Former defense secretary: I'm skeptical about Trump-Kim Jong Un meeting

Key Points
  • Former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen said he was skeptical about a planned meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
  • He said he had reservations about whether North Korea would actually get rid of all its nuclear weapons.
  • The positions of John Bolton, Trump's pick to replace H.R. McMaster as national security advisor, were some cause for concern, Cohen added.
We have to recognize that China is 'a great power': Former US defense secretary
We have to recognize that China is 'a great power': Former US defense secretary

There are good reasons to be skeptical about a bilateral meeting that's supposed to take place between the U.S. and North Korea, Cohen said.

U.S. President Donald Trump made the surprise decision earlier this month to accept an invitation to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by May, although specific details of that meeting have yet to be announced.

Cohen, who led the Defense Department under the Bill Clinton White House, maintained that he had reservations about the North Korea talks based on his personal experience.

"In my own experience in dealing with the North Koreans, there's never been a discussion that they will denuclearize ... I don't believe that they're committed to doing that now," Cohen, currently the chairman and CEO of consultancy The Cohen Group, said Sunday at the China Development Forum in Beijing.

While North Korea appeared willing to sit down with the U.S. to talk, according to Cohen, it was worth noting that the hermit nation had also never complied with prior agreements.

"I'm skeptical that they would really get rid of all their nuclear weapons," he said.

Cohen last year warned that North Korea was the "most dangerous issue" facing the world, a claim he said was still true today.

Other analysts and experts have cautioned that it was important to manage expectations around the meeting. Following the Trump administration's "maximum pressure" policy on North Korea, the agreement to meet with Kim could potentially erode the effectiveness of sanctions, some indicated.

Another factor in the mix has been Trump's pick to replace H.R. McMaster as national security advisor: John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton, who is regarded as a foreign policy super-hawk, had previously argued for preemptive strikes against North Korea.

Although it's too early to tell how Bolton will influence policy, Cohen highlighted that rhetoric was an important consideration going forward.

"I think there's reason for concern, in terms of Mr. Bolton, in terms of his positions, because he is much more aggressive in terms of the use of force ... So I think we have to be careful of our language, that the rhetoric doesn't get ahead of the policy," Cohen said.

— CNBC's Nyshka Chandran contributed to this report.