WASHINGTON (Reuters) - North Korea has no intention of giving up its nuclear weapons and Pyongyang benefits from stalling in its standoff with Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump’s ousted national security adviser John Bolton said in a speech on Monday.
“It seems to be clear that (North Korea) has not made a strategic decision to give up its nuclear weapons. In fact, I think the contrary is true,” Bolton, a hardliner towards North Korea and Iran who was fired by Trump three weeks ago, said at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
Under current circumstances, Bolton said, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “will never give up the nuclear weapons voluntarily.”
In firing Bolton, Trump said he “disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions” and that the former adviser had made mistakes by demanding that Kim follow a “Libyan model” in which he would have to give up all his nuclear weapons unilaterally.
Trump has met Kim to negotiate North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons, but talks have been stalled since the two leaders’ failed second summit in Hanoi in February.
Bolton, a foreign policy hawk and Trump’s third national security adviser, had pressed Trump not to let up pressure on North Korea despite diplomatic efforts.
In his speech, Bolton issued a litany of warnings about how Washington was handling the North Korea threat, from sanctions not being enforced effectively and U.S. complacency about Pyongyang’s missile testing to suspension of “war games” with South Korea.
“Right now we are in a classic standoff with North Korea,” Bolton said. “They want a piece of something that we should not be prepared to give them.”
Since taking office in 2017, Trump has gone from belittling Kim on Twitter as “little rocket man” to embracing a personal brand of diplomacy, and meetings with Kim, as a way to achieve what formal negotiations have not.
Bolton outlined what he believes are the gains North Korea has made and the proliferation threat that remains - and took a swipe at his former boss’ priorities.
“These are questions that need to focus our attention, not ‘can we get another summit with Kim Jong Un’ or ‘what the state of staff-level negotiations are to achieve a commitment from North Korea it will never honor,” he said.
Asked if “romance diplomacy” was the best way with North Korea, Bolton replied: “I am not going to comment on that.”
But he warned that the freeze in North Korea’s testing of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, which Trump has hailed as a triumph of his diplomacy, came because Pyongyang had finished testing of such weapons.
“That’s not an encouraging sign. That’s a sign to be worried about,” he said, while adding that North Korea’s recent testing of shorter-range missiles, which Trump has sought to play down, could help development of longer-range missiles.
Bolton said there was an ongoing danger of North Korea selling nuclear expertise to other countries, and argued that for those who believed it was unacceptable for Pyongyang to have nuclear weapons “at some point, military force has to be an option.”
Bolton, a chief architect of Trump’s strident stance against Iran, had argued against the president’s suggestions of a possible meeting with the Iranian leadership and advocated a tougher approach on Russia and, more recently, Afghanistan.
“Time works against those who oppose nuclear proliferation and a relaxed attitude to time is a benefit to the likes of North Korea and Iran,” Bolton said, while also arguing that any relaxation of sanctions benefited the proliferator more than any marginal reduction in a nuclear program.
Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Peter Graff and Alistair Bell