Speaking at the CIA Ethos & Profession of Intelligence conference, Yong Suk Lee, Deputy Assistant Director of the US Central Intelligence Agency's newly-created Korea Mission Center, said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is a "very rational actor" who doesn't want war with the US.
"The last person who wants conflict [on the Korean peninsula] is Kim Jong-un. He wants what all rulers want — to rule for a very long time and die peacefully in his own bed. Bluster and rhetoric aside, [he] has no interest in going toe to toe [with the US], but wants to come to some kind of big-power agreement with the US and remove US forces from the peninsula," Lee said of the 35-year-old ruler.
He went on to criticize the "tendency" in the US to underestimate the" conservatism" of governments, which he felt was "the greatest circuit-breaker in any kind of conflict."
Lee's comments stand in stark contrast to conception of the North Korean leader held by the US President Donald Trump.
Kim Jong Un of North Korea, who is obviously a madman who doesn't mind starving or killing his people, will be tested like never before!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 22, 2017
The North Korea expert is the first major US figure to challenge this tacit official line — and in doing so, indirectly contradict mainstream appraisals of the escalating tensions between Pyongyang and Washington.
On August 28, North Korea test-fired a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan's Hokkaido Island — the missile landed in waters beyond the island. Trump reacted in an official statement, saying Jong-Un's message was "loud and clear."
Lee's call for calm echoes that of Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia, who said in September the United Nations Security Council should present a diplomatic framework within which the concerned parties could negotiate a solution to the crisis.
Nebenzia also emphasized that introducing more sanctions, as suggested by some UN Security Council members, wouldn't help ease tensions — after all, North Korea's decision to conduct the test launch after the adoption of sanctions clearly demonstrates such measures aren't effective.