With the proposed June 12 summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the balance, the Pentagon has made public a damning assessment of Kim's regime that concludes its primary function is to ensure "perpetual Kim family rule" at the expense of the well-being of the North Korean people.
The report differs from Trump's public assessment of Kim. Last year the President dubbed him "Little Rocket Man" but in recent weaks he has been effusive in his praise for the North Korean leader, calling him "very open and I think very honorable." The report also makes clear the obstacles Trump faces in convincing Kim to give up his nuclear weapons program, which Kim sees as key to maintaining his grip on power.
The Pentagon study on military and security developments in North Korea is mandated by Congress, and the latest version was completed before Trump agreed to meet with Kim. Nonetheless it provides the latest detailed public assessment from the Trump administration of Kim's weapons program and his potential motivations for maintaining power in advance of a potential summit.
The assessment concludes that Kim's regime "seeks to maintain control over a populace that is decreasingly reliant on it. ... North Korea's primary strategic goal is a perpetual Kim family rule via the simultaneous development of its economy and nuclear weapons program."
The Pentagon says the Kim regime "no longer provides basic goods and services outside the capital and major cities," and relies on ideological intimidation to maintain order.
The report underscores the intelligence community's long-held view that Kim is primarily motivated by a desire to remain in power. "Eliminating perceived threats to the Kim family regime and a belief that North Korea it entitled to respect as a world power are the primary drivers of North Korea's security strategy," it says.
Regardless of Kim's current motivations for engaging in talks with the US, several defense officials tell CNN that the US military and intelligence community will keep collecting intelligence on the regime by continuing to use satellites to monitor weapons sites, flying aircraft near North Korean airspace to gather electronic intercepts and cooperating with US-backed operatives to gather whatever information it can on Kim and his close advisers.
"We cannot afford to stop," one defense official said about the need to continue watching for any strategic moves by North Korea that could indicate further development or testing of its missiles and nuclear warheads.
In one of the clearest examples of the US military and intelligence posture, even as North Korea this week makes a public display of shutting down its underground nuclear test site, US satellites are continuing to monitor to see if any new test sites may be emerging, one official with direct knowledge of the effort told CNN.
The intelligence community also continues to calculate how much time and equipment North Korea would need if it decides to launch a missile or conduct any other type of nuclear test. The last missile launch took place last year.
The Pentagon report also documents North Korea's cyber weapons efforts as well as its chemical and biological weapons program, which the US believes remains intact. It also notes that North Korea maintains a massive conventional weapons program. That arsenal is not part of the discussions with the Kim regime.
North Korea maintains significant artillery forces along the Demilitarized Zone that pose a direct threat to Seoul. In 2016 North Korea tested a new "close-range ballistic missile" called the KN-SS-X-9, which would give it the ability to reach as far as US Garrison Humphreys, the current location of the US 8th Army headquarters, about 40 miles south of Seoul.
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