In this episode of Intelligence Matters, host Michael Morell speaks with Syd Seiler, National Intelligence Officer for North Korea at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Seiler and Morell discuss the political priorities, preferences and fears of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and evaluate the prospects for diplomatic engagement during the Biden administration. Seiler, who has spent over four decades studying the country and its leadership, also shares insights from his travels to Pyongyang and his experience negotiating with North Korean counterparts. 


Negotiating with Pyongyang: “[W]hen Pyongyang wants to be serious and move forward in a certain area, we see a very serious, businesslike, yet cordial interaction with our North Korean counterparts. And when they’re not interested in a deal, there is just simply no budging them.” 

Diplomatic opportunities for Kim Jong Un: “[H]e will undoubtedly have opportunities. The Moon Jae In administration has proven to be a great opportunity for North Korea to advance North Korean relations, and he squandered it away. There’s still a year left, though. The Biden administration has announced its policy, an openness to dialogue. So there’s a new opportunity. It’ll be an interesting way, as an analyst, to judge whether Kim has learned anything from the mistakes of this past.”

ON KIM JONG UN’S STRATEGY: “I think his actions over the years have been marked by a number of what I would call major mistakes. Maybe only time will tell whether indeed, at the end of the day, he was brilliant. But I think what we need to remember, first of all, is, while the nuclear program goes on, we are not talking about a strong and prosperous state when we talk about, North Korea. The economy is in shambles; part of it’s COVID, part of its natural disasters, part of its a socialist system, part of it is the sanctions that the country remains under because of the bad policy decisions made going back years.”

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MICHAEL MORELL: Syd, welcome to intelligence matters. Thank you for joining us. It’s great to have you on the show.

SYD SEILER: Michael, thank you so very much for this opportunity.

MICHAEL MORELL: So you and I have known each other for a very long time, and I’m thrilled that my listeners are going to get to know you a bit as well. But what I’d love to do, Syd, is start with your career, which can only be characterized as remarkable because you became, throughout your career, what I believe the U.S. national security community should be producing, and that’s individuals with deep, deep expertise on the most important threats and challenges that our country faces. So I would love to ask you to walk us through how you came to work in government and how you came to work on North Korea and why you have stuck with it for so long.

SYD SEILER: Michael, that’s a kind way of characterizing what has been somewhat of an atypical career when you look at the standard processes and job assignments that your average intelligence officer, regardless of agency, goes through.

I actually started out in the military as a Korean linguist. I was a voice intercept operator, putting headphones on and listening to things early on in the middle of the Cold War, if you think about the peak years of the Cold War, the 1980s. So my first exposure to the North Korean issue was as a SIGINT voice intercept operator. After a while, after doing that for a while, I moved on to work in the defense attaché office in Seoul, was able to see how national security was both implemented and supported by our defense attachés around the world. Eventually became a contract translator that led me to join the CIA back in the mid-1990s as first, a senior language officer, then a media analyst looking at North Korean media, analyzing speeches of Kim Jong Il – not many at that time; joint editorials from their official media, kind of understanding the narrative that North Korea portrays through its public statements and propaganda.

I actually led a bureau that was responsible for that collection and processing of open-source media. And then I jumped to the Directorate of Operations where I was able to get an exposure to human operations, work as a branch chief and later as a deputy group chief. There I then, at a time after supporting the Six Party Talks under the Bush administration, learned the tradecraft of analysis as done by the agency. When I joined the then Directorate of Intelligence, eventually when the DNI was stood up and part of the DNI stand-up was to stand up these mission managers, there were four at the time: Proliferation handled under NCPC, the National Counterproliferation Center, terrorism handled under the National Counterterrorism Center and Iran and North Korea. So together with Joe DeTrani, who I worked with for a number of years, both at the agency and State Department, we stood up the office of North Korea mission manager and the DNI position allowed me to see the community and its efforts in the collection and analytic realms against the North Korea target across what were then 16 agencies, and to understand how budgeting and programmatic – helped support the allocation of resources against North Korea and other competing high-target issues.

It was at that position where I was able to attend senior-level policy-making policy committees, deputies committees, principal committee meetings, came to the attention of the Obama team at that time and was asked to serve at the National Security Council. I was a Korea director at the National Security Council for three and a half years, a period of robust interactions with North Korea in the 2010, 2011, 2012 time period; major developments in the North Korean nuclear issue, efforts to advance the US-DPRK relationship.

