North Korea and the U.S. backslid from previously rosy relations on Tuesday when media from Pyongyang attacked President Donald Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton for his comments about North Korean denuclearization.
Bolton, who has extensively advocated for the U.S. using military options against North Korea, recently said that the US should treat North Korea’s disarmament like Libya’s, something which preceded the death of Libya’s former leader, Muammar Gaddafi.
North Korean media shot back on Tuesday, calling the comparison “absolutely absurd” and expressing a “feeling of repugnance towards” Bolton.
Bolton must have known the Libya comparison carried dark connotations for North Korea, but he said it anyway, despite the fact that North Korea and Libya have extremely different weapons programs and geopolitical situations.
But according to experts, Bolton may have been trying both to provoke North Korea and over-inflate Trump’s expectations in a bid t0 sabotage future peace talks.
Jeffrey Lewis, a top North Korea expert, said on his Arms Control Wonk podcast that Bolton is “trying to sabotage” the Trump-Kim summit “by talking about a Libya-style deal.”
According to Lewis, Bolton is trying to “push the president to expect that when he shows up for that summit meeting, Kim is going to tell him where all the weapons are and encourage him to get on a plane to pick them up.”
Lewis maintains that the talks will not be so easy and that North Korea’s promises thus far disguise true, more shrewd intentions.
Another common talking point among North Korea experts is that inflated expectations over the summits could lead to disaster when one or both parties find out the other isn’t willing to give as much as the media or the South Korean go-between indicated.
The White House downplayed Bolton’s comments after North Korea lashed out, with press secretary Sarah Sanders saying on Wednesday of Bolton’s “Libya Model”: “I haven’t seen that as part of any discussions so I’m not aware that that’s a model that we’re using.”
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