The Central Intelligence Agency is briefing President Donald Trump on the risks and opportunities of a limited attack on North Korea, its director suggested on Tuesday.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo would not discuss the “wisdom of a preemptive strike” on Pyongyang or its nuclear weapons program, he told an audience at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. But in rare public remarks, Pompeo portrayed North Korea as an urgent priority for the agency, and disclosed aspects of its role in setting back Kim Jong Un’s nuclear program during his first year at Langley.
Kim is a rational man, Pompeo said the CIA had assessed. But it’s less clear that Kim takes seriously the prospect of a U.S. attack, something that could blunder the world into a devastating nuclear conflict.
Pompeo would not answer if options exist for Trump to attack North Korea short of a nuclear war. Analysts warn a limited strike would lead to such a war should North Korea retaliate and prompt escalation. He indicated instead the administration was developing a range of options spanning from diplomacy to war, so Trump will not face a binary choice between inaction and potential nuclear devastation.
“We’re working to prepare a series of options to make sure that we can deliver a range of things so the president will have the full suite of possibilities. The president is intent on delivering this solution through diplomatic means,” Pompeo told AEI’s Marc Thiessen.
“We are equally at the same time ensuring that if we conclude that is not possible, that we present the president a range of options to achieve what is his stated intention,” Pompeo continued, which he later described as to “denuclearize permanently” North Korea, “that we’re gonna foreclose this risk.”
A former North Korean spy, Kim Hyon-hui, indicated to NBC News that Trump’s goal of denuclearizing a country that has been a nuclear state for over a decade is not achievable diplomatically: “North Korea won’t give up its nuclear weapons. They’re its lifeline.”
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Pompeo said he would “leave to others to address the capacity or the wisdom of a preemptive strike. From an intelligence perspective, we’re trying to ensure that all the various options that the president might want to consider are fully informed, that we understand what’s really going on and the risks associated with each of those decisions as best we can identify them for him.”
Trump has given reason to doubt Pompeo’s statement that he is looking to resolve the Korea nuclear crisis peacefully. In October, he said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was “wasting his time” attempting negotiations with Kim. After Tillerson stated publicly last month that he was willing to talk with North Korea without any precondition, the White House again shut him down. All that followed Trump’s infamous August declaration that North Korean provocations would be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
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