Finally spent one year as the US special envoy for Six Party Talks responsible for communications with North Korea through the New York channel, working with the other allies on the North Korea nuclear issue. And then finally, after I had been out of the intelligence community for about five years, came back in and spent four years or so out in Korea serving as a senior analyst for US Forces Korea. A very unique assignment, seeing how the great work of the intelligence community across a variety of tactical, operational strategic issues helped serve the commander US Forces Korea was also dual hatted as commander of Combined Forces Command with our South Korean counterparts, the commander of the United Nations Command, to see how the intelligence product fed the warmakers.

It kind of brought me full circle from having started as a military SIGINT linguist, and I returned in September last year to take over the current job of National Intelligence Officer for North Korea. It was a great time to take it as we move through the presidential transition, as we looked at where we were, what we had accomplished under the four years of the Trump administration in our diplomacy with North Korea and how we could see how the intelligence community would provide solid, well-supported analysis to help support the policy review in the transition to the new administration of the policy review.

So, yeah, it’s been a very rewarding career, if atypical. I’ve been able to acquire the language, which was extremely helpful over the years. My negotiating experience with multiple administrations helped me to see, you know, diplomacy unfolding first-hand and of course, working on the policymaker side, I also served for a number of years as a customer of our intelligence products. And I was very happy with it.

MICHAEL MORELL: So Syd, can you just tell us, tell our listeners what a National Intelligence Officer does?

SYD SEILER: Well, Michael, there’s a variety of responsibilities we have. I think primarily as members of the National Intelligence Council, we’re looked to provide strategic analysis on North Korea. To, appreciating all the hard work that’s done in the tactical day to day production of the PDB or support to the warfighter, the National Intelligence Council takes a higher-altitude look at the targets we focus on and and coordinate the intelligence community’s strategic analysis to help provide policymakers with well-sourced, well-caveated, well-researched IC intelligence community analysis and support to policymakers.

And of course, there’s many extensions to that; doing outreach like we’re doing now. There is, following our recent annual threat assessment that the DNI provided to Congress, helping to ensure that the American public understands exactly the threats that our nation is facing, what our intelligence agencies are doing to protect them and give them a confidence that US policy is based upon really solid intelligence and where we lack. where there’s gaps, that those are made clear. And so overseeing this both production and how we provide our product to senior policymakers really is the the the core of my job as the NIO for North Korea.

MICHAEL MORELL: Syd, you’ve been to North Korea. What’s it like to visit?

SYD SEILER: I remember my first trip to North Korea was during the Madeleine Albright visit. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited in October of 2000 and having worked the issue for a number of decades already, it was an issue, if you can imagine, working on a topic, a current topic for which you have absolutely no opportunity to actually enter the country and get a direct feel for it.

It was fascinating to be able to go in and confirm many of the things, many of the assumptions that I had about North Korea, to revise a number of them, to bring a human face to an academic understanding, understand the importance of individuals, understand the importance of culture. North Korea in October 2000 was in the middle of an arduous march. A country that had been transformed by the collapse of the Cold War structure, had suffered some natural disasters, particularly it’s either floods one year or drought the next. And it was really a country that you get a sense that every North Korean is a survivor. They’re surviving a very harsh environment. And so going there and getting a feel for that really deep in my appreciation for what you might call the ontological dimensions of North Korea.

What is it that makes North Korea different? We always hear this – Is Kim rational or his father irrational? It’s not a matter of rationality or irrationality. It’s a rationality that’s based upon a different ontological nature to the regime. And going there in person really helped me understand that over my visits.

MICHAEL MORELL: Have you been to one of those highly choreographed children’s performances where they tell the history of North Korea in one of those massive stadiums?

SYD SEILER: I did. In fact, my first experience was during the Secretary Albright visit, when she attended that event, I actually had the the opportunity to go as kind of a mini-advance party together with diplomatic security, to do the pre-event, kind of look at the facilities and walk into a stadium filled with about 130,000 people staring at you in absolute silence. It was a very eerie feeling.

And then sitting in those stands as the delegation, Secretary Albright, Kim Jong Il, walked in the stadium and hear the incredible roar and thunder of the applause. And then at the end of it, the delegation walks out and the whole stadium goes deathly quiet. And a voice comes out in a monotone saying, ‘Please remain in your seat until all the foreigners have left.’

