US in­tel­li­gence chiefs con­tra­dict Trump on N. Korea, Iran, IS threats

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY JU­LIAN E. BARNES AND DAVID E. SANGER

WASH­ING­TON

A new U.S. in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ment of global threats has con­cluded that North Korea is “un­likely to give up” all of its nu­clear stock­piles and that Iran is not “cur­rently un­der­tak­ing the key nu­clear weapons-de­vel­op­ment ac­tiv­ity” needed to make a bomb, di­rectly con­tra­dict­ing two top tenets of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s for­eign pol­icy.

Dan Coats, the direc­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence, also chal­lenged Trump’s in­sis­tence that the Is­lamic State group had been de­feated, a key ra­tio­nale for his de­ci­sion to exit from Syria. The ter­ror­ist group, the an­nual “World­wide Threat As- sess­ment” re­port to Congress con­cluded, “still com­mands thou­sands of fight­ers in Iraq and Syria,” and main­tains eight branches and a dozen net­works around the world.

Trump is ex­pected to meet next month with Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, in a sec­ond round of di­rect nego-

tia­tions aimed at rid­ding Py­ongyang of its nu­clear weapons.

But Coats told the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee on Tues­day that “we cur­rently as­sess North Korea will seek to re­tain its WMD ca­pa­bil­ity and is un­likely to com­pletely give up its nu­clear weapons and pro­duc­tion ca­pa­bil­ity.”

“Its lead­ers ul­ti­mately view nu­clear weapons as crit­i­cal to regime sur­vival,” Coats said.

Gina Haspel, the CIA direc­tor, said the North Korean gov­ern­ment “is com­mit­ted to de­vel­op­ing a long-range nu­cle­ar­armed mis­sile that would pose a di­rect threat to the United States.”

Un­der ques­tion­ing by Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris, DCalif., Haspel said it was en­cour­ag­ing that North Korea had en­gaged in di­a­logue with the United States. But, she said, ul­ti­mately the diplo­matic ob­jec­tive had to be to per­suade Py­ongyang to fully dis­close its pro­gram and dis­man­tle its weapons.

For­mer in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials have ex­pressed a degree of skep­ti­cism about the up­com­ing meet- ing, given the rel­a­tively mod­est steps North Korea has taken to­ward throt­tling back its nu­clear pro­gram.

On Iran, Coats cited the na­tion’s con­tin­ued sup­port of ter­ror­ism in Europe and the Mid­dle East, in­clud­ing spon­sor­ing Houthis in Ye­men and Shi­ite mil­i­tants in Iraq. He also said that he be­lieved that Iran hard-lin­ers would con­tinue to chal­lenge cen­trist ri­vals.

“We do not be­lieve Iran is cur­rently un­der­tak­ing the key ac­tiv­i­ties we judge nec­es­sary to pro­duce a nu­clear de­vice,” Coats said, but he added that Ira­nian of­fi­cials have “pub­licly threat­ened to push the bound­aries” of the nu­clear deal it struck with world pow­ers in 2015 if it did not see the ben­e­fits it ex­pected.

Trump with­drew the United States from that agree­ment last year. He called it “defective at its core” and said if the deal re­mained in place, Iran would “be on the cusp of ac­quir­ing the world’s most dan­ger­ous weapons.” The agree­ment still stands, largely with sup­port from Euro­pean cap­i­tals.

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