Former CIA Analyst: 'We Are Smoking Something' if We Think North Korea Denuclearization Is Achievable

NEW YORK, June 19, 2017 — Former CIA analyst and Deputy Intelligence Officer in the U.S. National Security Council Sue Mi Terry discusses her recent informal discussions with North Korean officials and why they repeatedly emphasize that giving up their nuclear weapons development is "completely off the table." (2 min., 53 sec.)

A former CIA analyst and deputy intelligence officer in the U.S. National Security Council says that informal talks with North Korean officials in Sweden earlier this month have made her even more pessimistic about the possibility of the Asian country ever giving up its nuclear program.

“They emphasize over and over: Denuclearization is completely off the table,” said Sue Mi Terry, currently managing director for Korea at Bower Group Asia, while speaking at Asia Society in New York on Monday. “We are smoking something if we think this is something that is achievable.”

The talks, reportedly attended by scholars and current and former government officials from South and North Korea, the United States, and China were held in Stockholm between May 31 and June 2.

Terry said that North Korean officials were open to discussing a peace treaty, but denuclearization was not even up for discussion. “They emphasized that they are so close to completing the nuclear program, so close to perfecting this nuclear arsenal,” she said. “Then they predictably gave us the example of Libya and Iraq and said, ‘Of course from our perspective, this is the only means of regime survival.’”

Terry noted that this means there are only two realistic options for the U.S. going forward: “Learning to live with” a nuclear North Korea by focusing on deterrence measures, or military intervention. She added that the North Korean officials at the meeting were not interested in including South Korea in any peace negotiations. “The U.S. is our counterpart,” she recalled them saying. “South Korea, you are a puppet of the United States and we don't even need to have you in this discussion.”

Also speaking at the event, Senior Fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute and former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel called North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile development “a pretty conventional shakedown” aimed at convincing the U.S. to “buy off” the country. “Wouldn't we rather have a period of quiet, even if their centrifuges are spinning in the background?” Russel said. “Even if their technology continued to advance, at least there wouldn't be these explosive nuclear detonations or missile launches. This is [Kim Jong Un’s] gambit.”

Russel added that no U.S. president would accept North Korea as a legitimate nuclear state and that the international community needs to create a set of circumstances in which Kim is forced to conclude that his approach isn’t working and his rule is in greater danger with nuclear weapons than without them. “Nothing that he is doing is weakening the U.S.-ROK alliance, in fact it's strengthening [it] and the U.S.-Japan alliance and increasing trilateral coordination and infuriating China to boot,” Russel noted. “This is not a tenable proposition and time is not on his side.”

Also at the event, Chung-in Moon, a special advisor to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, addressed recent controversial remarks he made saying that that South Korea and the United States may “scale down” joint military exercises if North Korea suspends its nuclear and missile development activities. “We need to come up with some incentive so we can make North Korea change its provocative behavior,” he said. “But [the] conservative public in South Korea is not really [accepting of] the idea.”

South Korea’s presidential office has since distanced itself from Moon’s remarks, saying they do not reflect the president’s position. “I do not speak for the government,” Moon noted at the Asia Society event. “I speak for myself … I can give my opinions to the president — whether he takes it or not is up to him.”

In the above video clip, Terry discusses her meetings with North Korean officials. Watch the complete program in the video below.

NEW YORK, June 19, 2017 — Chung-in Moon, Daniel Russel, and Sue Mi Terry discuss what the future holds for the U.S.-Korea alliance, the Korean Peninsula, and the security of Northeast Asia. The conversation was moderated by Barbara Demick with opening remarks by Ro-Myung Gong. (1 hr., 25 min.)

About the Author

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Eric Fish was a Content Producer at Asia Society New York and is author of the book China's Millennials: The Want Generation.