Trump directly contradicted by US intelligence chief on Iran and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions

Tom Barnes

A US intelligence chief has completely contradicted Donald Trump’s claims over the nuclear ambitions of both North Korea and Iran.

Pyongyang is unlikely to give up its nuclear capabilities, while Tehran is currently not engaging in activities necessary to produce nuclear weapons, national intelligence director Dan Coats concluded in his annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment”.

The findings of the report are in stark contrast to recent public statements made by the president on the situation in both countries.

Presenting his conclusions to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, Mr Coats said the US faced unique threats from each of the “big four” of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, including cyber warfare and weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

He warned that although Pyongyang had not conducted a nuclear test in more than a year, it had little intention of decommissioning its weapons stockpiles.

“We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival,” Mr Coats said.

“North Korea, we’re doing very well. And again, no rockets. There’s no rockets. There’s no anything. We’re doing very well.”

Donald Trump, 6 January 2019

“Our assessment is bolstered by observations of some activity that is inconsistent with full denuclearisation.”

The conclusions of the intelligence community appear to contradict Mr Trump’s assertions less than a month ago about how talks to denuclearise the Korean peninsula were progressing.

“North Korea, we’re doing very well. And again, no rockets. There’s no rockets. There’s no anything. We’re doing very well,” he told reporters at the White House on 6 January.

“I’ve indirectly spoken to Chairman Kim. And when I came here, this country was headed to war with North Korea. And now we have a very good dialogue going. Very good.”

Meanwhile, despite warning Iran could look to test the limits of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Mr Coats said Tehran was not currently working on the production of nuclear weapons.

“While we do not believe Iran currently is undertaking activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device, Iranian officials have publicly threatened to push the boundaries of JCPOA restrictions if Iran does not obtain the tangible financial benefits it expected from the deal,” he told the committee.

But, addressing the United Nations Security Council in September, Mr Trump painted a very different picture.

The president claimed he had pulled the US out of JCPOA, which seeks to limit Iran’s nuclear activities in return for relief from US, EU and UN sanctions, in May because Tehran was continuing with its atomic programme.

“[Iran] must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon,” Mr Trump said: “For this reason I announced earlier this year that the United States would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

“This horrible one-sided deal allowed Iran to continue its path towards a bomb and gave the regime a cash lifeline when they needed it most.”

Mr Coats also dispelled the president’s widely-rejected claim Isis militants have been defeated in Syria, a claim made during the announcment of his shock decision to withdraw US troops from the country.

“Remaining pockets of Isis and opposition fighters will continue, we assess, to stoke violence as we have seen in incidents happening in the Idlib province of Syria,” the intelligence director said.