Bolton: N.K. leader will never give up nukes voluntarily under current circumstances

September 30, 2019

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will never give up his nuclear weapons voluntarily under the current circumstances, former U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said Monday, offering regime change in Pyongyang as a solution to consider.

Bolton, who was dismissed earlier this month by President Donald Trump due to clashes over North Korea policy and other issues, made the remark at a forum in Washington as the two countries are expected to resume working-level talks on denuclearization in the coming weeks.

“It seems to me clear that the DPRK has not made a strategic decision to give up its nuclear weapons. In fact, I think the contrary is true,” Bolton said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“I think the strategic decision that Kim Jong-un is operating through is that he will do whatever he can to keep a deliverable nuclear weapons capability and to develop and enhance it further,” he continued.

“He may try to get relief from international sanctions. He may make some concessions. But under current circumstances, he will never give up the nuclear weapons voluntarily,” Bolton said.

The remarks come as denuclearization negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since a second summit between Trump and Kim in Vietnam in February ended without a deal.

Bolton is known for his hawkish views on foreign policy and has been blamed by Trump for hurting negotiations with Pyongyang through his insistence that nuclear disarmament had to come before sanctions relief.

At the forum, he declared his long-held belief in the need to consider military action against the North.

“There are things we should look to and have serious discussions about. One is the possibility, limited though it may be, of regime change in North Korea,” Bolton said.

After mentioning the need to discuss with China the goal of reunifying the two Koreas under a freely elected government similar to that in South Korea, he added: “Third, if you believe — and you may not — that it is unacceptable for North Korea to have nuclear weapons, at some point military force has to be an option.”

The alternative would be to allow North Korea to become “the new A.Q. Khan, the
Walmart or the Amazon of deliverable nuclear weapons,” he said, referring to the founder of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. “Or you could have more nuclear weapons states in Asia, like Japan, like South Korea. So 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.”

Bolton’s remarks appeared to undercut the Trump administration’s talking points, especially after the president said last week that another meeting with Kim “could happen soon.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said Thursday that working-level talks that had been hoped for this month had not been scheduled.

Trump and Kim have had three meetings since June 2018 to negotiate the North’s denuclearization in exchange for U.S. economic and political concessions.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been credited with driving the diplomatic process, including by holding three summits of his own with Kim.

Bolton, however, alluded to South Korea as he noted that some parts of the world are “ready to fall sucker” to Pyongyang’s calls for “action for action,” or matching its denuclearization steps with economic and political aid.

“Even now we see governments, particularly South Korea, watching North Korea test KN-23 and KN-25 missiles, but providing them food aid because the North Koreans say their harvests have been bad and economic conditions are difficult — not so difficult they can’t launch ballistic missiles, but too difficult to buy food for their people,” he said.

Bolton took another swipe at Trump as he disputed the president’s repeated claims that North Korea’s short-range ballistic missile tests since May were unimportant and not a breach of Kim’s promise to him to stop nuclear and long-range missile tests.

“The testing of shorter-range ballistic missiles that we’ve seen in recent months doesn’t give us any reason to think that those are not threatening,” he said, explaining that the same technologies used in short-range ballistic missiles can be applied to longer-range ballistic missiles.

“One very good, very troubling reason why there’s no more testing of nuclear weapons for the moment, or of long-range missiles, is that North Korea has in its judgment, for well or ill, finished testing, and can produce nuclear warheads and long-range ballistic missiles,” he added, contradicting Trump’s insistence that the North’s suspension of testing is an outcome of his diplomatic engagement with Kim.

“That’s not an encouraging sign,” Bolton said. “That’s a sign to be worried about.”