Former CIA Director Robert Gates: North Korean Leader ‘Serious’ About Dismantling Nuclear Program

By Melanie Arter | May 14, 2018 | 12:09pm EDT
Former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Robert Gates (Screenshot)

( – Former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Robert Gates told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he thinks North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is “serious” about dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program.

“I think he's serious about this. I think he sees an opportunity, as do we,” Brennan said. “I think the president's tough talk and the willingness of the Chinese and the Russians to agree to the toughest sanctions we've ever really applied to North Korea certainly increased the pressure on the North Koreans to come to the table.

“But I think he also feels that he's at a point with his nuclear program and his ballistic missile program that he can, at least for some period of time, go without testing and test the U.S. administration and see what might happen,” Gates said.

“Yes, I think it's very complicated. They have a nuclear enterprise that is dramatically larger than Iran's, miles and miles of tunnels, multiple sites, existing nuclear weapons. So getting to genuine denuclearization will be a very complicated process,” he added.

Gates has raised concerns about President Donald Trump’s unpredictability in the past, CBS host Margaret Brennan pointed out. She asked whether Gates sees that as an asset in the case of dealing with North Korea.

“I think that the unpredictability in terms of some of the tweets and some of the tough talk did get the attention of the North Koreans and the Chinese as well in terms of fire and fury and so on,” Gates said.

“You know, my view is generally that tactical unpredictability is good, and as an asset, strategic unpredictability is probably not a good idea for a great power,” he said.

Gates said it’s “not clear yet” whether Trump’s unpredictability is tactical or strategic.

As to what the president is able to offer as an incentive for Kim Jong-Un to negotiate away his weapons, Gates said, “Actually, I think the president goes in with a lot of cards to play. A peace treaty, diplomatic recognition, a guarantee that the United States would not try and overthrow the regime by force, the whole panoply of economic sanction that have been put on. So he has a lot to negotiate with.”

Gates said Trump should seek approval from Congress if he gets something in hand from North Korea.

“I think he should. If you just do these things by executive agreement, first of all, that doesn't make it the law of the land for the next president. The next president, with the stroke of a pen, can overturn it just as President Trump has done with the Iran deal,” Gates said.

Gates said the benchmark is at least what was negotiated in the Iran deal, and Trump needs to go beyond that.

“It's at least that. When you have a program as expansive as the North's, you have to have any time, any place inspections. You have to have a huge number of inspectors that can go around the country and can observe destruction of facilities, who can monitor that they stay destroyed, that they aren't being rebuilt someplace else in secret,” he said.

“So the magnitude of the monitoring and the verification of any agreement would be, I think, an order of magnitude more complicated and bigger than is the case and has been the case in Iran,” Gates added.

Gates said the odds of immediate success are “very low,” but “the odds of getting something accomplished over a longer period of time and a kind of step-by-step approach, beginning with what the president has already gotten in terms of their willingness to talk and the cessation of the testing and so on.”

“Kim looks at the world and he sees that Gadhafi gave up his nuclear program. He's dead. His regime is gone. Saddam never had nuclear weapons. He's dead,” Gates added.


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