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John Bolton: North Korea summit was not a failure

National security adviser John Bolton takes questions in the White House briefing room on Jan. 28, 2019.
National security adviser John Bolton takes questions in the White House briefing room on Jan. 28, 2019. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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National security adviser John Bolton on Sunday defended President Trump’s second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying the president was right not to make a deal that wasn’t in the best interests of the United States.

“I don’t agree at all that it was a failed summit,” Bolton said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think the obligation of the president of the United States is to defend and advance American national security interests. And I think he did that by rejecting a bad deal and by trying again to persuade Kim Jong Un to take the big deal that really could make a difference for North Korea.”

Trump abruptly cut short his meeting with Kim in Hanoi last week after the two leaders were unable to reach a deal to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons. The president first met with the North Korean leader in June in Singapore.

On Feb. 28, President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended their Hanoi summit, aimed at negotiating North Korea's denuclearization, without a deal. (Video: Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was among those needling Trump about the collapse of the talks in Hanoi. At a news conference last week, the California Democrat suggested that it should not have taken Trump so long to recognize that Kim is not serious about denuclearization.

“The prospect for success seemed dim in light of the insincerity of Kim Jong Un,” Pelosi said.

But Bolton maintained Sunday that Trump is “not desperate for a deal — not with North Korea, not with anybody — if it’s contrary to American national interests.”

In an appearance on CBS News’s “Face the Nation,” Bolton said there is “no expiration date” for talks on denuclearization.

“The president is fully prepared to keep negotiating at lower levels or to speak to Kim Jong Un again when it’s appropriate,” he said.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, took issue with Bolton’s response.

“Of course the president did give up a great deal,” Schiff said on “Face the Nation,” arguing that Trump helped enhance Kim’s prestige and noting that Trump agreed to end longtime U.S. military exercises with South Korea that had riled Kim’s regime.

Trump took to Twitter later Sunday afternoon to defend his decision on the military drills, stating that the reason for canceling them was “to save hundreds of millions of dollars for the U.S. for which we are not reimbursed.”

“That was my position long before I became President. Also, reducing tensions with North Korea at this time is a good thing!” Trump said.

Bolton also defended Trump’s statement that he took Kim at his word that he wouldn’t have allowed American college student Otto Warmbier to have been mistreated had he known about Warmbier’s situation.

“What he’s trying to convey is that he’s got a difficult line to walk to negotiate with Kim Jong Un,” Bolton said on “Fox News Sunday,” arguing that Trump’s statement did not necessarily mean that he believed what Kim was saying.

Asked during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” whether he takes Kim at his word, Bolton replied, “My opinion doesn’t matter . . . I am not the national security decision-maker. That’s [Trump’s] view.”

Warmbier’s family says he was brutally tortured while imprisoned in North Korea and died in 2017 after returning to the United States in a coma. In a statement Friday, Warmbier’s parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, sharply rebuked Trump for holding Kim blameless for their son’s death.

Bolton on Sunday called for North Korea to give a clear accounting of who was responsible for Warmbier’s death and suggested that American national interests were “weightier and more important” than individual cases such as Warmbier’s.

“Foreign leaders who are friends of ours lie to our faces, too,” he said on Fox.

Lawmakers from both parties took issue with Trump’s statement on Warmbier. Schiff said on CBS that the president should have taken a stronger stance against Kim.

“I think that this was a spectacular failure but made all the worse by the president’s obsequious comments when it came to the murder of an American citizen, Otto Warmbier,” the Democratic lawmaker said.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) maintained on ABC News’s “This Week” that the North Korean leader was aware of Warmbier’s condition and responsible for his death.

“I think Kim knew,” McCarthy said.