Donald Trump has said he would not have allowed the CIA to have recruited Kim Jong-un’s relatives as informants to gather information on the North Korean dictatorship.
Trump told journalists on Tuesday he had received a new “beautiful” letter on Monday from Kim, who he insisted had “kept his word” on suspending nuclear and missile tests. He dismissed recent North Korean missile tests as short-range and therefore not relevant.
Asked about new reports that Kim’s half-brother, Kim Jong-nam – who was murdered with VX nerve agent in Kuala Lumpur airport in 2017 – had been a CIA informant, Trump said he would not have allowed that to happen.
“I saw the information about the CIA with respect to his brother, or half-brother, and I would tell him that would not happen under my auspice that’s for sure. I wouldn’t let that happen under my auspices,” Trump said.
It was the latest occasion on which Trump has appeared to side with an adversary over US intelligence. In July last year, he made clear he believed President Vladimir Putin’s denials over US intelligence assessments that Russia had interfered in the 2016 US presidential elections.
A new biography of Kim published in the US on Tuesday said Kim Jong-nam, who lived in exile most of his life, had been recruited by the CIA. “Kim Jong-nam provided information to them, usually meeting his handlers in Singapore or Malaysia,” Washington Post journalist Anna Fifield wrote in The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny for Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong-un.
The book, quoting “someone with knowledge of the intelligence”, reports security camera footage from Kim Jong-nam’s last trip to Malaysia showed him in a hotel lift with an Asian-looking man who was reported to be a US intelligence agent. It said his backpack contained $120,000 in cash, which could have been payment for intelligence-related activities, or earnings from his casino businesses.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Kim Jong-nam travelled to Malaysia in February 2017 to meet his CIA contact, although that may not have been the sole purpose of his trip. He was on his way back to his home in Macau when he was killed.
Two women, told that they were taking part in a TV prank show, were offered $100 each to smear liquid on the victim’s face. North Korean agents gave each of the women a binary ingredient to VX, a banned chemical weapon. The murder was part of an extended purge carried out by Kim Jong-un against potential rivals and their supporters, as he consolidated his power.
Trump has claimed that he and Kim “fell in love” at their summit meeting in Singapore and in subsequent letters. Their second summit in Vietnam in February broke down because of the distance between the two leaders’ positions over the North Korean nuclear arsenal, but Trump stressed that it was not the end of negotiations.
“We have a very good relationship together … I think North Korea, under his leadership,” he said on Tuesday. “I think that something will happen.”
Trump said a third summit could happen soon, but added: “In the meantime he’s kept his word … that’s very important to me.”