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North Korea an 'increasing threat' despite charm offensive, warn top intelligence officials

CNBC International 2018-02-14 07:12:55

Sue-Lin Wong | Reuters Missiles are driven past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other high-ranking officials during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of North Korea's founding father, Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang, April 15, 2017.

North Korea won't give up its nukes and Americans shouldn't fall for the regime's recent charm offensive, top intelligence said Tuesday.

"North Korea continues to pose an ever-more increasing threat to the United States and its interests," Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats told a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's annual hearing on worldwide threats.

"Pyongyang has repeatedly stated that it does not intend to negotiate its nuclear weapons and missiles away," he added.

The North Koreans recently sent athletes and a delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea, which included the North's ceremonial head of state and the regime leader's only sister Kim Yo Jong. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un also invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to visit the communist country for a summit.

"We've all watched over the last week the smile campaign that North Korea has inflicted on the South Korean people," said Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

"The South Korean people seem to have been charmed to some degree, some of them seem to have been captivated by it," he added.

Regardless, U.S. intelligence officials testifying at the Senate hearing said Kim Jong Un still views nuclear weapons as key to his own survival in power.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Americans should remember that the North Korean leader's sister "is the head of the propaganda and agitation department."

Pompeo added: "There's no indication of any strategic change in the outlook for Kim Jong Un and his desire to retain his nuclear capacity to threaten the United States of America."

Coats agreed and said that the time to decide on how to respond to this nuclear threat is getting closer.

According to Coats, the North Korea's leader also sees having nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles in the country's arsenal as a way to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul, and ultimately dominate the Korean Peninsula.

Coats said that the long-range nuclear missile would pose a threat to the entire U.S., adding that even conventional weapons could be used to harm South Korea, Japan and U.S. targets in the region.

"In the wake of its ICBM tests last year, we expect to see North Korea press ahead with additional missile tests this year," Coats said, adding that the North also "threatened an atmospheric nuclear test over the Pacific."

North Korea's last nuclear test in September was its most powerful yet, and it also claimed to have miniaturized a nuclear warhead to fit on a ballistic missile.

Still, Coats said the administration is continuing to use a campaign of "maximum pressure on North Korea in various ways", and hopes for a peaceful resolution to the nuclear standoff.

Coats also spoke about threats from China, Russia and Iran but singled out North Korea as the "most volatile and confrontational" in terms of weapons of mass destruction in the coming year.

"In addition to its ballistic missile tests and growing number of nuclear warheads for these missiles, North Korea will continue its longstanding chemical and biological warfare programs," he said.

At the same time, Coats said he expects that "North Korea will continue to use cyber operations to raise funds, launch attacks and gather intelligence against the United States."

North Korea has showed that it has the capability to carry out massive cyber attacks, including stealing virtual currencies such as bitcoin, or using computer worms such as the so-called WannaCry attack. The country was also connected to the damaging hack attack on Sony Pictures in 2014.