WASHINGTON — Former national security adviser John Bolton gave a characteristically pessimistic outlook on the prospects for getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons as he made his first public appearance since he was ousted from his post by President Donald Trump.
Bolton challenged a centerpiece of Trump’s foreign policy without directly discussing the president in a speech Monday to a Korean security forum and the question-and-answer session that followed. He made it clear that he expects little to come from the talks even though Kim Jong Un has halted nuclear weapons tests.
The North Korean leader has made a “strategic decision” to do whatever he can to keep his country’s nuclear weapons, and that is an “unacceptable” threat to the world, the famously hawkish former U.N. ambassador said.
“Under current circumstances, he will never give up nuclear weapons voluntarily,” Bolton said at the forum, hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Even without mentioning Trump, Bolton’s speech was a rebuke of a president who has met three times with the North Korean leader and repeatedly portrayed the talks as a foreign policy success, even as an agreement remains elusive.
Trump fired Bolton this month amid policy disagreements over North Korea and other issues.
The Republican president has said that Bolton’s views set the United States back “very badly” in talks with the North and added that “maybe a new method would be very good.”
Bolton has insisted the North should follow the Libyan path of denuclearization by fully eliminating its nuclear program upfront in a possible deal with the United States, a view he repeated at the security forum.
Asked during the question-and-answer session if “bromance diplomacy” is effective — a reference to the warm letters that Trump has exchanged with Kim — Bolton declined to comment. There is, though, “no basis” to trust any statements from the North Koreans.
“This is a government that has essentially violated every international agreement it has ever made,” he said.
Bolton warned that there is a danger not just from North Korea’s own weapons but the potential that it could sell missiles or technology to other states.
The United States, Bolton said, is the only country in the world that can stop nuclear proliferation but it must act before it is too late. He said there should be “serious discussions” about strategies, including military force, to counter North Korea’s weapons program.
“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,” he said.
Later, he stressed that time may be running out to resolve the issue.
“Every day that goes by makes North Korea a more dangerous country,” he said. “You don’t like their behavior today? What do you think it will be when they have nuclear weapons that can be delivered to American cities? You want to wait until then to act or do you want to act now?”
North Korea recently praised Trump for saying Washington may pursue an unspecified “new method” in nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang. Those talks have been stalled for months by disagreements over trade-offs between sanctions relief and disarmament steps.
This story has been updated to correct quote during Q&A session to “bromance diplomacy” instead of romance.