Kerry weighs in on North Korea execution, Bob Levinson in Iran
December 15th, 2013
09:24 AM ET
8 months ago

Kerry weighs in on North Korea execution, Bob Levinson in Iran

(CNN) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s execution of his uncle was “an ominous sign” of instability and danger, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in an interview broadcast Sunday.

Kerry also weighed in on reports about former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who went missing in Iran seven years ago. The United States has not stopped efforts to get him released, Kerry told ABC's "This Week."

The secretary of state is on an overseas trip that's taken him to Jerusalem, Ramallah, Vietnam, and will carry him through Manila and Tacloban later this week.

'Spontaneous' and 'erratic'

The killing of Kim's uncle – the latest execution of many in recent months, Kerry said - shows the degree to which Kim is "reckless" and "insecure."

"And most importantly, it underscores the importance for all of us of finding a way forward with North Korea in order to denuclearize the peninsula," Kerry said, adding that the U.S. has made "progress" with China in the effort.

Jang Song Thaek, Kim's uncle by marriage, was, until recently, regarded as the second-most powerful figure in North Korea. He was considered to be the regent who secured Kim's assumption of power after the 2011 death of his father, Kim Jong Il.

The country remains "opaque," but the insights the U.S. government has about Kim indicate the young leader is "spontaneous, erratic, (and) still worried about his place in the power structure," Kerry said. He stressed that China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and the United States all need to "stay on the same page" about the urgency of removing North Korea as a nuclear threat.

"To have a nuclear weapon potentially in the hands of somebody like Kim Jong Un just becomes even more unacceptable," he said.

On Levinson, Kerry says he has 'personally raised the issue'

Meanwhile, Kerry hit back against suggestions that the United States has abandoned Levinson. The Associated Press and the Washington Post reported Thursday that he was in fact working for the CIA in Iran, not conducting private business as officials have previously claimed.

"There hasn’t been progress in the sense that we don’t have him back. But to suggest that we’ve abandoned him or anybody...is simply incorrect and not helpful," Kerry said. "The fact is that I have personally raised the issue, not only at the highest level that I have been involved with, but also through other intermediaries."

Both the State Department and Levinson's family have long denied he was working for the U.S. government when he disappeared on a trip to Iran in 2007. But Thursday's reports from the Washington Post and the AP said Levinson was on a CIA mission to dig up information.

A source involved in the matter told CNN there's proof that Levinson worked for the CIA undercover and under contract while also working as a private investigator.

Kerry said the United States is still looking for proof that Levinson is alive. A “number of different channels” are “being worked aggressively,” he said.

In 2011, the State Department said new evidence suggested that Levinson, who has diabetes and high blood pressure, was alive and being held somewhere in southwest Asia.

This year, a source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN, "We have every reason to believe that he's alive and that the Iranians control his fate."

Asked whether he believes the Iranian government is responsible for his disappearance, Kerry said he thinks the government "has the ability to help us here, and we hope they will."

During a September interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was asked what he could tell Levinson's family.

"We don't know where he is, who he is," Rouhani said. "He is an American who has disappeared. We have no news of him."

– Ashley Killough, Jethro Mullen, Tom Watkins, Susan Candiotti, and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.


Filed under: Iran • John Kerry • North Korea
soundoff (104 Responses)
  1. Matt

    We would like Bob returned, there is 1 million up as much as any family can put up, so what it is backed by the FBI. He never worked for the CIA. Human flesh traders, what more do you want. Like Iran/Contra. Did not work out to well for Imad or Assad.

    December 15, 2013 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  2. Terry

    MYOB, it s not our country.

    December 15, 2013 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  3. mike

    Like his uncle was a good guy. Come on.

    Plenty of blood and starving people on his hands. Good riddance.

    No big deal. Don't listen to the fear.

    December 15, 2013 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  4. Jim

    Kerry needs to take a trip to North Korea with a company of psychiatrist and psychologist with him. I am sure when he tells Kim he is mentally insane and these people are here to fix you the world will be a better place.

    December 15, 2013 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  5. acdavis75

    Well at least his recklessness really only affects North Korea and the local region by a little bit compared to the recklessness of congress, and the executive branch as a whole whch has massive global implications.

