While the United States has repeatedly stated that its goals regarding North Korea do not include a regime change, CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s recent statements regarding Kim Jong un may indicate the beginning of a shift from that position.

North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs have developed rapidly in recent months, from the almost comical basis of Supreme Leader Kim Jong un’s tone deaf threats of annihilation, to a legitimate strategic concern with intercontinental ballistic missiles potentially capable of delivering on his promises.  As a result, the U.S. Navy has maintained a presence in the waters around the Korean peninsula, as both a show of force, and as a means to utilize America’s ship-based Aegis missile defense system in the event of an attack.  Despite the increasing threat posed by Kim’s regime, however, the United States has continually stood by its claims that it seeks a denuclearized North Korea, not a new figure-head for its government.

“As [President Donald J. Trump] and [Defense Secretary Jim Mattis] have made clear, all options are on the table. We want to bring Kim Jong Un to his senses, not to his knees,” Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, told law makers in April.

However, in a discussion moderated by conservative New York Times columnist Bret Stephens at the Aspen Security Forum this week, the CIA Director seemed to indicate that the focus moving forward may be on Kim Jong un, rather than his nukes.