The US policy to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programme is "probably a lost cause", the US national intelligence director has said.
James Clapper said the best the US could hope for was a cap on the North's capabilities, in a speech in New York.
It is a rare admission that Washington's long-standing goal of denuclearisation may not be achievable.
However, the US state department said its policy had not changed.
North Korea claims to have made rapid progress in its nuclear and rocket programmes in recent years despite international opposition and strict sanctions.
In September, the country carried out its fifth and largest nuclear test, to worldwide condemnation.
Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank on Tuesday, Mr Clapper described the North Korean government as "paranoid", and said it saw nuclear weapons as "their ticket to survival".
"So the notion of giving up their nuclear capability, whatever it is, is a non-starter with them," he added.
He suggested offering economic inducements to North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un to limit his nuclear arsenal might be a better policy.
Responding to Mr Clapper's comments, the state department said it still aimed for a resumption of six-nation negotiations, from which the North pulled out in 2009.
The US is due to deploy its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defence system in South Korea soon, despite opposition from China and North Korea.
Washington and Seoul insist it is purely for defending against threats from North Korea.