Bolton Rejects Trump’s Claims of Success on North Korea Nukes
John Bolton, national security adviser, pauses outside the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Tom Brenner/Bloomberg)

Bolton Rejects Trump’s Claims of Success on North Korea Nukes

(Bloomberg) -- Former National Security Advisor John Bolton said the U.S. can’t “simply pretend” North Korea is making progress toward denuclearizing and said Kim Jong Un will never give up his nuclear stockpile without more pressure.

Defying key claims by Donald Trump and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Bolton said in his first public remarks since leaving the White House that Kim will keep pressing for sanctions relief while holding on to his nuclear program, leaving the U.S. in a position of having to weigh military force against Pyongyang.

“It seems to me clear that the DPRK has not made a strategic decision to give up its nuclear weapons,” Bolton said Monday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, using an acronym for North Korea. “The strategic decision that Kim Jong Un is operating through is that he will do whatever he can to keep a deliverable nuclear weapons capability and to develop and enhance it further.”

Bolton Rejects Trump’s Claims of Success on North Korea Nukes

Bolton was unexpectedly dismissed from the White House earlier this month, prompting yet another overhaul of the National Security Council and leaving Pompeo as Trump’s most powerful adviser on foreign policy issues. Bolton and Pompeo repeatedly clashed on key foreign strategy toward hot spots from Venezuela to North Korea.

‘Bromance Diplomacy’

Bolton wouldn’t comment on Trump’s “bromance diplomacy” with Kim -- the two leaders have met face-to-face three times -- but said international sanctions the U.S. helped impose on North Korea in 2017 aren’t being effectively enforced. The famously hawkish Bolton warned that military options need to be part of the mix when dealing with the North Korea regime.

While some analysts view the use of military force as “unimaginable” because of the damage it would wreak on Seoul and the rest of South Korea, Bolton acknowledged, he quoted General Joseph Dunford, the recently departed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as saying that allowing a North Korean nuclear weapon to land in Denver, Colorado, was what he viewed as unimaginable.

“I think General Dunford was completely correct,” Bolton said.

Undercutting Trump

In his speech at CSIS, Bolton also undercut a key boast of the administration: that Trump’s combination of diplomacy and sanctions led to a halt of intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear weapons tests. Trump and Pompeo regularly tout Kim’s lack of tests as evidence of their successful strategy, though there have been essentially no negotiations in recent months.

“One reason -- one very good, very troubling reason -- why there’s no more testing of nuclear weapons for the moment, or of long-range missiles, is that North Korea has in its judgment, for well or ill, finished testing and can produce nuclear warheads and long-range ballistic missiles,” Bolton said. “That’s not an encouraging sign, that’s a sign to be worried about.”

Bolton Rejects Trump’s Claims of Success on North Korea Nukes

North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations said Washington’s “political and military provocations ” and continued U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises were partly behind the delays in nuclear talks. “It depends on the U.S.” whether negotiations “will become a window of opportunity or an occasion that will hasten the crisis,” Ambassador Kim Song said on Monday.

Relations between the U.S. and North Korea “have made little progress so far” and the situation on the Korean Peninsula hasn’t come out of a “vicious cycle of increased tension,” Ambassador Kim said in a speech at the UN General Assembly. He blamed South Korea for “double dealing behavior” as it “introduced ultra modern offensive weapons” and held joint military exercises with the U.S.

Acknowledging his role as a hardliner on U.S. policy toward North Korea, as well as other issues, Bolton said Kim’s regime was probably “delighted” that he was now speaking in a private capacity and no longer as a top Trump aide.

North Korea officials said as much this month when they referred to Bolton in reports in state media as a “troublemaker” with an “anachronistic way of thinking.”

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