Hayden talks North Korea at Wheeling Chamber dinner

FORMER CIA DIRECTOR — Former CIA Director Gen. Michael V. Hayden, left, walks Thursday with Andy McKenzie, president of the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce’s executive committee, outside Wheeling Park’s White Palace, where Hayden served as featured speaker for the chamber’s annual dinner. -- Scott McCloskey

WHEELING — Former CIA Director Gen. Michael V. Hayden predicts talks between America and North Korea will take place as planned next month, but this will only be the first step toward reducing North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.

Hayden served as keynote speaker for the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner, which took place Thursday night at Wheeling Park’s White Palace. Hayden is from Pittsburgh and a graduate of Duquesne University.

He told those present North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “is not crazy” as some might believe. Kim and President Donald Trump are scheduled to meet June 12 in Singapore, and U.S. officials have indicated they will push North Korea to stop its efforts toward nuclear weapons.

Hayden described Kim as “coolly rational,” and someone who knows his country needs nuclear technology for its survival.

“He would be crazy to give them up,” Hayden said of Kim. “The best scenario is the meeting goes OK, and they don’t come out yelling at each other. They come out and smile and shake hands, and begin a process that may over time lead not to zero, but to a more controlled, more transparent, less threatening North Korean nuclear posture.”

During an extensive overview of U.S. foreign policy, Hayden provided a synopsis of the current state of terrorism in Syria. He indicated the situation there is largely positive.

“We have put the American airpower there with Kurdish infantry, and we have used that combination to really beat the daylights out of ISIS,” he said.

Hayden said ISIS presence in Syria actually would be zero if Kurdish forces hadn’t been distracted when Turkish troops moved into the area. This activity provided the opportunity for two ISIS cells to again take shape in the country.

He said now the U.S. is going to go back in and abolish the remaining cells. The question now being pondered in Washington is how stabilization best can be achieved in the country to permanently eliminate ISIS, according to Hayden.

During the dinner, Chamber members presented Bob Contraguerro Sr., of Panhandle Cleaning and Restoration, with the Kathy Fortunato award for individual community service.

The chamber also honored Jim Pennington, president and CEO of The Health Plan, with its Community Commitment Award.

Susan Hogan, of Wheeling, was the winner of a drawing supporting the Civic Leaders Fellowship Program. Hogan won two first class airline tickets to anywhere Delta flies in the continental United States.

About 400 people attended the dinner.

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