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N. Korea fears internal unrest more than foreign attacks: U.S. intelligence official

Diplomacy 03:00 February 05, 2021

By Byun Duk-kun

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 (Yonhap) -- North Korea is more concerned about possible calls for regime change from within than attacks from the outside, a U.S. intelligence official said Thursday, as a reason why the North may not give up its nuclear weapons in the near future.

Sydney Seiler, however, also noted the North Korean nuclear issue may be resolved once the issue of regime stability can be addressed.

Seiler is the national intelligence officer for North Korea at the National Intelligence Council, a government agency that supports and reports to the director of national intelligence.

"For me, the biggest dilemma we face with North Korea is understanding what threat it faces that has driven the nuclear program," he said in a webinar hosted by Georgetown University.

Seiler noted the North's own justification for its pursuit of nuclear capability is based on what it calls U.S. hostility -- "that if you don't have a nuclear weapon, the United States will overturn you" -- and that history has shown such U.S. hostility.

"Well, history has not shown that. Okay? That's not the lesson history, you know, has given North Korea," he said.

"Their biggest security concern is that their system is vulnerable to internal pressures for change, and that one day, unable to control those pressures, outside powers may see value in intervening," added Seiler.

The remarks from the top U.S. intelligence official on North Korea come amid a policy review to find the best ways to deal with North Korea.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the new Biden administration will review the country's entire policy and approach toward the North to make sure it is using the best tools available in dealing with Pyongyang, and to bring the North back to the dialogue table.

The North has been staying away from denuclearization talks since leader Kim Jong-un's second summit with Donald Trump in Hanoi ended without a deal.

The Hanoi meeting was held in February 2019, about eight months after Kim and the former U.S. president first met in Singapore in June 2018, when the North Korean leader committed to full denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in exchange for a security guarantee.

Seiler argued it may have not been a security guarantee that North Korea truly needed.

He said, "The conditions under which the North might consider denuclearization are the conditions under which it does not face these concerns about the frailty of their system."

"And what's so hard from our perspective is we can provide security guarantees. We can provide an end-to-war declaration. We can provide economic assistance. We can build light water reactors. There's a lot of things we can do. But these carrots really don't appeal to him because they don't address his fundamental concern," he added.

He said a guarantee for the security or safety of a regime can be "really difficult to address without North Korea itself changing" in a way that can provide a better future for its people.

Seiler noted it was hard to imagine North Korea changing in such a way in the near future but that it is still possible.

"That sounds very negative but it also leaves open the prospects that one day Kim will develop that confidence. It's hard to imagine that today, but never say never," he said at the webinar.


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