Trump says “tremendous progress” is being made on North Korea. Not everyone thinks so.

Assessments from senior U.S. officials are at odds with the White House.
February 1, 2019, 8:15am
north korea
Getty Images

The U.S. special envoy to North Korea warned Thursday that “contingencies” have been put in place should diplomacy with Pyongyang fail.

This came two days after the U.S. Director of National Intelligence said “it is unlikely” the regime will give up its nuclear weapons.

Both assessments from senior U.S. officials are at odds with the "tremendous progress" Trump claimed he was making Thursday with the rogue state.


The muddled messaging, possibly a product of Trump’s willingness to ignore intelligence assessments in order to claim a foreign policy win, comes ahead of his second summit with Kim Jong Un later this month.

Laying out the current situation, special envoy Stephen Biegun said that Trump “was ready to end this war” and that Pyongyang had told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in October that it was willing to destroy all its nuclear material enrichment facilities.

But he warned that economic sanctions could only be lifted if North Korea provides details of its nuclear program — a concession the regime has been unwilling to make.

"Before the process of denuclearization can be final, we must also have a complete understanding of the full extent of the North Korean weapons of mass destruction missile programs. We will get that at some point through a comprehensive declaration," Biegun said during a speech at Stanford University.

He added that should Trump’s diplomacy fail, the U.S. had “contingencies” in place, but did not expand on what that entails. It doesn’t however include an invasion.

“We are not seeking to topple the regime,” Biegun said.

North Korea has in the past balked at the suggestion of laying out its nuclear capabilities, claiming it would give the U.S. a ready list of targets to destroy.

In the Oval Office Thursday, Trump gave his own update on North Korea, saying he will announce the date and time of the second summit with Kim early next week, adding that “tremendous progress” was being made — without giving specifics.


At their first meeting in Singapore in June, Trump and Kim signed a vague declaration to work towards denuclearization.

Trump also held a meeting with his intelligence chiefs Thursday, tweeting a picture claiming they were “very much in agreement” with the president over the situation in North Korea.

Among those at the meeting was Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, who on Tuesday laid out a very different assessment of progress made. He told the Senate Intelligence Committee that North Korea is “unlikely to give up all of its” weapons of mass destruction as “North Korean leaders view nuclear arms as critical to regime survival.”

“We continue to observe activity inconsistent with full denuclearization, “ he said.

“In addition, North Korea has for years underscored its commitment to nuclear arms, including through an order in 2018 to mass-produce weapons and an earlier law — and constitutional change — affirming the country’s nuclear status.”

READ: South Korea supplied oil to North Korea and didn’t tell anyone

A day later Trump lashed out at Coats and his fellow intel chiefs on Twitter, saying there was a “decent chance of denuclearization,” advising them that “perhaps intelligence should go back to school.”

Trump now claims Coats comments were “mischaracterized by the media” even though the transcript and video of the testimony are on the committee’s own website and was used extensively in media reports.

When asked by journalists in the Oval Office, Trump did not provide examples of where the comments were mischaracterized.

Cover Image: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, in the Oval Office at the White House on January 31, 2019 in Washington, DC.(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)