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(News Focus) Trump's pick of hawkish Bolton heralds tougher N.K. policy before summit: experts

All Headlines 15:00 March 23, 2018

By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, March 23 (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Donald Trump's choice of security hawk John Bolton as new national security adviser could herald Washington's tougher stance on North Korea ahead of its planned summit with the reclusive state.

A longtime advocate of a regime change in North Korea and a pre-emptive strike against its nuclear arsenal, Bolton is likely to influence the Trump administration to stand firmer and more adamant on its demand for a complete denuclearization of the North, experts said.

Trump tweeted Thursday (local time) that Bolton will replace H.R. McMaster as his chief national security adviser. Bolton served in the George W. Bush administration as ambassador to the United Nations from 2005-2006 and as under secretary of state for arms control and international security from 2001-2005.

His selection comes as South Korea and the United States are preparing for their summits with North Korea, in April and May, respectively, to discuss the denuclearization of the North.

Up until recently, Bolton had made remarks seen as leaning toward military action to resolve North Korea's nuclear stalemate. He earlier said that talks with the North are a waste of time.

In an interview with a local media organization this month, he cast doubts over the North's sincerity about denuclearization, calling its coming out for talks a strategic move aimed at buying time to advance its missile and nuclear weapons program.

"The only thing North Korea is serious about is getting deliverable nuclear weapons," he said.

He noted that talks with the North have taken place for a quarter of a century, but none of them have been successful, adding the North will possess a deliverable nuclear weapon by the end of the year if there is another round of talks.

In a separate interview with the Voice of America late last month, Bolton said that time is running out, adding that if the U.S. has to take military action, it should come before the North becomes capable of striking the continent of America.

In 2003, Bolton slammed then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il as a "tyrannical dictator" ahead of six-party talks for its denuclearization. Pyongyang responded by calling him "human scum."

Trump's sudden announcement sent Seoul officials scrambling to analyze what impact his appointment could have on North Korea and the planned summits.

"Since Bolton is expected to get his views on North Korea known right before or after taking office, it would be appropriate for us to wait and see until then," a government official said on condition of anonymity. "It is hard to predict what's going to happen only based on what he has said."

Bolton's return comes as Trump is filling his security policy lineup with hardliners. Last week, Trump tweeted that he will replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Mike Pompeo, head of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Tillerson is known for his relatively dovish approach toward North Korea, representing what had appeared to be a minority voice until recently in the administration. Pompeo, a close aide to the president, is one of the hardliners against the North inside the Trump administration.

It also came amid concerns about a lack of North Korea experts inside the Trump administration, punctuated more recently after Victor Cha was dropped from consideration for the post of U.S. ambassador and Joseph Yun, top nuclear envoy of the U.S. and supporter of talks with the North, offered to resign.

Diplomatic pundits believe Bolton's addition to the Trump administration could be a key element in determining the direction of the upcoming talks to discuss the North's denuclearization and beyond.

"Bolton is expected to see the Kim Jong-un regime as evil or something that should be removed," said Chun Yung-woo, a former South Korean national security adviser. "Pressure could mount (on the North) in the runup to the U.S.-North Korea summit and any decision regarding the North will likely be concise and swift."

"He will not beat around the bush and be direct in asking if, by how and when (the North) will accept the demand for a complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear program, and based on their response, he will make a clear-cut decision whether it would be possible to achieve a peaceful resolution (of the North's nuclear issue)."

Chun also raised concerns that what he sees as his strong and nonnegotiable style could hamper the coordinated approach between South Korea and the U.S. in dealing with the North.

Shin Beom-chul, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, shared similar views, drawing attention to Bolton's more hawkish view on the North than President Trump, saying it could create a make-or-break situation that could spark much more serious tensions if all talks do not turn out the way many hope.

"He is a member of the neocons who have ideologically biased views that the U.S. should use force to spread such values as democracy and human rights. He will have a much tougher stance on the North's nuclear issue than Trump," he said. "It is expected that with Bolton in, the U.S. will likely pursue stepped-up pressure and demand for complete denuclearization with no strings attached.

"If Kim Jong-un makes it clear that he gives up nuclear weapons, then this could accelerate the process of denuclearization, but if he tries to come out with a compromise or precondition, this could darken the prospect for the summit itself and also escalate military tension even higher than before."


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