A high-level defector from Kim Jong-un’s regime has sent a letter to President Trump warning that he has been “tricked” into believing the North Korean leader will ever denuclearize and that Washington should instead ramp up a “psychological warfare campaign” aimed at inspiring North Korea’s elites to replace the young dictator from within.
The U.S. should simultaneously impose “all-out sanctions” against Pyongyang and be prepared to carry out a “preemptive strike” against Mr. Kim’s nuclear sites, according to the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.
The warning comes as the White House seeks fresh momentum for Mr. Trump’s historic personal diplomatic outreach to Mr. Kim in the face of a slew of provocative military moves, rhetorical outbursts and more than a dozen ballistic missile tests by Pyongyang in recent months.
“As long as Kim Jong-un remains in power, denuclearization of North Korea is permanently impossible because [Mr. Kim] regards nuclear weapons as the last means to defend his survival,” the defector warned Mr. Trump. “You have stopped Kim Jong-un from launching missiles and conducting nuclear tests, but he is still mounting nuclear threats behind the scenes of dialogue and is attempting to take advantage of the relationship with you.
“The most effective way to resolve the North Korean issue is to conduct psychological warfare operations,” the letter continues. “It can have the same power as a nuclear bomb. It is also an ideal way to get North Koreans to solve their own problems by themselves.”
The White House declined to comment on the defector’s appeal, and Mr. Trump has repeatedly cited the “beautiful letters” Mr. Kim has sent him personally over the past 18 months insisting that the young North Korean leader is sincere in seeking a denuclearization deal.
DOCUMENT: Read the North Korean defector's letter to Trump
Two sources verified that the defector’s letter was delivered to two of Mr. Trump’s top North Korea policy advisers: Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger and acting National Security Council Asia Director Allison Hooker.
The Times obtained a copy on the condition that it not name the defector because of security concerns. Three sources confirmed that the person worked for many years in high rungs of the North Korean government. The letter writer says he served three decades as an “executive” in the ruling Workers’ Party of North Korea.
In an interview, the defector told The Times that Mr. Trump should heed his warnings because “I know and worked with the top players in [Pyongyang].”
One former U.S. official said the defector, who left North Korea more than a year ago, has played an integral role advising U.S. agencies and is well known in national security circles. The person said it would not be surprising if the White House sought to keep the letter to Mr. Trump a secret.
“I don’t think they want any fingerprints on it,” the former official said. “If they acknowledge it and there’s a sense it is influencing U.S. policy or that Mr. Trump is taking the word of a defector over that of Kim Jong-un, it could undermine the president’s relationship with the North Korean leader.”
North Korea has raised tensions in the region by asserting that the Trump administration is running out of time to salvage stalled nuclear talks. Officials in Pyongyang say the U.S. must be the one to choose its “Christmas gift.”
National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien warned Sunday that it would be a “big mistake” if Mr. Kim moves to test another nuclear bomb. The North Korean leader has refrained from doing so since his precedent-shattering June 2018 summit with Mr. Trump in Singapore.
The high-level defector argues that Mr. Kim has no intention of abandoning his nuclear weapons because they are vital to his regime’s goal of absorbing South Korea into the “extreme socialist system” and to the survival of the “fanatical, pseudo-religious” society under the North Korean dictator.
Following the example set by his father and grandfather, Mr. Kim also “firmly believes that nuclear weapons are the last means to protect himself from the enemy’s preemptive strike and to maintain rule for another 50 years,” the defector said.
The defector urges Mr. Trump to authorize a multipronged “psychological warfare campaign” urging North Korea’s elites to rise up against Mr. Kim while appealing to ordinary North Koreans who “are anxious to be liberated from the yoke of oppression.”
The letter urges the dispatch of a U.S. delegation to offer the prospect of economic relations if the North denuclearizes and an intensive popular information campaign to inform ordinary North Koreans about the dangers of clinging to the country’s nuclear arsenal.
“If the psychological warfare information [is] poured into the areas where North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, major cities and military headquarters are located, it will deal a death blow to the nuclear-obsessed leader … leading to the birth of a new political system,” the defector predicts.
The letter asserts that Washington should be pressuring China and other world powers to impose and enforce wider sanctions against the Kim government.
“At this very moment, Kim Jong-un is avoiding sanctions against North Korea while securing governing funds through tourism and [cyber]hacking,” the defector wrote.
He said the diplomatic stalemate is increasing the risk that the regime’s nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities will proliferate, particularly toward clients in the Middle East, including Iran.
If Mr. Kim “makes another nuclear and missile provocation,” the letter said, “you must always retain the option to be able to strike the nuclear facilities and the dictator’s office where the nuclear command and control resides to end the vicious circle.
“If the U.S. launches a preemptive strike, in order to prevent counterattacks from the North Korean military, inform the North Korean generals and elites of the strong power of the U.S. military and undermine their faith in and morale in their leaders by dropping information pamphlets and through all electronic media,” the letter states. “Only by launch[ing] an effective psychological warfare campaign now can you influence the generals to make the right decision not to obey an order to attack during crisis.”
The defector said Mr. Kim was disingenuous in his 2018 meeting with Mr. Trump in Singapore, issuing only vague promises of eventual denuclearization while seeking immediate U.S. economic and security concessions. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a liberal who has long backed rapprochement on the divided Korean Peninsula, participated in Mr. Kim’s deception, the letter says.
“Kim Jong-un signed on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, not the denuclearization of North Korea, at the Singapore summit,” the letter to the White House states. “Both Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un tricked the U.S. president. As we know, Kim Jong-un has promised to denuclearize but has not given up a single nuclear weapon in a year and five months.”
The allegation is not likely to sit well with the Moon government, although it is well known that many North Korean defectors sharply disagree with the South Korean president’s conciliatory approach to North Korea.
Analysts say there are grounds to be wary of claims by North Korean defectors. They say many exaggerate their status to enhance their legitimacy and influence upon fleeing the Kim regime. There are also concerns that even the most highly vetted defectors may be involved in some form of subterfuge designed to benefit the Kim regime in the long term.
But the letter-writing defector insisted in an interview that the goal of the letter was to give Mr. Trump “insight into why Kim Jong-un is not giving up nuclear weapons and then how to solve this problem.”
“President Trump always mentions that past U.S. administrations have been deceived by North Korea,” the defector told The Times. “I’m trying to tell Mr. Trump that he too is also now being deceived by North Korea, so that perhaps he can correct his mistake by taking my advice.”