballistic missile assembly and testing with the goal of effectively preventing ‘decapitation’ strikes on a smaller number of identified nuclear and missile assembly and manufacturing sites,” the UN report said.
The White House declined comment on Adm Davidson’s remarks. A State Department spokeswoman said it remained confident the Singapore summit commitments would be fulfilled, and added: “It is Chairman Kim’s commitment to denuclearisation upon which the world is focused.”
Adm Davidson said tensions with North Korea had declined since it halted nuclear and missile testing in 2017 and that it had taken some denuclearisation steps, most notably the destruction of tunnels at it nuclear test site.
However, he said that action was reversible and added: “Much needs to be done to make meaningful progress.”
Adm Davidson also noted that North Korea had demanded “corresponding” US steps and that Mr Kim had warned in a New Year speech of a potential “new path,” which could indicate an eventual return to weapons testing, if he was not satisfied with the negotiations.
Mr Kim pledged in Singapore to work toward denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and in September expressed willingness to permanently dismantle facilities at his country’s main nuclear site of Yongbyon – in return for corresponding US moves.
US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun held three days of talks in Pyongyang last week to prepare for the second summit, which he said would include discussion of such corresponding steps.