Bolton sabotaged the Korean Peninsula peace process at every opportunity

Posted on : 2020-06-24 18:16 KST Modified on : 2020-06-24 18:16 KST
The former US national security advisor’s memoir is rife with opposition to inter-Korean reconciliation
Former White House National Security Advisor John Bolton.
Former White House National Security Advisor John Bolton.

Former White House National Security Advisor John Bolton thwarted the momentum for peace and dialogue on the Korean Peninsula at every critical moment in talks between Pyongyang and Washington, it has emerged. His memoir “The Room Where It Happened” includes numerous instances showing him to be an ultra-hardline “super hawk” echoing the Japanese administration in its attempt to sabotage inter-Korean reconciliation.

Bolton never made a secret of his extremely negative views regarding South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s Korean Peninsula peace process and the North Korea-US denuclearization talks. In his memoir, he writes, “This whole diplomatic fandango was South Korea’s creation, relating more to its ‘unification’ agenda than serious strategy on Kim’s part or ours.” His remarks expressed his displeasure not only over the improvement of North Korea-US relations not conforming to US strategy, but also over the overall agenda being seized by Moon. He describes his perspective as being similar to that of Japanese National Security Advisor Shotaro Yachi, who believes that North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons and who views the “action for action” approach as pointless.

Commenting on Moon’s commitment to North Korea’s complete denuclearization and his recommendation to hold both bilateral North Korea-US talks and a trilateral summit with South Korea during a telephone conversation with US President Donald Trump after the inter-Korea summit in Panmunjom on Apr. 27, 2018, Bolton writes, “The Moon call especially had been ‘a near-death experience,’ I said, and [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo responded, ‘Having cardiac arrest in Saudi Arabia.’” This reflected his cynicism and profound rejection of the very idea of inter-Korean and North Korea-US dialogue.

Bolton is also shown to have actively attempted to thwart North Korea-US summits on several occasions. Noting the lack of communication by North Korea and US advance teams for the two sides’ first summit in Singapore in June 2018, he recalls urging Trump to tweet that the summit had been cancelled before Moon visited the US. The plan did not end up happening after Trump said he wanted to hear what Moon had to say.

After the first North Korea-US summit in Singapore, Bolton continued his attempts to prevent meetings between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Trump.

“Kim sent Trump one of his famous ‘love letters’ at the beginning of August [2018], criticizing the lack of progress since Singapore and suggesting the two of them get together again soon,” he writes, adding that Trump also moved to speed the talks along. In response to Trump’s mention of inviting Kim to the White House in September of that year, Bolton quotes himself as telling Trump, “The letter is written by the dictator of a rat-shit little country. He doesn’t deserve another meeting with you until he has met with Pompeo, as he agreed to just a couple of weeks ago.”

In response, he quotes Trump as saying, “You have such hostility. [. . .] I want the meeting the first week after the election, and Mike [Pompeo] should call today and ask for it.”

Bolton boycotted draft agreement ahead of Hanoi summit

Bolton also played a decisive part in the collapse of the second North Korea-US summit in Hanoi in February 2019. To begin with, he boycotted the draft agreement developed by State Department Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun through negotiations with Pyongyang.

Explaining that he received the draft statement en route to Hanoi, he writes, “The [National Security Council’s] Allison Hooker said Biegun had ‘table-dropped’ it at a meeting with the North, without previously clearing it. It read as if drafted by North Korea, enumerating all Trump’s prior ‘concessions’ [. . .] without seeking anything in return beyond another vague statement that North Korea would agree to define ‘denuclearization.’” In response, he recalled contacting US Vice President Mike Pence and Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to attempt to head off its adoption.

“[The State Department's] negotiators seemed to be spinning out of control, overcome by zeal for the deal, and intoxicated by the publicity,” he writes.

Encouraged Trump to walk out of negotiations with Kim Jong-un

Bolton also raised the option of walking out of the negotiations ahead of time with Trump. He describes showing Trump a video of former President Ronald Reagan walking out of talks in Reykjavik with Soviet Union General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986 in order to prevent him from making any unexpected concessions.

“When we finished, Trump himself said the key points he carried away were: ‘I’ve got the leverage,’ ‘I don’t need to be rushed,’ and ‘I could walk away,’” he recalls, adding that he felt greatly relieved at the time. The passage offers a direct glimpse of how worried he was about the prospect of Pyongyang and Washington reaching an agreement.

During the North Korea-US summit, Bolton recalls insisting, “We needed a full baseline declaration of North Korea’s nuclear, chemical, biological, and ballistic-missile programs.” Previously unagreed-upon demands for the reporting of ballistic missiles and biological and chemical weapons played a decisive role in the summit’s collapse. Preoccupied with the Michael Cohen hearings in the wake of the Russia scandal at the time, Trump walked out of the summit as Bolton had hoped. Even before the meeting, Bolton had attempted to sabotage it by incurring Pyongyang’s displeasure with references to the “Libya model,” where the Libyan administration collapsed after giving up nuclear weapons.

After reading the memoir, a Blue House official said, “It came out through the memoir how Bolton played the role of saboteur for peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

“I can understand why President Moon has placed so much emphasis on the ‘top-down’ approach between leaders,” the official added.

By Seong Yeon-cheol, staff reporter

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