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He suggested that while Kim’s grandfather and father had clear motives — to periodically threaten the world with nuclear crises and then wait to get paid in cash, food or equipment to lower the rhetoric — the younger Kim intended to demonstrate both to North Koreans and to the international community that North Korea deserves respect as nuclear power.
“His primary objective is to consolidate, affirm his power,” Clapper said.
Asked whether the North Korean leader had an “endgame,” Clapper said, “I don’t think, really, he has much of an endgame other than to somehow elicit recognition from the world and specifically, most importantly, the United States, of North Korea as a rival on an international scene, as a nuclear power, and that that entitles him to negotiation and to accommodation, and presumably for aid.”
Other officials have said, in background interviews, that Kim is trying to get North Korea into the same position as Pakistan: an acknowledged nuclear power that the West has given up hopes of disarming.
As for what might change the North’s belligerent posture, Clapper pointed to the new leadership in China. “I think probably if anyone has real leverage over the North Koreans, it is China,” he said.
In his first remarks since the new tensions on the Korean Peninsula, President Obama called on North Korea on Thursday to end its belligerence. Obama also pledged to take “all necessary steps” to protect the United States from any North Korean aggression.
“Now is the time for North Korea to end the kind of belligerent approach that they’ve been taking and to try to lower temperatures,” Obama said after an Oval Office meeting with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
On the streets of Pyongyang, North Koreans shifted into party mode as they celebrated the anniversary of leader Kim Jong Un’s appointment to the country’s top party post — one in a slew of titles collected a year ago in the months after his father Kim Jong Il’s death.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.