And it was a fascinating experience of how emotions can be manipulated and turned on and off, but also how important, you know, what’s in those shows that many people don’t realize is the national narrative of North Korea. It really is a master propaganda performance, not a show of arts and gymnastics, although they’re incorporated, but an effort to demonstrate, you know, North Korea’s metanarrative.

So it was, you know, we know from various participants that the rehearsals are grueling. They come at great human cost to the North Korean people, let alone the material resources that are dedicated to them. They are an appalling waste of resources that could be dedicated to other, you know, to feeding the North Korean people, for one. But at the same time, I understand the perceived propaganda. I don’t support it, but I understand the perceived propaganda, the importance of those events to the North Korean regime, as well as their pride in having foreigners sit and watch those events.

MICHAEL MORELL: Syd you’ve dealt directly with North Korean officials. What is that like?

SYD SEILER: Negotiations with North Korea are never easy, and often you walk away with, you know, a question of whether a negotiation had actually taken place or simply an exchange of views. What we need to understand when we talk about negotiating with North Korea, I think, first of all, is that we are always talking to the right person. And what I mean by that is whether President Trump is meeting directly with Kim Jong Un or a low-level meeting is taking place with the New York channel or Track 1.5 is taking place in some European country, we are always limited in the level with whom we engage based upon Pyongyang’s intent. And so when Pyongyang wants to be serious and move forward in a certain area, we see a very serious, businesslike, yet cordial interaction with our North Korean counterparts. And when they’re not interested in a deal, there is just simply no budging them.
So I hear a lot about, you know, sometimes we’re not talking to the right people or or some channels work, other channels don’t. I think those are – I call them myths of the negotiating process. That again, when North Korea comes to the table, and they usually do so with a specific objective, then some progress can be made. I also believe, though, that over the 30 years, 30-some year course, of our negotiations with North Korea, we have yet to really engage with the North that’s come to the table trying to work together with us to solve a problem.

And this doesn’t mean that that’s impossible. And I think the new administration’s policy review and its commitment towards flexibility and practical and calibrated interactions with the North is a good way to constantly test that. But in our experiences to date, we see that North Korea really hasn’t been willing to move much beyond, you know, a very basic core area in which they are willing to show flexibility while maintaining strong rigidity in other areas.

MICHAEL MORELL: Syd, I’ve interacted with literally hundreds of foreign officials over the years, and I’ve always found that you find something personal to bond over; a love of a particular sport, your families. Does that happen with North Korean officials, or not?

SYD SEILER: Well, Michael, we certainly have discussions that can touch upon personal areas and you can build a relationship. And, you know, the key negotiators on the North Korean side, starting with Choe Son-hui, who is currently the first vice foreign minister, Kim Kye-Gwan, who used to be the first vice foreign minister, other senior level officials with whom we’ve had an opportunity to meet, there clearly is a human side to them.

But these are negotiators. I don’t know that the human side, the question about personal bonding, bonding with with negotiators on the other side is as important on the North Korea issue as it may be in other issues. In large part, again, if you look at how North Korea has primarily used negotiations over the past 30 years, going back primarily to the 1994 agreed framework between the United States and the DPRK, which committed to halting operations of the five megawatt reactor, which was producing plutonium for the program at that time, and maybe even before that, the North-South negotiations that led to the production of in 1992-ish a North-South denuclearization declaration. Through all of those negotiations, even up to today, analytically speaking, none of those negotiations appeared to design, to have in a sustained manner laid the road for a new US-DPRK relationship or a new North-South Korea relationship that was sustainable and that involved North Korea walking away from its nuclear program, which has been the centerpiece of all of our negotiations.

So whether you can bond with a North Korean official over coffee at a Starbucks in Beijing or, you know, at a meeting up in New York or Track 1.5 in another country or even during a visit to Pyongyang, to me, really, I have not seen that translate into anything in particular in terms of negotiating leverage or negotiating enabling relations.

MICHAEL MORELL: What is what is Kim Jong un like as a person, as a leader? How would you describe him?

SYD SEILER: Well, Michael, you can imagine that’s a question that I’m asked a lot, and I like to deflect attention away from elements of Kim’s personality. I think particularly among academics, there’s a lot of speculation about Kim and his personality. I like to look at North Korea’s behavior and its public actions to try to assess where Kim Jong Un is, particularly in comparison to his his father and his grandfather.

