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Hamish Macdonald is an NK News contributor and has previously worked at The Korea Herald and for the Australia Centre for Independent Journalism in Sydney.
North Korea is unlikely to fully give up its nuclear capabilities and is conducting ongoing activities inconsistent with full denuclearization, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Daniel Coats submitted to a U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Tuesday.
The comments were contained within a report submitted by Coats prior to the hearing, at which he was joined by the Directors of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), National Security Agency (NSA) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).
“Pyongyang has not conducted any nuclear-capable missile or nuclear tests in more than a year, has declared its support for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and has reversibly dismantled portions of its WMD infrastructure,” Coats said in the report.
“However, we continue to assess that North Korea is unlikely to give up all of its nuclear weapons and production capabilities, even as it seeks to negotiate partial denuclearization steps to obtain key U.S. and international concessions,” he added.
The report noted that while North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has indicated he is willing to work towards the “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula”, this contrasts with repeated assertions made over several years.
“North Korea has underscored its commitment to nuclear arms for years, including through an order to mass-produce weapons in 2018 and an earlier law—and constitutional change—that affirmed the country’s nuclear status,” the report said. “We continue to observe activity inconsistent with full denuclearization.”
The assessment was largely backed up by Coats’ colleague CIA Director Gina Haspel saying during the question portion of the session that the regime was committed to developing a long-range nuclear-armed missile that would “pose a direct threat” to the U.S. homeland.
Haspel did, however, add that it was positive that the DPRK was engaged in dialogue with the U.S., but that the ultimate goal was to lessen the threat by obtaining a full declaration and full dismantlement of the North Korean domestic WMD program.
Additionally, while it is engaged in negotiations, Coats added that he expects Pyongyang to continue attempts to counter U.S. efforts to pressure the government towards denuclearization but said: “that sanctions continue to pressure the North Korean regime”.
“North Korea will continue its efforts to mitigate the effects of the U.S.-led pressure campaign, most notably through diplomatic engagement, counterpressure against the sanctions regime, and direct sanctions evasion,” the report read.
These efforts include engaging South Korean leader Moon Jae-in multiple times, the report read,citing a sustained push to expand inter-Korean cooperation projects related to infrastructure.
“Kim has also sought to align the region against the U.S.-led pressure campaign in order to gain incremental sanctions relief, and North Korean statements have repeatedly indicated that some sanctions relief is necessary for additional diplomacy to occur,” he said, adding Kim had threatened to resume nuclear and missile testing should no progress be made.
In his January 1 address, Kim had said that should the U.S. not be forthcoming with concessions, the DPRK may be forced to pursue an unspecified “new path” for defending the country.
Coats, in his opening remarks, also identified the DPRK as one of the “big four” major global threats alongside China, Russia and Iran with the report identifying additional concerns regarding North Korea’s cyber, chemical and conventional weapon capabilities as well.
“North Korea poses a significant cyber threat to financial institutions, remains a cyber espionage threat, and retains the ability to conduct disruptive cyber attacks,” the report added.
“North Korea continues to use cyber capabilities to steal from financial institutions to generate revenue,” it read.
“Pyongyang’s cybercrime operations include attempts to steal more than $1.1 billion from financial institutions across the world—including a successful cyber heist of an estimated $81 million from the New York Federal Reserve account of Bangladesh’s central bank.”
The report reiterated the U.S. assertion that North Korea was responsible for the use of chemical weapons in recent years pointing directly to the assassination of Kim Jong Nam using the nerve agent VX at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in 2017.
“As a way to offset adversary military advantages, Kim Jong Un continues to pursue advanced conventional weapon programs and capabilities, including more accurate artillery and ballistic missile strike capabilities and UAVs,” it also added.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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