America's top intelligence official says North Korea will not give up its nuclear arsenal
Director James Clapper also touched on Russian cyber-attacks and the idea of a no fly-zone for Syria
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Tuesday it’s a “lost cause” to try to get North Korea to surrender its nuclear weapons – a view that runs counter to official US policy.
“They are not going to do that,” Clapper said in remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, where he touched on a number of foreign policy challenges facing the US – including a scenario under which the Russians might try to down American fighter plans in Syria.
“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,” Clapper added. “The best we could probably hope for is some sort of a cap.”
The North Korean regime views its nuclear program as “their ticket to survival,” the intel director said.
Asked about Clapper’s comments by CNN’s Elise Labott, a spokesman for the State Department said the official US position on the denuclearization of North Korea had not changed.
“Our policy objective is to seek, to obtain, a verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday.
“We’re still committed to that process, so I can’t speak for the director’s comments, haven’t seen them, but if you are asking me as a result of the quotes you read if our policy has changed with respect to (North Korea), the answer is no,” Kirby added.
While Clapper said there is no hard evidence the North Korean regime could strike the US with a nuclear-tipped missile, he added that the intelligence community still believes that Pyongyang has the “capability to launch a missile and have a weapon on it that could reach parts of the United States, Alaska and Hawaii.”
Clapper also expressed concern that Russian anti-aircraft weapons could make a potential US-enforced no-fly zone in Syria dangerous for American personnel.
“I do take seriously the very sophisticated air-defense system and coverage that the Russians have, and I think I wouldn’t put it past them to shoot down an American aircraft if they felt that was threatening to their forces on the ground,” Clapper said.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence have expressed some support for a no-fly zone, which would be aimed at deterring the Syrian and Russian governments from carrying out airstrikes in populated areas, like Aleppo.
The Russians reportedly deployed an advanced SA-23 anti-missile and anti-aircraft system to Syria earlier this month.
“The system is very advanced and capable. I don’t think they would deploy it if they didn’t intend to use it,” Clapper added.
In addition, Clapper was asked about recent cyberattacks against the US and his office’s attribution of the hacking to the Russian government.
But Clapper warned against retaliating via US cyberattacks on Russia, as Vice President Joe Biden recently suggested was possible course of action.
“Given the tremendous dependence of this nation on the cyber domain, we have to think twice, I think, and be very cautious, I think, about retaliating in a cyber way,” Clapper said.
Elise Labott contributed to this report