Clearly, his father came into power in 1994 upon the death of his grandfather. So Kim Jong Il, by the time he took office in 199– or took power in 1994, he had had almost two decades of experience getting his feet wet in state and party affairs and national security affairs. Kim Jong Un’s preparatory time because of the stroke of his father in 2008 and eventually Kim Jong Il’s death in 2011, it was a very compressed amount of time to be prepared to assume the office.

But I always thought that Kim had an intellectual understanding about North Korea, its place in the world, the threats – and I don’t mean just military threats, I mean ideological and cultural and even historical threats that North Korea faced. And what type of control mechanisms were necessary to keep the Kim family in place to prevent North Korea from meeting the same fate that all the other Eastern Bloc countries had met in the 1990s.
Kim came to power with an intellectual understanding of that and since has been seeking a way to promote that. I think his actions over the years have been marked by a number of what I would call major mistakes. Maybe only time will tell whether indeed, at the end of the day, he was brilliant. But I think what we need to remember, first of all, is, while the nuclear program goes on, we are not talking about a strong and prosperous state when we talk about, North Korea. The economy is in shambles; part of it’s COVID, part of its natural disasters, part of its a socialist system, part of it is the sanctions that the country remains under because of the bad policy decisions made going back years.

Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, had the wisdom to proclaim an arduous march and make suffering and isolation and hardships of virtue, making a virtue out of a necessity, given the diplomatic results, the diplomatic blowback from his pursuit of nuclear weapons over the course of his rule from 1994 to 2011.

When Kim Jong un came into power in 2012, he had an opportunity to to engage with the United States and take the relationship down a different path. We struck a lead day understanding in 2012, which took place about two and a half months into his rule, which would have laid the groundwork for moving forward on denuclearization. Sure, it would have been hard when we got back to the Six Party Talks, but at least in his early formative days, he could have had a better relationship with the United States.

Instead, two weeks after concluding the agreement, he launches a Taepodong missile that undermines the agreement. And then in 2013, instead of taking advantage of four more years of the Obama administration, Kim engages in another Taepodong long range missile launch and then in a nuclear test and further and declares in 2013 that the North will have its cake and eat it too by simultaneously pursuing nuclear development and economic development.

And well, since 2013, the North has made progress on its nuclear and missile programs. The promise made to the North Korean people that they could have nuclear weapons and a better economic life proved false. The same happened in Hanoi: raised expectations that a corner had been turned, a new relationship with the United States, a brighter future. And then Kim goes and leaves Hanoi, not showing any flexibility.

And now, in more recent past, declaring again a new arduous march, a new period of isolation and austerity, making promises to the North Korean people and having to break them, having to regroup and so going forward, he has he will undoubtedly have opportunities. The Moon Moon Jae In administration has proven to be a great opportunity for North Korea to advance North Korean relations, and he squandered it away. There’s still a year left, though. The Biden administration has announced its policy, an openness to dialogue. So there’s a new opportunity. It’ll be an interesting way, as an analyst, to judge whether Kim has learned anything from the mistakes of this past.

MICHAEL MORELL: So, Syd, why does North Korea believe it needs a strategic weapons program, both nuclear weapons and ICBMs? What’s their thinking? What’s their rationale? What’s their logic?

SYD SEILER: Well, you know, borrowing from our annual threat assessment language where we say right up front, that Kim views nuclear weapons as an ultimate deterrent against foreign intervention and believes that over time he’ll get international acceptance and respect as a nuclear power.

The answer to your question, Michael, starts with an honest appreciation, an honest assessment. It begins with an honest assessment of the threat North Korea believes it faces. And if you look at the history of this issue, I believe what you see is – we often hear about the example of Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi reinforcing for North Korea why it needs a nuclear weapon with the United States, that when it decides to do so, on a whim, will overthrow a country with which it is unsatisfied. I actually think the threat that North Korea faces goes back to the collapse of the Cold War. And as the Socialist Bloc countries fell one at a time and South Korea grew stronger and stronger from the late 1980s to the 1990s, North Korea’s world was turned upside down.

And we see three major trends during that period. First of all, is an atrophy of its conventional force. A conventional force balance shifts as North Korea is no longer able to train and equip a large conventional force like it previously had. The second thing we see is the deployment of long range artillery that can rain down large volume of shells against the greater Seoul metropolitan area and a weapon of mass destruction that’s not really a weapon of mass destruction, but nevertheless, can a counter value targeting capability that holds Seoul at risk as North Korea, beginning around that same time period, that ’90-91 time period, the first production of what we assessed at the time was possibly one to two weapons’ worth of plutonium up to today, using the nuclear deterrent as a way to again act as the ultimate deterrent against foreign intervention, not invasion.

