(CNSNews.com) – Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Tuesday it was “probably a lost cause” trying to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons capability. But a State Department spokesman said that was not the Obama administration’s position --denuclearization of the peninsula remains the goal.
“I think the notion of getting the North Koreans to denuclearize is probably a lost cause,” Clapper said at an event at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “They are not going to do that. That is their ticket to survival.”
Clapper said from Pyongyang’s perspective, “they are under siege and they are very paranoid. So the notion of giving up their nuclear capability, whatever it is, is a nonstarter with them.”
For eight years the administration has sought, intermittently, to get the North Koreans back to the table for “six-party talks,” a formula designed under President George W. Bush in a bid to resolve a nuclear standoff that dates back to the Clinton administration.
But not one round of the talks has been held since President Obama took office, and four of the regime’s five nuclear tests have been conducted during that period – in May 2009, February 2013, January 2016, and last month.
Asked about Clapper’s comments, State Department spokesman John Kirby said denuclearization of the peninsula remains the administration’s policy and goal.
“Nothing has changed about our policy with respect to the North and that we want to continue to see a verifiable denuclearization of the peninsula,” he told a briefing. “We want to see a return to the six-party talk process, and that means we need to see the North show a willingness and an ability to return to that process, which they haven’t done yet.”
Asked whether the administration’s shared Clapper’s assessment that getting Pyongyang to denuclearize is a lost cause, Kirby said, “that is not our position.”
“Our policy objective is to seek – to obtain a verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. That is the policy.”
In his CFR remarks, Clapper also expressed mild frustration that the U.S. has not taken better advantage of the Kim Jong-un regime’s aversion to outside information reaching the North Korean people.
“What does bother me a bit is that we don’t capitalize on our great weapon, which is information. And that’s something they worry about a lot,” he said.
Clapper said the regime went “nuts” when propaganda messages were broadcast across the demilitarized zone from giant loudspeaker systems inside South Korea, or when non-governmental organizations in the south distributed leaflets across the border.
“And so that is a great vulnerability that I don’t think we have exploited,” he said. “But right now we’re kind of stuck on our narrative, and they’re kind of stuck on theirs.”
The event host, CBS’ Charlie Rose, asked Clapper whether an Iran-type nuclear negotiation was feasible with the North Koreans.
“I don’t think so,” he replied.
The six-party talks process was established in 2003, in response to the discovery the year before that Pyongyang had for years been cheating on a 1994 denuclearization deal brokered by the Clinton administration, the “Agreed Framework.”
During the Bush administration the six governments – the U.S., South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and North Korea – held multiple rounds of talks, hosted by Beijing, with several purported breakthroughs.
But they stalled in late 2008, over disagreements over how to verify North Korea’s compliance with pledges to shutter its nuclear programs in return for U.S. and other foreign aid and diplomatic concessions.
No talks have been held since. The last promising development, the so-called “Leap Day deal” announced on February 29, 2012 – just two months after Kim Jong-un succeeded the late Kim Jong-il – quickly proved to be yet another letdown.
Obama’s last three State of the Union addresses, in 2014, 2015 and 2016, did not include a single reference to North Korea.
Early this year, Secretary of State John Kerry rejected a suggestion that the administration had not given the North Korean threat sufficient attention, because of other priorities like the Iran nuclear negotiations.
“North Korea has never been left unattended to, not for one day,” he told reporters on January 7, the day after Pyongyang carried out its fourth nuclear test.