Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the US is in a “much better place” after the summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“We’re in a much better place … where we’re on the diplomatic path, as opposed to where we were six or eight months ago,” Clapper told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday night.
Clapper said the change in the US approach to North Korea – particularly the end to a US policy against negotiating with the isolated nation until it had fully denuclearized – is a positive one.
Diplomacy is “the only real solution” to North Korea, Clapper said on “Anderson Cooper 360.”
Clapper said that when he had visited North Korea in 2014 as intelligence director, he saw the US’ and North Korea’s commitments to their established positions as problematic in the diplomatic process.
“It struck me how stuck on their narrative they were and how stuck we were on our narrative,” Clapper said, “and emblematic of that were the talking points that I was assigned to recite to the North Koreans, the first line of which was ‘You must denuclearize before we’ll talk to you.’”
“The only way this narrative was going to change was if the bigger partner, meaning the United States, changed it, and President Trump, I think to his credit, has done that,” he said.
However, Clapper also cast doubt on Trump’s motives in negotiations.
“Kim Jong Un is not term limited, and he’s in it for the long game,” Clapper said, “and I think President Trump is more in it for the immediate self-gratification.”
Clapper also expressed concerns about Trump’s concession to Kim to end military exercises with South Korea, which Clapper said are important to defensive security cooperation in case North Korea invades South Korea.
He also noted his concerns about the lack of specific language on how the US and North Korea define denuclearization in the agreement that Trump and Kim signed.
“The winners were North Korea and China, particularly,” Clapper said, “the losers probably Republic of Korea and most certainly Japan.”
Clapper said that ultimately he was unsure what the outcome of the efforts at diplomacy with North Korea will be.
“The bottom line for me is … the devil is in the details, and to use a phrase of the President himself, ‘We’ll see what happens.’”
Since leaving office as the director of national intelligence, Clapper has been critical of the US approach to North Korea, and he has said he advocated different approaches with former President Barack Obama.
“I told President Obama in private that our stance on North Korea was flawed,” Clapper wrote in a New York Times opinion article. “That was a dead end, I told him, and merely ensured that no progress would be made.”