Sixty-seven years of armistice, you know, repeated North Korean provocations in which US and the Republic of Korea have shown restraint in responding. North Korea can be highly confident that neither the US nor the Republic of Korea have any hostile intentions to invade the North. What they fear is a penetration of ideology, the penetration of thoughts, the penetration of economic influence that would make the regime weak, possibly lead to an uprising of the North Korean people and then lead to that foreign intervention.

If it were simply a matter of concern over the US-ROK military threat, you know, security assurances could address those worries. If it was a matter of their concern over strategic bomber flights, we could pull those back. If it really was a concern over exercises, there are a lot of things we could do. The problem is the fundamental threat Kim perceives his regime faces is one that we really can’t resolve.

If the existential threat North Korea faces is a liberal, democratic, free market, capitalist human-rights respecting South Korea and and the example that South Korea provides of what North Korea could be, if not for the Kim regime, is going to be very difficult to assess that threat in a way that would assuage the regime and the elites about the inevitable fall of history, perhaps leading North Korea to the same fate as the Socialist Bloc countries.

MICHAEL MORELL: So Syd, you know this country better than anyone. Can you imagine a situation where the North Korean leadership has its concerns assuaged or is that just not foreseeable?

SYD SEILER: Well, Michael, you know, again, the- the last several years, the Moon Jae In –

MICHAEL MORELL: This is the South Korean president, right? This is the South Korean president.

SYD SEILER: — Yeah, right. South Korean president -Have been marked by a remarkable effort to establish a permanent peace, to find a new path for inter-Korean relations, to give Kim Jong Un and the North Korean people confidence that the South is not out to bring an end to the regime, that it’s not actively pursuing unification through absorption, that it’s not out to transform the culture through information penetration.

The current Moon administration in Seoul has made great efforts to addressing all of these concerns that one would would say fall under that title of ideologically threatening actions by the Republic of Korea or by the outside world.

And here we sit today with an absolute refusal to engage with the South on Kim Jong Un’s part and an ongoing active campaign to eradicate anti-socialist and non-socialist behavior. Another reminder that whatever liberalization may have taken place in North Korea in terms of tolerance of free market activity, tolerance of, even watching, adopting South Korean hairstyles or watching South Korean videos that whatever liberalization may have taken place.

It’s you know, if what China is doing is seeking a neo-totalitarianism, what we see in North Korea is a pursuit of a retro totalitarianism. Hunkering down – importantly, I mean, we’ve all focused on the sealing of the borders and the limitation of movement in North Korea related to anti-pandemic efforts with the advent of COVID. But North Korea, even before COVID, in a January 2020 proclamation, had already said that they were turning away from any hopes diplomacy would bring sanctions relief.

The North Korean people would have to learn to live under sanctions for the protracted period. Any desire, any thought that the North should rely on contacts, interactions with the outside was nation-selling, treasonous behavior. So already North Korea was looking very insularly how to isolate themselves from the outside world.
And this is the challenge we face in trying to figure out how to build trust with North Korea in a regime that seems to thrive on building distrust of the outside, of creating enemies, whether they exist or not, of justifying the regime’s rule in the face of outside external threats and perpetual conflict.

I remember a wise analyst friend of mine who always liked to say – we talked about these types of assessments, ‘Never say never.’ And you know, it’s – right? We never say never because we can’t be so deterministic in our assessments that we don’t leave ourselves open to that possibility.

And as you can imagine – I don’t want to go through them one by one – but, you know, there would be a number of indicators, a number of things that we could see if indeed the regime was moving down an alternative path. And there’s a number of incentives, and I think the South Korean people in the South Korean leadership have thought about this a lot, about how you could incentivize North Korea coming out of the closet, as it were, coming out of its isolation.

So, looking forward, I don’t want to say that there’s no possibilities for such an opening. But I would say that contrary to maybe what many commentators would assess, the United States, the Republic of Korea have for years under conservative, liberal, Democratic, Republican administrations, all pursued an improvement of relations with North Korea. And North Korea is well aware of the benefits of going down that road and also what we would ask in return for it.

