Bolton: Kim Jong-un Is Trying to ‘Divert Our Attention’ As He Races to Nuclear Finish Line

By Patrick Goodenough | March 8, 2018 | 4:19 AM EST

Kim Jong-un meets in Pyongyang this week with a South Korean delegation, headed by national security advisor Chung Eui-yong. (Photo: Uriminzokkiri)

( – Kim Jong-un is using an offer of dialogue with the United States as a “temporary device” to buy time as it races towards acquiring deliverable nuclear weapons – “before the end of this year,” former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton said Wednesday.

“By all accounts they are very close to achieving an objective they’ve been after for 25 years, so why do they want to talk now?” he asked during an interview on Fox News. “To divert out attention, to get us enmeshed – yet again – in negotiations, to get across that finish line.”

Twenty-five years of sporadic talks, direct and direct, have failed to stop the regime’s nuclear program, said Bolton, who served as the top arms control official in the George W. Bush administration.

“There’s no reason to think that with them a few yards away from the finish line – in year 26 – they’re suddenly going to get serious. Indeed I come to the opposite conclusion.”


“This is a temporary device by the North Koreans to do what negotiation has done for them for 25 years – buy time to make progress on their nuclear program,” Bolton said.

Following the recent Winter Olympics in South Korea, the liberal government in Seoul sent envoys for talks with Kim and they returned this week with offers of dialogue.

They said the North Korean dictator had said he was willing to abandon his nuclear ambitions in return for security guarantees and an end to “military threats against North Korea.”

The envoys said Kim offered to hold “candid” talks with the U.S. on denuclearization and normalizing bilateral ties, and pledged while talks were underway not to carry out any nuclear or ballistic missile tests.

Regarded by detractors as a “hardliner” and a “hawk,” Bolton was viewed as a contender for the position of national security advisor soon after President Trump’s election, and recently his name has come up in speculation that he could replace Gen. H.R. McMaster in that post. He reportedly visited the White House on Tuesday.

Asked on Fox News whether the regime in Pyongyang was taking this approach because of the policies of the Trump administration, Bolton agreed it had likely reached a point where it worries the current administration does not respond the way the Obama administration did for eight years.

But he added that Pyongyang also sees an opportunity to drive a wedge between the U.S. and its South Korean ally, and “force us into these negotiations.”

North Korea has carried out six nuclear tests between 2006 and last September, when it conducted the most powerful one yet.

Bolton said it was possible the regime does not need to conduct any more nuclear tests, and that was perhaps why it was now offering a test freeze.

Talking to the North Koreans was not in itself the problem.

“If the administration continued to increase pressure on North Korea that would be one thing. But I will bet you a dollar just as we’re sitting here today, you’re going to hear almost immediately ‘the United States has to contribute to the atmosphere, we’ve got to show good faith, let’s prime the pump’ – all of which is code talk for ‘make concessions,’” he said.

“And if that comes, then I think you can count on this: North Korea will get deliverable nuclear weapons before the end of this year,” he said.

Bolton said that view was based in part on Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo’s recent assessment that Pyongyang is within a “handful of months” from having the capability of reaching the U.S. mainland with a nuclear-tipped missile.

Bolton noted that South Korea had paid for the much-hyped, hastily-arranged North Korean participation in the recent Winter Olympics.

“This is the ‘sunshine policy’ crowd all over again,” he said in reference to the pro-engagement approach of liberal former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, who were in office between 1998 and 2008.

“They’re like putty in North Korea’s hands,” he said.

“It’s very emotional for South Koreans, I understand it,” Bolton said. “But as the great international relations theorist P.T. Barnum once said, ‘There’s a sucker born every minute.’”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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