National Security Adviser John Bolton declared last week’s summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “a success,” despite its abrupt breakdown and failure to produce a denuclearization deal.
Bolton lauded Trump’s efforts at the summit, held Wednesday and Thursday in Hanoi, Vietnam, while making the rounds on several Sunday talk shows.
“I think it was unquestionably a success for the United States because the president protected, defended American interests,” Bolton said on CNN’s “State Of The Union.”
The former Fox News commentator then described how Trump failed to accomplish what he had set out to do.
“The possibility was there for North Korea to make a big deal with us to do complete denuclearization for the potential for a very bright economic future,” Bolton said. ”[Trump] wanted to make that big deal. He pushed very hard for it. The North Koreans were not willing to walk through the door that he opened for them. So now we’ll see what happens.”
Host Jake Tapper pressed Bolton on what the U.S. achieved during the summit. “What did the U.S. get?” Tapper asked, noting that Trump had given Kim something he wanted by ending large-scale military drills with South Korea.
“I think what the United States gets from this is we show again the potential for the opening of North Korea if they’re prepared to denuclearize,” Bolton responded. “We’ll let the North Koreans evaluate what happened.”
Following his first summit with Kim in Singapore last June, Trump declared that North Korea had agreed to complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and that the hermit country was “no longer a nuclear threat.” But satellite images have shown North Korea has continued to develop its ballistic missiles program.
Last week’s follow-up summit took place amid hopes of brokering a more concrete denuclearization deal. But talks were cut short on the second day and no breakthrough was made.
Bolton acknowledged that North Korea is continuing to produce nuclear fuel during an appearance Sunday on CBS’ “Face The Nation.”
“Aren’t they a growing threat if they can continue to develop nuclear fuel?” host Margaret Brennan asked. “Doesn’t the leverage get reduced on our end?”
Bolton denied that U.S. leverage had been weakened.
“I think we will keep the maximum pressure campaign in place,” he said. “It was the (economic and financial) sanctions that brought the North Koreans to the table. It’s the sanctions they want relief from and relief they can get if they denuclearize.”
Asked whether Trump’s decision to meet with Kim as if he’s “an equal” benefited the North Korean leader, Bolton refused to offer his opinion on the matter.
“The president’s view is he gave nothing away,” Bolton said. “That’s what matters ― not my view. ... I’m the national security adviser. I’m not the national security decision maker.”
Bolton also refused to weigh in with his own stance on Trump’s eyebrow-raising comments during a press conference in Hanoi about Otto Warmbier, the American college student who was imprisoned in North Korea and died after being returned to the U.S. in a vegetative state in 2017.
“Those prisons are rough, they’re rough places and bad things happened. But I don’t believe [Kim] knew about it,” Trump said on Thursday. “He tells me he didn’t know about it and I will take him at his word.”
Warmbier’s parents responded a day later, placing the blame for their son’s torture and death squarely on “Kim and his evil regime.”
“No excuses or lavish praise can change that,” they wrote.
Asked on CNN whether Kim is responsible for Warmbier’s death, Bolton refused to provide his own assessment of what happened.
“Look, the president made it very clear he considers what happened to Otto Warmbier an act of brutality that’s completely unacceptable to the American side,” he told Tapper. “The best thing North Korea could do right now would be to give us a full accounting of what happened and who was responsible for it.”
Tapper continued to grill him, “Do you take Kim Jong Un at his word?”
“The president takes him at his word ― ” Bolton responded. Tapper interrupted and asked him again for his personal take on the issue.
“My opinion doesn’t matter,” Bolton said, prompting Tapper to remind him that his role is to advise the president on national security decisions.
“Your opinion matters quite a bit,” he told Bolton.