So it’s not a matter of North Korea not understanding what it would get from denuclearization or, you know, not understanding what we want in denuclearization or what building a permanent peace on the peninsula would look like. They’re well aware of it. They simply, until now, have not desired to move down that path.

MICHAEL MORELL: Syd, what can we expect from Kim Jong Un AND North Korea in the short term in terms of their likely response to the steps the Biden administration has taken in the policy it has outlined?

SYD SEILER: Around January 8th or so, North Korea issued a report on a Party Congress that the Workers’ Party of Korea had held. I see it as somewhat – I mean, it covers a whole range of issues from domestic, economic to ideological to foreign policy to national defense. But it almost has a flavor of a North Korean policy review of its own type.

And the important thing to note about this and in that in that readout of the Eighth Party Congress, they talked about success in terms of nuclear development over the previous period of the Seventh Party Congress, five years or so, how they had achieved success in intermediate range ballistic missiles, intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine launched ballistic missiles and even tactical nuclear weapons.

And the readout also gave direction on areas that North Korea would focus on in the future to include multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles, modernizing medium sized submarines, even pursuing a nuclear submarine itself, and overall improving its capabilities across a number of WMD and weapons systems. So there’s a strategic intent there that to some degree in its proclamation, it shows North Korea’s commitment to its WMD program and what it plans to do in the future.

I think, equally importantly, is that this report was issued prior to the US’s own -the United States’ own policy review on North Korea, as though Kim had wanted to preempt whatever our policy review might entail by saying, ‘This is what I’m doing. I don’t care what you do, we can talk,’ and the North has said, ‘We will respond to goodwill with goodwill. We will respond to coercion with hard line responses.’

So independent of that, ‘This is the path we are on’ was the message that was included there. That takes a lot of burden off North Korea to make points with the new administration or respond to international expectations that it would greet the new U.S. administration with some type of provocative actions – short-range, medium-range, intermediate-range, long-range or even ballistic missile launches or even a return to nuclear testing.

So in a way, you know, North Korea would would argue it has its own timeline. It’s not driven by wanting to make a point. We call these actions ‘provocative.’ I don’t like to use of that term because their major objective is not to provoke us. Their objectives are to develop and demonstrate new capabilities through diplomatically calibrated, to take place when the blow back is manageable or ongoing negotiations may make some restraint necessary, and they’re domestically signaled.

But the primary objective is not simply to provoke for the sake of provoking. I think we look at the Eighth Party Congress list and again, getting back to what we said in the annual threat assessment, that currently the pressure on the regime is not going to be a complete deterrent. That would require a fundamental change to this approach. At the same time, though, in terms of the larger headline-grabbing actions, such as an ICBM launch or a nuclear test, Kim may see that his current situation is better served by by holding off and waiting.

MICHAEL MORELL: Syd, we have about a minute left; let me just ask you one last question. Many analysts of North Korea over the years have assessed that the regime can’t last right, that it’s inconsistent with history and that it will eventually fail. Is is that your view or or not?

SYD SEILER: You know, Michael, deep in my heart, you know, I, I like to believe that the North Korean people want better and deserve better. I’m reminded of a debate that took place a decade or so ago, maybe a couple of decades now between then Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew and Kim Dae Jung, who who was a well-known opposition leader, president of the Republic of Korea in the early 2000s. And the debate centered around whether Asians inherently thrived under authoritarian control.

And Kim Dae Jung made a very persuasive argument that essentially said ‘It’s an insult to the Asian people to think that they do not aspire to the same happiness and freedom that has been enjoyed over the over the centuries by the West.’ And I kind of hold that as a reminder that the North Korean people deserve and want more.
We’re watching China trying to navigate this, how to maintain a neo- totalitarian, authoritarian state and party apparatus that retains control while still seeing economic benefits and prosperity, adapting to an evolving international environment and trying to shape that international environment.

North Korea will be able to continue to show flexibility and be able to resist these pressures. But we always like to say North Korea is stable but brittle. There’s a lot of elements of uncertainty and vulnerability in the North, and that will be the challenge for the regimes going forward, is how they navigate these pressures. And I think the jury is still out.

MICHAEL MORELL: Syd, thank you so much for joining us. This has been a real lesson in North Korea; s o thank you for taking the time. I know you’re extraordinarily busy, but thank you.

SYD SEILER: Michael, thank you very much.