By Patricia Zengerle and Doina Chiacu
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea is unlikely to give up all of its nuclear weapons and has continued activity inconsistent with pledges to denuclearize, U.S. national intelligence chief Dan Coats said on Tuesday, apparently contradicting President Donald Trump’s claims of big progress with Pyongyang.
The director of national intelligence’s downbeat assessment, in testimony before a Senate committee, came just weeks ahead of a planned second summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The American president is hoping for a big foreign policy win from the meeting.
The annual Worldwide Threat Assessment from the Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI), released by Coats, noted that North Korea had not conducted any nuclear or missile tests in over a year and had declared its support for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Pyongyang had also “reversibly dismantled” parts of its infrastructure for weapons of mass destruction, the report said.
“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,” it said.
“Our assessment is bolstered by our observations of some activity that is inconsistent with full denuclearization,” Coats told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, adding that North Korean leaders saw nuclear arms as critical to survival of the regime.
The DNI report said that in his 2019 New Year’s address, Kim pledged that North Korea would “go toward” complete denuclearization and promised not to make, test, use, or proliferate nuclear weapons.
However, it said Kim conditioned progress on “practical actions” by the United States and added that Pyongyang had in the past tied the idea of denuclearization to changes in diplomatic ties, economic sanctions, and military activities.
A landmark first summit between Trump and Kim in Singapore in June produced a promise by Kim to work toward the complete denuclearization of the divided Korean Peninsula. But progress has been scant.
Washington has demanded concrete action, such as a full disclosure of North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities. Pyongyang is seeking a lifting of international sanctions and an official end to the 1950-53 Korean War that ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.
The White House has said Trump will hold a second summit with Kim around the end of February, but economic sanctions will be maintained.
On Jan. 19 Trump said he had had “an incredible” meeting with North Korea’s nuclear envoy Kim Yong Chol in Washington and the two sides had made “a lot of progress” on denuclearization.
Earlier Tuesday, North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Han Tae Song, said relations with the United States would develop “wonderfully at a fast pace” if Washington responded to Pyongyang’s efforts on denuclearization with trustworthy measures and practical actions.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Patricia Zengerle and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Frances Kerry)