Kerry weighs in on North Korea execution, Bob Levinson in Iran
December 15th, 2013
09:24 AM ET
4 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. are122

    Kim Jong Un is a paranoid psychopath...which says the same about his supporters in China.

    December 15, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  2. Grego

    Captain Obvious just had a melt down.

    December 15, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  3. NameFrank Deery

    Levinson, an elderly man, should have been
    part of the recent enabling Deal with Iran Kerry
    and Obama ok'd in Geneva. I just bet Levinson wasn't on either's radar, until his family went public. Haste makes waste, Liberals, as we are seeing with Obamacare, et al, and The Road to 2014 elections just got rockier with Mr Levenson's plight. Gee, even Jane Fonda forgot about him!

    Republucans, not Prima Donna's, know how to deal with Iran, and other terrorist groups.
    Vote Republican in 2014 and our communities, malls, high schools, airports, and DC-will be safer!

    December 15, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  4. Steve

    Comparing Kim Jong Un to Raul Castro is just absurd. That's, on a sort of a sliding scale, like comparing Hitler to Obama, which it sounds like you wouldn't have a problem with.

    December 15, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  5. Larry

    Kerry has to set the stage for Obama to rattle the sword at Kim. He didn't get to send the military to Syria, so he wants to find some way to have a successful war so that the Democrats will stay in power after the next election.

    December 15, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  6. Dan

    Ominous sign ? This may indicate that North Korea is an unstable, police state, hellhole

    December 15, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  7. Thomas Charles Barkley III

    With All Due Respect Secretary Kerry. It would serve you best if you were operating with the proper Intelligence before you present your opinion to the people of the world. Contact [ME] if you are open to receiving upto date True Intelligence on Foreign Affairs. MOST HIGH HONOR. MOST DUE RESPECT. [ME] [U Must Be Out Of Touch.

    December 15, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  8. Sebbastian

    Isn't the American Flag displayed on the wrong side of Kerry in the picture

    December 15, 2013 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  9. Kain

    He should have followed that up by saying, "Bad boy. Santa is not going to get you anything this Christmas"

    December 15, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  10. Fish

    I think he is fearing losing his regime by appearing weak o he showed some force against someone they thought was a mentor, friend, relative and safe. He just showed all NK that he is in charge and nobody is safe, a sure cure for attempted coups!!! Which is why we should move quick to somehow break the time capsule of NK to let them see what the real world is like probably via electronic means via the internet as he will no doubt clamp down on jamming to block out outside contacts!!! He is running scared of something so blast his airwaves with western influences!!

    December 15, 2013 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  11. Tell the Truth

    Wow! Is Kerry a genius or what?..................[sarcasm!]

    December 15, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  12. DP

    Yeah, China's bulldog on a chain. Keep up, Swiftboat.

    December 15, 2013 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  13. Antronman

    Wow, lil' K Jong Un reckless? I wonder how long that took to figure out. It would appear that the dark side is clouding this one's mind...

    December 15, 2013 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  14. Stephan

    Absolutely amazing! Like the French, the Chinese and the Russians have a short memory. We and the allies saved their countries from total destruction from the Germans and the Japanese. Roosevelt should have listened more intently to Churchill, when Churchill said he did not trust Stalin and to be careful what he shared with him. Now look what we have.........!

    December 15, 2013 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  15. jerrylax

    kerry…we are still here we know your real warrecord…and what a powermonger you are… you can fool some of the people some of the time but not all of us any time.

    December 15, 2013 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  16. Truth

    Stay out of Jerusalem Kerry! The Israelis simply want the USA to do the heavy lifting for them.

    December 15, 2013 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  17. john

    So what else is new? North Korean leaders executing other North Korean leaders. Ho hum....like in the Hermit Kingdom resumes as usual.

    December 15, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  18. ms oh

    This simply proved Kim Jong Un is carrying on the family nut job factor....

    December 15, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  19. karek40

    The action by Kim appears to consolidate his power rather than depict instability. If he kills all those that oppose him, that's pretty stable in the limit.

    December 15, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  20. Cynthia Avishegnath

    I think he read the Bible, with his dad Jong Il.

    His dad must believe himself to be David, and he to be Solomon.

    King David did not like his chief-of-staff Yoav. On his death bed, he instructed Solomon to get rid of Yoav if he wanted to hold on to power.

    So, just before he died, father Kim advised son Kim to get rid of Jang,

    December 15, 2013 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  21. pej

    Kim is very unpredictable leader that anytime soon could start nuke war with SKorea, Japan and US. China must tame his friend Kim Jung to maintain peace in the region or it would perish including the big part of China once war between US and NKorea irrupted into full scale one. US for sure won't allow itself be destroyed, the whole weight of it's Nuke Power would knock out NKorea, but unfortunately the surrounding nations would go down to the bin of history too. The saying goes " I must save my country first and foremost"

    December 15, 2013 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  22. Trevor NEB.

    The song "The end of the world" is starting to play in my head, like back in the 80s when we thought the Russians were going to nuke everyone just to find out ten years later they folded like a sheet of paper.

    December 15, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  23. pej

    China must tame his friend Kim or the whole region could be in total conflagration sooner or later.

    December 15, 2013 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  24. paul

    The longer the world waits to remove KIM JONG UN the more dangerous it gets, China is sending little junior out front to raise hell with his nieghbours so they can be seen as the one ruleing him in, In fact china it,s self is the major problem,
    What the west needs to do is send manufactureing firms into lower income areas like africa, india, bangladesh to produce low cost goods, that would greatly reduce chinas run away income and they could afford to spend less on military, I hate to have to tell you , you have got a major problem with china and north korea,

    December 15, 2013 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  25. Rheena

    What I see is a shrewd and calculating move by someone who outgrew his mentor. Obviously the uncle wanted the boy in to consolidate his own position - he wanted to be the 'silent' leader, but the boy learned the ropes and then used them to hang his foe. I'm not defending North Korea, or even the boy leader. Not at all. But I find the choice of buzzwords interesting (insecure, paranoid, reckless) when this kind of thing has gone on forever within the power structures of nations. The US does it's insecure, paranoid and reckless killing covertly - including it's own people. The boy was at least up front about it.

    December 15, 2013 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
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