WASHINGTON (AFP) – United States (US) National Security Advisor John Bolton denied last Sunday that the nuclear summit with North Korea was a failure, despite US President Donald Trump coming home empty-handed.
A high-stakes second meeting to strike a disarmament deal between the North’s Kim Jong-un and Trump broke up in disarray last Thursday in Hanoi, without even a joint statement.
But Bolton told CBS’s Face the Nation that Trump’s failure to obtain commitments from Pyongyang on destroying its nuclear capability should be seen as “a success, defined as the President protecting and advancing American national interests.”
The White House aide said the issue was whether North Korea would accept what the President called “the big deal” – denuclearising completely – or something less, “which was unacceptable to us”.
“So the President held firm to his view. He deepened his relationship with Kim Jong-un. I don’t view it as a failure at all when American national interests are protected,” Bolton added.
The outcome in Hanoi fell far short of expectations, after critics said the two leaders’ initial historic meeting in Singapore – which produced only a vague commitment from Kim to work “toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula” – had yielded more style than substance.
According to senior US officials, in the week leading up to the Hanoi summit the North Koreans had demanded the lifting of effectively all UN Security Council economic sanctions imposed on Pyongyang since March 2016.
In return, Pyongyang was only offering to close a portion of the Yongbyon com-plex, a sprawling site covering multiple facilities – and the North is believed to have other uranium enrichment plants.
“Sometimes you have to walk and this was just one of those times,” an unusually downcast Trump told reporters last Thursday, adding that he would “rather do it right than do it fast”.
After returning to Washington, the president tweeted last Friday that his relations with Kim were “very good”. A senior US official said the process was continuing and there was “still ample opportunity to talk”.
Bolton repeated the US position that it would help North Korea’s economic progress if it committed to complete denuclearisation and closing its chemical and biological weapons programmes.