John Bolton says North Korea will 'never' give up nuclear weapons voluntarily

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By Carol E. Lee  with NBC News Politics
Image:National Security Advisor John Bolton
Then-national security advisor John Bolton speaks to Fox News outside the White House on May 1, 2019.   -   Copyright  Brendan Smialowski AFP - Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — In his first public remarks since a contentious departure from the White House, former national security adviser John Bolton spoke out against President Donald Trump's diplomatic gambit with North Korea.

Bolton, who began his speech by noting his new freedom to speak in "unvarnished terms," said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has no intention of giving up his nuclear weapons — which Trump has insisted he will as part of their one-on-one negotiations. Bolton also argued that "at some point military force has to be an option."

"Under current circumstances he will never give up the nuclear weapons voluntarily," he said during an appearance at a forum on U.S.-Korea policy at the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic International Studies.

Asked later if "bromance" diplomacy is the best approach, he smiled and said "no comment."

Bolton had broader criticism of the president's approach to national security challenges facing the world, such as North Korea and Iran, without ever mentioning Trump by name.

"It's a time for more U.S. involvement and leadership," he said. "More, and not less."

He said the administration's slower approach to finding resolutions on Iran or North Korea only gives those regimes time to advance their capabilities.

On North Korea he said that dismissing recent missile tests as insignificant, as Trump has, sends the message to other countries that it's permissible to violate sanctions.

"When you ask for consistent behavior from others, you have to demonstrate it yourselves," Bolton said. "And when you fail to do that, we open ourselves and our policy up to failure."

He also criticized the idea of cutting a smaller deal that lifts some sanctions in exchange for Pyongyang shutting down part of its nuclear program, saying such a deal would only benefit the Kim regime.

"Yet there's a world out there that's ready to fall sucker to that kind of argument," he said.

Bolton made no comments about Trump's conversations with Ukraine that have spurred impeachment proceedings in the House and was not asked by the event's moderator.