One of the highest-ever ranked defectors from North Korea said Feb. 14, 2018 that Kim Jong Un is now engaging in diplomacy with South Korea because he fears a US military strike on North Korea.
"Kim Jong Un is afraid that the US will launch a preventative strike, and he is trying to buy time to complete his nuclear and missile programs," said Ri Jong Ho, Yonhap News Agency reported. Ri, who worked for three decades in the North Korean office responsible for raising funds for Kim, was speaking at a Wilson Center Forum in Washington.
According to Ri, not only are President Donald Trump's threats of military action having an effect on North Korea, the US's diplomatic efforts to lock Pyongyang out of international trade have also started to bite.
"Kim Jong Un is struggling under the strongest-yet sanctions and military and diplomatic pressure, so he is trying to improve the situation by putting on a false front," Ri said.
Ri, who defected in 2014, likely doesn't know the current thinking in Pyongyang, but may have knowledge of the economic situation before the sanctions. Ri's statements follow a handful of moves from the Trump administration that appeared to signal that they were on the verge of striking North Korea.
But Ri's statements also conjured up one of the US's worst fears in North Korea by suggesting that Kim did not legitimately want to pursue peace with South Korea, but rather that he wanted to use the ruse of diplomacy to buy time while he advances his nuclear program and continues to hold South Korean civilians at risk.
"Depending on the circumstances, North Korea could hold South Koreans hostage and continue its threatening provocations," Ri said.
Ri's thinking seems to agree with US Navy Adm. Harry Harris, who recently assumed command of the US military's Pacific and Asian theater of operation, PACOM.
Kim is "after reunification under a single communist system, so he is after what his grandfather failed to do and his father failed to do," Harris said, in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee.
But Kim's end game is irrelevant at the present. There's evidence that a US-led sanctions campaign has begun to work against the Kim regime, and North Korea could be hurting economically. Moves in Trump's inner circle seem to heavily suggest he's considering responding to future North Korean provocations with force.
No president before Trump has coordinated as great an international sanctions regime on North Korea, and none have so seriously offered up use of military force as an option.
In response, Kim has made the unprecedented move of agreeing to meet with a foreign head of state for the first time, and abandoned talk of preconditions beforehand, which some see as a concession.