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. Edutron

    When you have a president that states that Christmas trees do not exist and call them holiday trees, you have a serious problem in the United States. The NSA has every right to have a firm grip on this president. Why would anybody fear this nation? In fact, the N. Koreans know they can nuke S. Korea, nuke Japan, send nukes to Alaska, sell nukes to Hamas and anybody else and have nothing to lose because the United States supports fanatical Islamic terrorism, supports fanatical Iranian nuclear ambitions, and supports the elimination of Christianity from the WH. Also, do not forget the trying to instill SOCIALISM at every whim. A civil war may not be to far away!

    December 15, 2013 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  2. Will

    In North Korea, attempting to overthrow the government carries the death penalty while in the US you get 20 years in jail.

    December 15, 2013 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  3. jon wilson

    North Korea is a hell hole with a horribly corrupt and oppressive government. I can only imagine what a dismal and bland lifestyle these people must live. Many people don't even have enough to eat. God forbid you say anything bad about the government, you'll end up dead or in some freezing concentration camp. Un is a nut case. Some one needs to take him out

    December 15, 2013 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  4. Grumpster

    When you whack your kin, you really have some serious mental problems.

    December 15, 2013 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
  5. ruth

    I would not give you 2 cents for Kerry....that photo -op when he was in vietnam,notice I said he was just IN vietnam,helped his political career...must be nice to be a privileged person to have a tv crew take pictures of you getting off a boat and roam around saying how hard it was for you in battle.....battle my foot ....he did nothing ,he was never in harms way ...what an idiot....ask the swift boaters who actually served their country

    December 15, 2013 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  6. stopdrinkinthekoolaid

    considering who this guy works for and that he signs drone death warrants on American citizens overseas with no judge, jury or any normal degree of procedure.. he is not one to talk. Its statements like this that indicate that this doofus has no business being sec of state.. and even more so that the person who put him there doesn't belong in that office either.

    December 15, 2013 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  7. kebcarerra

    If it's unacceptable what are you going to do ? Amnesty International is making claims of over 200,000 political prisoners in concentration camps where they are daily raped and tortured and starved to death. Then again claiming the total disappearance of 30,000 prisoners from camp 16 or 22 . Where did they go ? Is this another holocaust ? If what is being said is true then it's time to act . If what is being said is just a ploy by those who really have very little intelligence and want more converts to their christian capitalism and they just hate communism so lies are okay forget about it .

    December 15, 2013 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  8. Mike

    Rheena, might be. Still, keep in mind his uncle was prob. the one person who had close ties to the Chinese govt. that they trusted, respected. N. Korea must keep its ties to China – it's their only true lifeline. If that bridge is severely damaged, you're left with a regime that is isolated, paranoid, and desperate. By executing his uncle, that becomes more likely. Not a good thing.

    December 15, 2013 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  9. x_whoknows

    And yet you and Obama bend over at every face to face meeting with countries that hate the USA..........

    December 15, 2013 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  10. lean6

    Why do we need to make an official statement about North Korean cabinet management? Events directed towards our allies would be a different thing.

    December 15, 2013 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  11. MD

    Kim is also a fanatic moron.

    December 15, 2013 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  12. afnmvet

    Kerry; "Kim is reckless". Well Duh

    December 15, 2013 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  13. Richard

    The execution of Kim Jong Un's uncle was not only the result of a power struggle. In fact, it had more to do with Kim Jong's wife, her relationship to the uncle and the financially strapped actor's guild she once was a member of.

    December 15, 2013 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
  14. SirQL8

    'Kim Jong Un is reckless'.....He regularly picks fights with his neighbor, counts Dennis Rodman as a personal friend and executes family members on trumped up charges......reckless? ya think ? Hey Kerry, I got a more earth-shattering revelation for you.....'The sky is blue.' Really? We pay you $250k or so a year to tell us this ? Has the Oval Orifice decided to 'dumb down' it's declarations to a 5th grade level or is this the actual intellectual acumen of the average cabinet member ? C'mon, man !

    December 15, 2013 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  15. don

    Kerry is right, as long as the government doesn't shut down, I'm all for invasion

    December 15, 2013 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  16. liberal disease

    as kerry flies around the world in private planes, hotel suites and expensive dinners to save the world, his boss is destroying this country pice by piece.

    December 15, 2013 09:53 pm at 9:53 pm |
  17. Confucian Scholar

    Rheena, you think your self clever by reading method in what actually is an act of madness and desperation. The definitive failure of protected economies has been abundantly established by historical evidence. NK also has a problem of endemic corruption and an absolute leader who is an imbecile. NK is rapidly becoming undone.

    December 15, 2013 09:54 pm at 9:54 pm |
  18. zooeyhall

    Kim has stepped over a boundary and is now in dangerous waters. Those around him–who had assumed themselves safe-now realize this pudgy little monster in their midst could turn on one of them at any moment. They may bump him off to save themselves.

    Kim made a big mistake doing this.

    December 15, 2013 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
  19. 1alien1

    kim jon un is no different than his past family members. a ruthless dictator, period. that is how you control a country

    December 15, 2013 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  20. JJ

    Kim Jong; "Kerry is reckless".
    Seems like we have a stand off folks...

    December 15, 2013 10:40 pm at 10:40 pm |
  21. puddintane

    Ah, the kid is just a bit insecure, just give him time and understanding, maybe offer him some dope made in Woodstock and all will be well

    December 15, 2013 11:17 pm at 11:17 pm |
  22. Rob

    This ninja is off the chain

    December 15, 2013 11:42 pm at 11:42 pm |
  23. mutantsubhuman

    Was he talking about Kim Jong Um or Obama? Or, are they both reckless and insecure?

    December 15, 2013 11:53 pm at 11:53 pm |
  24. comment

    The US executive branch's interest is likely more envy of Kim Jong Un’s ability to quickly silence and remove those that share power or question the supreme one...

    December 16, 2013 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  25. Andres

    John Kerry again on the wrong side of every issue. Lill Kim is just rehashing the same play book his daddy and grand daddy did, just a lot more public about it all. When is this president going to realize that John Kerry is not only a liability to the his administration but the the US itself. Kerry is not only clueless but reckless and that has already cost us dearly. Egypt is now firmly entrenched in the Russian sphere of influence. Russia will be building a naval port in Alexandria. Saudi Arabia is making nice with Russia, Syria is a Russian client. We have lost much influence in the middle east and with Kerry at the helm we will continue to lose more and more influence in the world

    December 16, 2013 01:13 am at 1:13 am |
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