Clear signs are emerging for the first time indicating that China is responding to U.S. pressure to help modify belligerent behavior by Beijing’s fraternal communist ally in North Korea.
The clearest example of Chinese influence on Pyongyang was the latest report by U.S. intelligence agencies, indicating that two road-mobile Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missiles that had been readied for test launch on North Korea’s east coast were removed recently.
The mobile missiles, along with several other short-range mobile missiles, were driven to storage facilities, said officials familiar with the report.
The stand-down of the missiles is one sign that North Korea is dialing back its hard-line position toward the United States in recent weeks, a posture that included an unprecedented threat to attack American territory with nuclear-tipped missiles.
U.S. pressure was delivered to the Chinese during meetings with Chinese official Wu Daiwei in Washington and in meetings in Beijing between Secretary of State John F. Kerry and senior Chinese officials.
China in the past refused to use its extensive leverage on North Korea based on close military ties between the two regimes. China also supplies the isolated nation with most of its energy.
Mr. Kerry brought a carrot that Beijing apparently found hard to resist. He offered to cancel the planned deployment of 14 additional ground-based interceptors at U.S. missile defense bases in Alaska and California if China did more to stifle North Korean bellicosity. The deployments were announced recently in response to North Korean missile threats.
Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, perhaps representing a policy stick to Mr. Kerry’s carrot, also pressed Chinese military leaders during private meetings. His message: Rein in the North Koreans or risk another outbreak of war on the Korean Peninsula.
Gen. Dempsey told reporters at the conclusion of his three-day visit to Beijing on April 24 that Chinese leaders were “as concerned as we are with North Korea’s march toward nuclearization and ballistic-missile technology.”
“And they have given us an assurance that they are working on it, as we are,” Gen. Dempsey said.
The missile storage has helped reduce tensions partly, but a military provocation by the North has not been ruled out, U.S. officials said.
One major concern is that South Korea will trigger a war in response to a promised counterattack against any North Korean military aggression, a position made clear by South Korean President Park Geun-hye during her visit to the United States this week.
Ms. Park said South Korean military forces will not sit by as they did in 2010 after attacks by the North against a ship and border island.
“Yes, we will make them pay,” she told CBS News.
An indication that the Chinese are seeking credit for lowering tensions surfaced Tuesday during one of the tightly scripted press briefings held regularly at the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Asked about the removal of the Musudans, spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: “The current situation on the peninsula remains complex and sensitive. We hope that the relevant parties will do more things that will benefit peace and stability on the peninsula and help ease the situation.”
A senior Obama administration official said before the removal of the Musudans that he could not confirm that Chinese pressure is having an impact on Pyongyang’s behavior.
“It seems kind of counterintuitive given the low ebb in [China-North Korea] relations,” the official said.
BENGHAZI TALKING POINTS
Two leaked drafts of the CIA-origin talking points used by the Obama administration in publicly responding to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, provide more evidence of political attempts to hide links to al Qaeda and Islamist terrorists.
An initial version completed at 11 a.m. Sept. 14 stated that the attacks were “spontaneously inspired” by protests at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli and that the attackers included “Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda.” The group — al Qaeda-linked militia Ansar al-Shariah — also was mentioned as one culprit.
According to documents obtained by Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard, who first reported the talking points, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland protested the mention of Islamists and al Qaeda in the talking points. She cited opposition from senior State Department officials who were not further identified as the reason for removing the references.
A second draft produced Sept. 15 at 9:45 a.m. dropped any mention of Islamists linked to al Qaeda. Instead, the points substituted a reference to the CIA having produced reports in the past about “the threat of al Qaeda-linked extremists in Benghazi and eastern Libya.”
The final version produced Sept. 15 scrubbed all references to al Qaeda and Islamists, stating that unspecified “extremists” were suspected in the attack.
The downplaying of the Islamic extremists and al Qaeda links to the attack followed President Obama’s speech to the Democratic National Convention on Sept. 6 when he said that “al Qaeda is on the path to defeat.” Some suspect that the talking points were sanitized in the context of the presidential election campaign and the administration’s political narrative that al Qaeda was in decline, intelligence officials said.
Under White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan, now CIA director, references to the Islamist nature of terrorism and jihad, or holy war, were ordered removed from U.S. government counterterrorism training after pressure from Islamist advocacy groups.
CIA’S BENGHAZI SECRETS
The dramatic House testimony by State Department officials Wednesday shined light on the Obama administration’s response to the Benghazi terrorist attack on Sept. 11.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing focused on why there was no military rescue operation and whether the administration lied in failing to initially label the attack the work of Islamist terrorists.
However, a U.S. intelligence official tells Inside the Ring that the hearing and congressional inquiries have failed to delve into what the official said is another major scandal: CIA covert arms shipments to Syrian rebels through Benghazi.
Separately, a second intelligence source said CIA operations in Libya were based on a presidential finding signed in March 2011 outlining covert support to the Libyans. This source said there were signs that some of the arms used in the Benghazi attack — assault rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades — ended up in the hands of the terrorists who carried out the Benghazi attack as a result of the CIA operation in Libya.
The unanswered questions — that appear unasked by most congressional investigators — include whether the CIA facility in Benghazi near the diplomatic compound and the contingent of agency officers working there played a role in the covert transfer through Turkey of captured Libyan weapons or personnel to rebels fighting the Bashar Assad regime in Syria.
“There was a ship that transported something to Turkey around the time Ambassador Chris Stevens met with a Turkish diplomat within hours of his murder,” the official said. “Was the president’s overt or covert policy to arm Syrian rebels?”
The administration has refused publicly to provide lethal assistance to the Syrians because many of the opposition groups are Islamist radicals.
The official said congressional investigators need to ask whether the president indirectly or directly helped bolster al Qaeda-linked terrorists in the Jabhat al-Nusrah front rebel group in Syria and whether the CIA ran guns and other weapons captured in Libya to the organization.
“Every troubling Middle East-Southwest Asia country — Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and now maybe Syria — where the Obama administration made a significant policy push has gone over to Islamists that are now much more hostile to the United States,” the official said.
The official said it is time for CIA operatives and contractors who were in Benghazi to show the same courage as the State Department officials from Libya and blow the whistle by sharing the facts with the American people on CIA activities in Libya.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, as secretary of state, did not deny in January that a covert arms operation was underway in Libya. She was responding to a question by Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, about whether “the U.S. [is] involved with any procuring of weapons, transfer of weapons, buying, selling, anyhow transferring weapons to Turkey out of Libya.”
Mrs. Clinton replied that she had not heard about shipping arms to Turkey but said she would “take that question for the record.”
A spokeswoman for Mr. Paul said the senator has not received a response from the State Department.