Former national security adviser John Bolton criticized the Trump administration’s “rhetorical policy” toward North Korea and accused his old boss of not taking threats from the country’s leader Kim Jong Un seriously.
Bolton, who served as national security adviser until September, called into question whether the administration “really means it” about stopping North Korea’s nuclear ambition, telling Axios in an interview published Sunday that if so, the White House would “pursue a different course.”
“The idea that we are somehow exerting maximum pressure on North Korea is just unfortunately not true,” he said, as tensions rise with the latest threat from Pyongyang of a “Christmas gift” for the U.S., referring to a possible long-distance missile test.
Bolton indicated that if the rogue nation goes through with its threat and resumes its missile tests, the administration should do something “that would be very unusual.”
Officials should admit they were wrong, Bolton contended, and say, “We’ve tried. The policy’s failed. We’re going to go back now and make it clear that in a variety of steps, together with our allies, when we say it’s unacceptable, we’re going to demonstrate we will not accept it.”
“We’re now nearly three years into the administration with no visible progress toward getting North Korea to make the strategic decision to stop pursuing deliverable nuclear weapons,” Bolton said. “Time is on the side of the proliferator. The more time there is, the more time there is to develop, test, and refine both the nuclear component and the ballistic missile component of the program.”
While Trump made history this year as the only president to have crossed the demilitarized zone separating North Korea and South Korea, declaring that the nation no longer posed a nuclear threat, recent reports indicate Kim Jong Un has continued to grow his nation’s nuclear arsenal.
Bolton, who clashed with the president on how to handle North Korea, has pushed for more aggressive responses from the White House and criticized Trump on his dismissal of continued missile testing.
“When the president says, ‘Well, I’m not worried about short-range missiles,’ he’s saying, ‘I’m not worried about the potential risk to American troops deployed in the region or our treaty allies, South Korea and Japan,'” Bolton told Axios.
He also mocked a recent comment by Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, Trump’s envoy to North Korea, who said if the nation follows through on its latest threat, it would be “most unhelpful in achieving a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
Biegun’s statement, Bolton said, was “a late entry but a clear winner in the Understatement of the Year Award contest.”
An end-of-year deadline by North Korea to conduct negotiations with the U.S. on the nuclear issue appears to be approaching with no announced meeting in place amid the rumblings of an upcoming test around Christmas.
“I’ve been watching the Korean Peninsula for a quarter-century now. I’m familiar with their tactics, with their bluster,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters last week. “We need to get serious and sit down and have discussions about a political agreement that denuclearizes the peninsula. That is the best way forward and arguably the only way forward if we’re going to do something constructive.”
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