WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he would not approve of U.S. intelligence agencies using family members of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as assets, a day after a report that Kim’s half brother had traveled to Malaysia to meet his CIA contact before being assassinated there in 2017.
Trump said he was aware of the report on Kim Jong Nam’s alleged contacts with U.S. intelligence published Monday by The Wall Street Journal, which cited a “person knowledgeable about the matter.” The U.S. president said his message to the North Korean leader would be that, “I wouldn’t let that happen under my auspices.”
Trump’s comments came as he continued to lavish praise on Kim Jong Un, who has aggressively pursued a nuclear weapons program while running a government accused of brutal human rights abuses, even after a breakdown in their nuclear talks earlier this year in Vietnam. Trump, who said he had “just received a beautiful letter” from Kim, said Kim had kept his word in halting tests of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles.
Following a provocative run in weapons tests, Kim initiated diplomacy with Seoul and Washington in 2018, which led to three summits with South Korea’s president and his first meeting with Trump in Singapore last June, where they issued a vague statement on a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula without describing how and when it would occur.
The lack of substance and fruitless working-level talks set up the collapse of the second Trump-Kim meeting in February, which the Americans blamed on North Korea’s excessive demands for sanctions relief in exchange for only a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.
The North has since expressed its displeasure by resuming short-range missile tests and issuing belligerent rhetoric toward Washington and Seoul. Kim has said the United States has until the end of the year to offer mutually acceptable terms for a deal to salvage the diplomacy.
On Tuesday, officials at South Korea’s National Intelligence Service and Unification Ministry, which oversees ties with North Korea, said they couldn’t confirm the report on Kim Jong Nam.
While Kim Jong Nam spent much of his life abroad after falling out of favor with his family, he was constantly aware of the monitoring presence of Pyongyang and obsessed by fears that he would get assassinated, South Korean officials have said. Following his death, the NIS told South Korean lawmakers that North Korea had tried for several years to kill him and that he sent a letter to Kim Jong Un in 2012 begging for the lives of himself and his family.
Kim Jong Nam was the eldest son in the current generation of North Korea’s ruling family and could have been seen as a threat to Kim Jong Un’s rule.
The Journal said Kim Jong Nam met on several occasions with CIA operatives, but also that many details of his relationship with the agency remain unclear.
The CIA declined to comment on the story.
Kim Jong Nam was killed on Feb. 13, 2017, when two young women smeared VX nerve agent on his face at a Kuala Lumpur International Airport terminal.
Murder charges were dropped against the women earlier this year. They had been accused of colluding with four North Koreans who prosecutors said had fled the country the day of the attack.
Lawyers for the women have said they were pawns in a political assassination with clear links to the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. The U.S. and South Korea also have blamed North Korea, but Malaysian officials never officially accused Pyongyang of involvement.