The White House on Sunday defended the collapse of President Donald Trump’s summit last week in Hanoi with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying American interests were protected by not agreeing to a partial deal on Pyongyang’s terms.
National Security Adviser John Bolton told CBS News, “The issue really was whether North Korea was prepared to accept what the president called ‘the big deal,’ which is denuclearize entirely under a definition the president handed to Kim Jong Un and have the potential for an enormous economic future or try and do something less than that, which was unacceptable to us.”
“So the president held firm to his view,” Bolton said. “He deepened his relationship with Kim Jong Un. I don’t view it as a failure at all when American national interests are protected.”
In one of a round of interviews on news talk shows, Bolton told CNN, “We showed again the potential for North Korea, if they’re willing to denuclearize.”
But he added, “If you can’t get a good deal, no deal is better than a bad deal.”
Bolton told CBS that North Korea was willing to make “a very limited concession” to dismantle its Yongbyon nuclear weapons complex, which he described as “an aging nuclear reactor and some percentage of their uranium enrichment plutonium reprocessing capabilities.”
He said that “in exchange, they wanted substantial relief from the sanctions. Now, one thing President Trump has said beginning in the 2016 campaign is that he’s not going to make the mistakes of prior administrations and get into this action for action kind of arrangement which benefits the North Koreans.”
“Our counter offer was where we have been, where the president has exercised persuasive abilities on Kim Jong Un to take the big deal and they weren’t willing to do it,” Bolton said.
Bolton said future U.S. negotiations with North Korea are in limbo.
“I think the president himself said that he expects they’ll want to go back and re-evaluate what happened; certainly we will,” Bolton said. “We’ll look at continuing the economic sanctions against North Korea which brought them to the table in the first place. We’ll see what happens next.”
He said “there is no expiration date” on further talks. “As I say, the president is fully prepared to keep negotiating at lower levels or to speak to Kim Jong Un again when it’s appropriate.”
But he conceded that in the meantime North Korea is continuing to produce nuclear fuel.
“They have been doing it,” Bolton said. “Yes, they have. That’s exactly correct.”
But he rejected the notion that the U.S. is losing leverage to try to convince Pyongyang to denuclearize.
“I think we will keep the maximum pressure campaign in place even before the summit,” he said. “We were looking at ways to tighten it up to, to stop for example the ship-to-ship transfers that the North Koreans are using to evade the sanctions, to talk to other countries to make sure they tighten up on North Korea. It was the 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.”
As the summit ended, Trump said he took Kim “at his word,” that he knew nothing about the treatment of an American college student, Otto Warmbier, held captive by North Korea before his release in mid-2017 to the U.S., where he died a short time later.
Trump’s remarks drew widespread condemnation from U.S. lawmakers, both from Trump’s fellow Republicans and opposition Democrats, and Warmbier’s parents.
Trump later expressed his love for Warmbier and his family, but did not retract his belief that Kim knew nothing of his treatment while he was held in a North Korean prison.
“The president’s been very clear he viewed what happened to Otto Warmbier as barbaric and unacceptable and I think the best thing North Korea could do right now would be to come up with a full explanation of exactly what happened to him,” Bolton said.