U.S. intelligence officials believe North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is rational, ambitious and is not likely to settle for simply using his country’s nuclear weapons program to stay in power.
“We do believe that Kim Jung Un, given these tool sets, would use them for things besides simply regime protection,” U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo warned Tuesday.
“Call it coercive, how Kim Jong Un is prepared to use these nuclear weapons,” Pompeo said, describing the North Korean leader’s ultimate goal as “reunification of the (Korean) Peninsula under his authority.”
Pompeo and other intelligence officials have said repeatedly that Pyongyang is likely just months away from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear armed missile.
But speaking at an event hosted in Washington by the conservative research group the American Enterprise Institute, Pompeo cautioned that the North Korean leader is bent on presenting the world with an even greater threat.
“The logical next step would be to develop an arsenal of weapons ... the capacity to deliver from multiple firings of these missiles simultaneously,” Pompeo said.
U.S. officials say President Donald Trump is focused on pursuing a diplomatic solution to the North Korean crisis, though defense and intelligence officials have also said all options are on the table to prevent North Korea from using nuclear weapons.
Pompeo Tuesday refused to answer questions about whether there are any viable options for limited strikes to take out Pyongyang's weapon sites, saying only, “We are working to prepare a series of options to make sure we can deliver a range of things so that the president will have the full sweep of possibilities.”
The CIA director also praised his agency for improving its reach and insights into North Korea over the past year, though he said more work needed to be done.
“We’re not quite where we need to be,” Pompeo said. “We are still suffering from having gaps.”
Among the gaps, Pompeo said, was the ability to gauge the impact sanctions on the North Korean regime.
Pyongyang has aggressively developed its nuclear and ballistic missile weapons programs in defiance of numerous international sanctions.
A number of countries and international organizations have imposed a variety of financial and trade sanctions against Pyongyang, including China's decision to restrict oil and coal supplies to the country.
North Korea relies on imported fuel to keep its struggling economy afloat. Oil is also required for its intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear program.
And even if the sanctions are making an impact, there are ongoing concerns that Kim Jong Un may not fully understand the Trump administration's resolve.
“We're concerned that he may not be getting really good accurate information,” Pompeo said. “It is not a healthy thing to be a senior leader, bring bad news to Kim Jong-Un.”
“We're taking the real-world actions that we think would make unmistakable to Kim Jong-Un that we are intent on denuclearization. We were counting on the fact that he will see it,” Pompeo said.