CIA Labels North Korea's Kim Jong-un a "Very Rational Actor"

A top CIA official called North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un a “very rational actor” who doesn’t want a war with the United States“The last person who wants conflict on the [Korean peninsula] is Kim Jong-un,” Yong Suk Lee, the deputy assistant director of the CIA’s newly created Korea Mission Center, told a Washington audience Wednesday. …

“We have a tendency in this country and everywhere else to kind of underestimate the conservatism that runs in these authoritarian regimes, and it’s probably the greatest circuit-breaker in any kind of conflict,” he said, adding that, all “bluster and rhetoric aside,” Mr. Kim has “no interest in going toe to toe” with the U.S. military and its allies. …

But the CIA’s Mr. Lee, speaking at he CIA Ethos & Profession of Intelligence conference, an annual event at George Washington University, said that Mr. Kim’s “long-term goal” is “to come to some kind of big-power agreement with the United States and remove U.S. forces from the peninsula.”

CIA Deputy Assistant Director for East Asia Michael Collins and Ambassador Joseph DeTrani, the former U.S. special envoy to talks on North Korea, agree with Mr. Lee that Pyongyang’s goal is not to launch such a missile at the U.S., but to achieve legitimacy and broader freedom of action on the Korean peninsula, where U.S. troops have been positioned in South Korea since the early 1950s.

The North Koreans “see the U.S. objective in the region as regime change [in Pyongyang], and they’re talking about survival,” said Mr. DeTrani. “They want to survive, and they feel with these nuclear weapons no one’s going to mess with them.

“Are they going to use [the weapons]?” he said. “No, they’re not suicidal.”

Mr. Collins said the North Korea crisis also is part of a larger strategic challenge for Washington — “the management of China’s rise in Asia.”