The White House national security adviser on Sunday described President Donald Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a success despite the lack of an agreement providing for verifiable dismantling of the North’s nuclear sites.
John Bolton, in three television interviews, tried to make that case that Trump advanced America’s national security interests by rejecting a bad agreement while working to persuade Kim to take “the big deal that really could make a difference for North Korea.”
The U.S. and North Korea have offered contradictory accounts of why last week’s summit in Vietnam broke down, though both pointed to American sanctions as a sticking point.
Bolton said the leaders left on good terms and that Trump made an important point to North Korea and other countries that negotiate with him.
“He’s not desperate for a deal, not with North Korea, not with anybody if it’s contrary to American national interests,” Bolton said.
Bolton also sought to explain Trump’s comments about taking Kim’s word about Otto Warmbier, the American college student who was held prisoner in North Korea, then sent home in a vegetative state. Trump said he didn’t believe Kim knew about or would have allowed what happened to Warmbier.
“He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word,” Trump said at a news conference last week.
Bolton said Trump’s “got a difficult line to walk to” in negotiating with North Korea.
“It doesn’t mean that he accepts it as reality. It means that he accepts that’s what Kim Jong Un said,” Bolton said.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., a close Trump ally, broke with the president.
“I think Kim knew what happened, which was wrong,” McCarthy said.
Some have been critical for Trump letting Kim stand with him on the world stage given North Korea’s poor human rights record. Kim will be able to portray himself to his people and supporters as the charismatic head of a nuclear-armed power, not an international pariah that starves its citizens so it can build weapons.
But Bolton said that Trump’s view is that he “gave nothing away.”
Asked whether that was his view, too, Bolton replied: “The president’s view is he gave nothing away. That’s what matters, not my view.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, summarized the summit as a “spectacular failure” made all the worse by Trump’s comments on “murder of an American citizen, Otto Warmbier.”
“This is, I think, the result of a president who is not prepared for these kind of negotiations, a staff that is not well-prepared and that is essentially flying by the seat of its pants, and it has real-world consequences,” Schiff said. “Those reactors continue to spin on, producing more material that can threaten us and our allies,” said Schiff, D-Calif.
Bolton said Trump has “turned traditional diplomacy on its head, and after all in the case of North Korea, why not? Traditional diplomacy has failed in the last three administrations.”
An example of that non-traditional diplomacy was formally unveiled Sunday when South Korea and the U.S. announced they would not conduct massive springtime military drills and were replacing them with smaller exercises. They described it as an effort to support diplomacy aimed at resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis.
“The reason I do not want military drills with South Korea is to save hundreds of millions of dollars for the U.S. for which we are not reimbursed,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “That was my position long before I became President. Also, reducing tensions with North Korea at this time is a good thing!”
In another tweet Sunday, the president seemed to cast criticism at Democrats for holding a congressional hearing with his former lawyer Michael Cohen while he was in sensitive negotiations overseas.
“For the Democrats to interview in open hearings a convicted liar & fraudster, at the same time as the very important Nuclear Summit with North Korea, is perhaps a new low in American politics and may have contributed to the ‘walk.’ Never done when a president is overseas. Shame!”
Bolton spoke on Fox News Sunday, CNN’s State of the Union and CBS’s Face the Nation. McCarthy was on ABC’s This Week, and Schiff was on CBS.