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NUCLEAR WEAPONS

North Korea plotting to keep arsenal

By Ellen Nakashima and Joby Warrick

The Washington Post

U.S. intelligence officials, citing newly obtained evidence, have concluded that North Korea does not intend to fully surrender its nuclear stockpile, and instead is considering ways to conceal the number of weapons it has and secret production facilities, according to U.S. officials.

The evidence, collected in the wake of the June 12 summit in Singapore, points to preparations to deceive the United States about the number of nuclear warheads in North Korea’s arsenal as well as the existence of undisclosed facilities used to make fissile material for nuclear bombs, the officials said.

The findings support a new, previously undisclosed Defense Intelligence Agency estimate that North Korea is unlikely to denuclearize.

The assessment stands in stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s exuberant comments following the summit, when he declared on Twitter that “there is no longer a nuclear threat” from North Korea. At a recent rally, he also said he had “great success’’ with Pyongyang.

Intelligence officials and many North Korea experts have generally taken a more cautious view, noting that leader Kim Jong Un’s vague commitment to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula is a near-echo of earlier pledges from North Korean leaders over the past two decades, even as they accelerated efforts to build nuclear weapons in secret.

The new intelligence, described by four officials who have seen it or received briefings, is based on material gathered in the weeks since the summit. The officials insisted on anonymity to discuss sensitive assessments about a country that has long been one of the most difficult targets for spy agencies to penetrate. Some aspects of the U.S. intelligence were reported Friday by NBC News.

Specifically, the DIA has concluded that North Korean officials are exploring ways to deceive Washington about the number of nuclear warheads, and missiles and the types and numbers of facilities they have, believing that the United States is not aware of the full range of their activities.

U.S. intelligence agencies have for at least a year believed that the number of warheads is about 65, as reported last year by The Washington Post. But North Korean officials are suggesting that they declare far fewer.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined requests for comment. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has acknowledged that it could take years to implement any agreement on eliminating North Korea’s nuclear stockpile, a hard-won asset that North Korean leaders regard as a guarantor of their survival. Asked by senators on Wednesday about the status of private talks with North Korean officials, he declined to offer specifics.

“I’m not prepared to talk about the details of the discussions that are taking place,” he said in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. “I think it would be inappropriate and, frankly, counterproductive to achieving the end state that we’re hoping to achieve.”

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