Trump: Bolton ‘Set Back’ North Korea Diplomacy by Bringing Up Libya

By Patrick Goodenough | September 12, 2019 | 4:19am EDT
John Bolton arrives for a signing ceremony between President Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12, 2018. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

( – President Trump said Wednesday his now-departed National Security Advisor John Bolton had “set back” his North Korean outreach efforts by suggesting that a nuclear deal with Pyongyang follow the “Libyan model.”

“We were set back very badly when John Bolton talked about the Libyan model,” Trump hold reporters in the Oval Office. “And he made a mistake. And as soon as he mentioned that – the Libyan model – what a disaster. Take a look at what happened to [Libyan leader Muammar] Gaddafi with the Libyan model. And he’s using that to make a deal with North Korea?”

“And I don’t blame Kim Jong Un for what he said after that,” he continued. “And he wanted nothing to do with John Bolton. And that’s not a question of being tough; that’s a question of being not smart, to say something like that.”

In comments that jumped between North Korea, Iran, China, and Venezuela, Trump offered several other reasons for parting ways with Bolton, including differences he had “with people in the administration that I consider very important.” He also suggested Bolton had been too tough on Venezuela, but not tough enough when it came to China.

“I disagreed with John Bolton on his attitudes on Venezuela. I thought he was way out of line, and I think I’ve proven to be right,” he said, without elaborating.

On China, Trump said, “John wasn’t in line with what we were doing, and actually in some cases he thought it was too tough what we were doing.”

Trump said he had told Bolton, “A lot of us, including me, disagree with some of your tactics and some of your ideas. And I wish you well but I’d like you to submit your resignation, and he did that.”

The “Libya model” comments came in interviews shortly before, and then again in the weeks after Bolton assumed his post in April last year.

He was speaking at the time about the modalities of getting the North Korean dictator to surrender his nuclear arsenal, and recalled how Gaddafi was persuaded to relinquish his WMD programs in 2003.

Bolton was serving as undersecretary of state for arms control in the George W. Bush administration at the time when, following the fall of Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi agreed in late 2003 to give up his nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs. Over the following months Libya’s equipment, centrifuges, and missile parts were shipped to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

Seven years later NATO launched an airstrike campaign in support of Libyans facing a bloody crackdown by Gaddafi. The campaign helped to end the dictator’s four-decade rule, and he was killed by rebel fighters later that year.

A photo released by North Korean state media shows John Bolton shaking hands with Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12, 2018, as White House chief of staff John Kelly and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo look on. (Photo: Uriminzokkiri)

North Korea has long been sensitive about the episode. When NATO began its campaign in March 2011, its foreign ministry linked the intervention directly to Gaddafi’s earlier relinquishing of the WMD programs.

“The fact has been revealed clearly to the whole world that the so-called ‘Libyan option of giving up of the nuclear program’ is in reality a way of military takeover after disarming of the opposite party through its deception by sweet promises about a ‘security guarantee,’” the regime in Pyongyang said at the time.

North Korea’s antipathy towards Bolton dates back to the Bush years, when his criticism of Kim Jong Il in a 2003 speech prompted the regime to label him “human scum.”

When he made the Libya comments last year, the regime reacted furiously, expressing a “feeling of repugnance” towards Bolton.

Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan pointed not just to Gaddafi’s ultimate fate, but also seemed insulted that Bolton would compare North Korea’s nuclear weapons capability with the nascent Libyan programs, calling the comparison preposterous.

Alluding to what happened to both Gaddafi and Saddam, Kim Kye Gwan condemned “sinister moves to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq which … collapsed due to yielding of their countries to big powers.”

‘A different mental structure from ordinary people’

Amid North Korea’s threats to walk away from a scheduled summit in Singapore the following month, Trump repudiated the Libya model notion, stressing he was not looking for a Libya-like deal with Pyongyang since it had not included security guarantees for Gaddafi.

An envisaged deal with Kim, he told reporters, would be “something where he’d be there, he’d be in his country, he’d be running his country, his country would be very rich.”

The historic Singapore summit went ahead, and when it did so Bolton was one of three top officials at Trump’s side. North Korean state media footage showed Bolton shaking hands with a smiling Kim.

Their second summit, in Hanoi last February, ended early and without agreement – an outcome observers attributed to Bolton’s cautious stance.

In April, North Korea’s foreign minister called Bolton “dim-sighted” for saying in an interview the regime needs to give a “real indication” of its readiness to give up nuclear weapons before Trump would meet with Kim for a third summit.

The following month Bolton was again slammed by the regime, after saying that North Korean short-range ballistic missile launches violated U.N. Security Council resolutions. Nine resolutions passed by the Security Council since 2006 call for North Korea to stop “all” ballistic missile activities.

North Korea’s foreign ministry responded by disputing it was violating any resolutions, and accusing the national security advisor of “impudently poking his nose into other’s internal matters.”

“It takes little insight to determine that Bolton clearly does have a different mental structure from ordinary people,” it said.

When Trump met with Kim for the third time, in the DMZ separating North and South Korea at the end of June, Bolton was more than 1,000 miles away in Mongolia, for a previously scheduled meeting with that country’s prime minister.


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