John Bolton appeared on ABC’s This Week yesterday and told the following whopper:
KARL: Before you go, I want to ask you about North Korea. Of course, after the summit in Singapore, the president said, quote, “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea”.
Given what we have seen since that summit, and there are reports of North Koreans actively trying to deceive us about the extent of their nuclear program, and of course we had Secretary Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang.
He wasn’t even able to meet with Kim Jong-un, did not appear to be a very productive meeting. Given what we have seen since that Singapore summit, isn’t what the president said about there no longer being a nuclear threat from North Korea at the very least wildly premature?
BOLTON: Come on, what he was saying in context was that if North Korea lives up to the commitments that it made on denuclearization, then it would no longer be a threat. The test here will be what North Korea actually does to live up to the commitment that they made in Singapore that they say they still uphold and that now they need to fulfill.
Bolton is telling two major lies in this statement. First, he lied about what the president meant when he asserted that there is no threat from North Korea, and then he lied about the commitment that North Korea made in Singapore. North Korea merely agreed to “work toward” the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and that amounts to agreeing to doing nothing definite. Administration officials have repeatedly misrepresented what that means in order to make the summit seem more successful than it actually was. This keeps clashing with the reality of the North Korean position, and that is one reason why Pompeo’s meeting in Pyongyang last week went so poorly.
The main reason why all of these lies from the administration matter is that the public can’t trust their assessments of how negotiations are progressing when they have made a point of misleading us about them thus far. If they are willing to mislead the public about what was agreed to at Singapore, they will keep misleading us at every stage to come.
The administration’s consistent misrepresentation of the North Korean position creates false expectations of significant concessions from Pyongyang on its nuclear weapons and missile programs that won’t be forthcoming. That oversells what the administration has managed to do so far, and it is bound to create a backlash when those expectations are disappointed. It also boxes in U.S. negotiators, who might be able to hammer out a modest compromise with their North Korean counterparts if they weren’t locked into a completely unrealistic and unachievable goal of total disarmament. The issue here is not just that the administration is pursuing an impossible goal at the expense of more achievable diplomatic compromises. They cannot be trusted to report honestly on what they are doing and what the other side is willing to do.