North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is a rational politician and the US needs to understand that to deal with the nuclear-armed country, a top Central Intelligence Agency Korea expert said Wednesday.
'Beyond the bluster, Kim Jong-Un is a rational actor,' said Yong Suk Lee, the deputy assistant director of the CIA's Korea Mission Center.
'We have a tendency in this country to underestimate his conservatism.'
'He wants to rule for a long time and die in his own bed,' Lee said at a conference on the CIA at George Washington University.
US politicians including President Donald Trump have repeatedly painted Pyongyang's strongman as irrational and 'crazy.'
But Lee said Kim's focus is to stay in power, as shown by the brutal murder in Malaysia in February of his half brother Kim Jong-Nam, which has been blamed on Pyongyang agents.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (seen in a file photo released by the Pyongyang government last month) is a rational politician and the US needs to understand that to deal with the nuclear-armed country, a top Central Intelligence Agency Korea expert said Wednesday
'All politics is local,' he said of the North Korean milieu.
The country's long history of being surrounded by greater powers, too, means that the country is constantly on the defensive, and its leaders play that up.
'North Korea is a political organism that thrives on confrontation,' Lee said.
But Kim's fierce defense of his position and his combativeness against Washington does not mean he will act irrationally now that he has the capacity to fire a nuclear tipped missile at the United States.
'Waking up and deciding to nuke Los Angeles is not in his interest to survive,' he said.
The White House on Monday ruled out talks with North Korea except to discuss the fate of Americans held there, again appearing to rebuke Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who said Washington was directly communicating with Pyongyang on its nuclear and missile programs.
'Beyond the bluster, Kim Jong-Un is a rational actor,' said Yong Suk Lee (above), the deputy assistant director of the CIA's Korea Mission Center
'We've been clear that now is not the time to talk,' White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters, reiterating a tweet from President Donald Trump at the weekend that was seen as undercutting Tillerson.
'The only conversations that have taken place were that ... would be on bringing back Americans who have been detained,' Sanders said.
'Beyond that, there will be no conversations with North Korea at this time.'
Tillerson said on Saturday during a trip to China that the United States was directly communicating with North Korea on its nuclear and missile programs but that Pyongyang had shown no interest in dialogue.
Trump, who has traded insults and threats with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in recent weeks, later dismissed any prospect of talks with North Korea as a waste of time.
'I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful secretary of state, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,' Trump wrote on Twitter, using his sarcastic nickname for Kim.
President Donald Trump distanced himself from his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who said last week that the US was engaged in direct talks with the North Korean government
'Save your energy, Rex, we'll do what has to be done!' Trump wrote.
It was not the first time the White House and State Department have seemed at odds on policy issues, but when asked if Trump still had confidence in Tillerson as secretary of state, Sanders said: 'He does.'
A senior administration official said Tillerson misspoke.
'I think it was just him misspeaking. He was just acknowledging the fact that we do have channels and we might have reason to talk if North Korea's behavior changes sometime down the road,' the official said.
As their divergent views on policy have become more known, Tillerson on Wednesday denied a bombshell report that he referred to Trump as a 'moron.'