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Not on the same page as Trump: Spy agencies differ with President about Iran and North Korea

Top leaders of the intelligence community on Tuesday directly contradicted President Trump’s claims about North Korea and Iran in a new assessment about nuclear developments in the two countries.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats threw cold water on the idea that North Korea will fully get rid of nuclear weapon stockpiles, stating that the hermit nation views these capabilities as key to its survival.


"We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its [weapons of mass destruction] capabilities," Coats told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee during the panel's worldwide threats hearing.

The country is "unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival," he continued.

The intelligence assessment appears to dismiss the possibility that the Trump administration can reach its stated goal to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

Speaking on behalf of the other officials at the hearing, Coats said the intelligence community also found that Iran is not currently seeking to develop its nuclear weapons capabilities.

“We continue to assess that Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device,” their assessment reads.

The assessment warns that Iranian officials are threatening to begin building up the country’s nuclear capabilities if Tehran “does not gain the tangible trade and investment benefits it expected” from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an Obama-era deal that Trump withdrew the U.S. from last year.

“However, Iranian officials have publicly threatened to reverse some of Iran’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) commitments — and resume nuclear activities that the JCPOA limits — if Iran does not gain the tangible trade and investment benefits it expected from the deal,” the assessment reads.

The president, who bashed the agreement as “the worst deal ever” and “defective at its core,” claimed that if the deal remained in place, Iran “will be on the cusp of acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapons.”

CIA Director Gina Haspel, when pressed on the matter Tuesday by Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), said Iran is “making some preparations that would increase their ability to take a step back” from the agreement since they are not receiving the benefits from the deal that they had hoped.

“Technically, they are in compliance but we do see them debating among themselves,” she added.

Despite Trump’s withdrawal, JCPOA remains intact as a result of ongoing support from European countries who were part of the deal.

The remarks about Iran and North Korea mark a stunning departure from public claims Trump has made about the two nations' actions and intentions.

Coats's remarks about North Korea come shortly after the White House announced that Trump and leader Kim Jong Un will meet for a second time in February.

It will mark the first time Trump and Kim will meet face-to-face after their landmark summit last June in Singapore. There, the two leaders issued a joint declaration that stated that they would work toward the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” in exchange for unspecified security guarantees for the rogue nation.

Trump at the time boasted that “there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”

Coats did note, however, that North Korea is showing signs that it wants better relations.

"North Korea has not conducted any nuclear-capable missile tests in more than a year and it has dismantled some of its nuclear infrastructure. As well, Kim Jong Un continues to demonstrate openness to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Coats said.

He noted that while the U.S. continues to place economic pressure on North Korea, Pyongyang has continued to try to dodge sanctions.

"While we assess that sanctions on exports have been effective and largely maintained, North Korea seeks to mitigate the effects of the U.S.-led pressure campaign through diplomatic engagement, counter-pressure against the sanctions regime, and direct sanctions evasion," Coats said.

Coats, who spoke about North Korea in his opening remarks before the committee, said he was speaking on behalf of the entire panel of intelligence officials at the hearing, including Haspel, FBI Director Christopher Wray and others.

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