    December 15, 2013 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  6. Matt

    It is a lie can she call Tel Aviv and order hits no she can't, but she is running a rouge asset in Iran. It is crap. He is a retired FBI agent most families can only pull a million, we are dealing with flesh traders and thieves, so the 1 million is backed by the FBI. He does not work for the agency rogue or not because I said so. He is a civilian.

    December 15, 2013 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  7. Tutuvabene

    Reckless? I'd call it youthful high spirits.

    December 15, 2013 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  8. John

    No! Really?!

    December 15, 2013 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  9. bones1918

    Reckless, eh? kind of like your choice for VP was?

    December 15, 2013 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  10. Tampa Tim

    While I am sure the right wing war machine wants another war so badly, they will blame the disappearance of Levinson 7 years ago on Obama. By the way, I am beginning to think voter suppression for brain dead right wingnuts may be good. All registered republicans need to show a brain wave in order to vote. No brain activity, no ballot.

    December 15, 2013 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  11. just asking

    I wonder if that uncle lied to all of the Korean people?

    December 15, 2013 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  12. David

    This coming from someone who betrayed his fellow soldiers and this country.

    December 15, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  13. J'Cincinnati'Redd

    Kem young hun,is a very bad man. We do well to watch this demon very closely.

    December 15, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  14. Francisco Decastro

    He only figured that out now?

    December 15, 2013 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  15. Dirge13

    "We must recognize that there is no indication that Saddam Hussein has any intention of relenting. So we have an obligation of enormous consequence, an obligation to guarantee that Saddam Hussein cannot ignore the United Nations. He cannot be permitted to go unobserved and unimpeded toward his horrific objective of amassing a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction."

    Senator John Kerry, before the Senate, November 9, 1997

    December 15, 2013 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  16. SeattleExplorer

    "We" (not just the US), cannot afford to ignore Kim Jong Un's march to violent tyranny. He is endangering his neighbors with instability and the world with his nuclear testing and potential use of a nuclear warhead. Though it's overused, he's a Hitler in the making and we have an opportunity to inspire his countrymen to turn against him and ultimately liberate the people of North Korea. He is a young foolish sociopath who over time will be some a violent old psychopath – the next Idi Amin.

    December 15, 2013 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  17. woodie

    Kerry has a good point. This NK dictator is a whack job. He murders his own uncle.

    December 15, 2013 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  18. Francisco Decastro

    What would the U.S do if there was an Iranian spy here in America? Would they arrest him? Send him back to his country?

    December 15, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  19. truth hurts but reality bites

    I had read that this was the uncle that advocated and groomed this little tyrant for power. Looks like he did his job well and got exactly what he deserved.

    So the message sent is don't mess with me because I will kill anybody, even my best friend. It is a message from a little, insecure child unsure of his grip on power. This could mean trouble as somebody this unstable could do anything, even totally insane stuff. If I were the South Koreans and American military in the region, a constant state of high alert needs to be maintained. He might decide he needs to prove his manhood in greater, more violent, ways.

    December 15, 2013 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  20. Marty

    North Korea – Let's Make a Deal. You can have John Kerry in exchange for the Pueblo. No refunds.

    December 15, 2013 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  21. myway

    Kim is acting in accordance of many imperial clans for most of recorded history. You can go back as far as ancient Egypt and beyond to find examples where incoming rulers purged their families of potential troublemakers. Since most of the industrialized Western world adopted democratic political systems we are estranged from hardline imperial behavior deeming them barbaric. However, it wasn't that long ago when NK's two neighbors, China and Russia, were ruled by clans that acted very similar during and after regime changes. In other words, looking at it in historical context maybe Kim's actions are not so outlandish, just out of place in today's world.

    December 15, 2013 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  22. Shorty

    One animal kills another animal. Big deal. That's what animals do!

    December 15, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  23. rom2894

    News break: The Kim regimes have been dangerous and erratic from the very beginning. They need and expect the rest of NK society to worship them..

    December 15, 2013 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  24. don in albuquerque

    Can you spell assassination-I can smell this one coming.

    December 15, 2013 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  25. noneedtocoverup

    One thing for certain,there's never a need for grassy knolls and second shooter theories in n.k., just plain old, yeah this is what I did,what are you going to do about it,same with Iran.

    December 15, 2013 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
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