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(News Focus) Bolton divides pundits on prospects for Trump-Kim summit

All Headlines 06:59 March 24, 2018

WASHINGTON, March 23 (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Donald Trump's incoming national security adviser, John Bolton, has divided pundits on whether the views of a hawkish former diplomat will change U.S. policy on North Korea ahead of an unprecedented bilateral summit.

Trump named Bolton as his new national security adviser in a tweet Thursday evening, saying the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations will take over from H.R. McMaster on April 9.

That transition would take place about a month and a half before the expected meeting between Trump and Kim, although the date for that has yet to be set.

Bolton is known as one of the most hawkish voices on foreign policy, and his appointment, especially in the wake of the recent replacement of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo, has raised fears of an escalation of tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.

Among other things, Bolton has recently argued the U.S. should launch a "preventive attack" on North Korea before it develops the capability to strike the U.S. with a nuclear weapon.

This file photo shows incoming U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton. (Yonhap)

"I think this increases the danger that if a Trump-Kim summit results in Trump feeling he's been played or betrayed, a military strike is more likely than before," Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, said in comments to Yonhap. "If Defense Secretary Jim Mattis leaves, we are in serious trouble."

Mattis has stressed that efforts to denuclearize North Korea are diplomatically led, although the military will be ready to act if necessary. Tillerson was also an advocate of diplomacy and engagement with Pyongyang, which earned him a rebuke from Trump that his top diplomat was "wasting his time" trying to negotiate with Kim.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said Bolton is the "wrong choice" for national security adviser, given his "disturbing and bellicose record of choosing confrontation rather than dialogue, politicizing intelligence to fit his worldview, and aggressively undermining treaties and negotiations designed to reduce weapons-related security threats."

In particular, he noted that Bolton opposed further dialogue with North Korea in the early 2000s when he served as undersecretary of state and then ambassador in the George W. Bush administration.

That, according to Kimball, allowed North Korea to advance its nuclear program.

"His approach runs counter to Mr. Trump's own stated policy of using sanctions pressure and diplomatic engagement, including a summit with Kim Jong-un, to halt and reverse North Korea's nuclear and missile programs," he said.

But others did not ascribe so much influence to the incoming adviser, saying the administration is run largely by Trump alone.

"President Trump's decision to meet Kim Jong-un over his advisers' objections demonstrates that he is the driving force on policy," said Troy Stangarone, senior director at the Korea Economic Institute of America. "The hiring of John Bolton doesn't change that. As long as President Trump believes that a summit meeting is the best step, that will be U.S. policy."

Stangarone acknowledged that Bolton and Pompeo together could succeed in establishing a harder line in denuclearization talks with North.

"A take it or leave it approach would be unacceptable to North Korea and likely undermine the prospects for a successful summit," he said. "However, if the recent moves to bring in Bolton and Pompeo signal to the North Koreans that they can no longer string the U.S. and others along, it could help with a breakthrough."

With fewer "moderating voices" in the White House, however, should Trump seriously consider a military strike on the North, Bolton would likely "enhance Trump's instincts rather than counsel caution," he added.


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