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Bolton: U.S. Plans to Dismantle North Korea’s Nuclear Program Within a Year

John Bolton
AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Sunday the U.S. has a plan to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear, biological, chemical, and ballistic missile programs within a year if Pyongyang is serious about meeting its commitment to denuclearize.

“If they have the strategic decision already made to do that and they’re cooperative, we can move very quickly. Physically, we would be able to dismantle the overwhelming bulk of their programs within a year,” Bolton said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

“I’m sure that the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, will be discussing this with the North Koreans in the near future, about, really, how to dismantle all of their WMD and ballistic missile programs in a year. If they have the strategic decision already made to do that and they’re cooperative, we can move very quickly,” he said.

Bolton added that such an ambitious program could only move forward if the North Koreans provide “full disclosure” about their nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile programs, a step they have not taken yet.

Asked about a Washington Post report on Sunday that North Korea is attempting to hide some of its missiles, weapons of mass destruction, and production facilities, Bolton said he did not want to comment on U.S. intelligence assessments of North Korea, but offered assurances that everyone at the White House knows the regime in Pyongyang cannot be trusted.

“We’re very well aware of North Korea’s patterns of behavior over decades of negotiating with the United States. We know exactly what the risks are of them using negotiations to drag out the length of time they have to continue their nuclear chemical biological weapons programs and ballistic missiles,” he said.

Bolton indicated that China has advised President Donald Trump to move quickly so that North Korea cannot implement its usual delaying tactics.

“Kim Jong-un was very emphatic several times in Singapore he was different from prior regimes. Now we’ll let their actions speak for themselves,” he said.

The Washington Post story Bolton talked about revealed that a previously undisclosed Defense Intelligence Agency estimate found North Korea making preparations to conceal key elements of its nuclear missile program instead of dismantling them.

The DIA perspective is that, contrary to what dictator Kim Jong-un said in Singapore, he really is not much different from his predecessors, so he is planning to stonewall and deceive American inspectors instead of providing the transparency Bolton sees as vital to swiftly dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program. Among other deceptions, the DIA estimate expects Pyongyang to lie about how many nuclear warheads it has and conceal some vital research and production facilities while demolishing others with much fanfare.

“North Korea has made no new commitments to denuclearization, and in fact has backed away from its previous commitments,” Abraham M. Denmark of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars told Congress in June testimony quoted by the Post.

“North Korea remains free to manufacture more nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction—even though it has unilaterally frozen testing of its nuclear weapons and certain ballistic missiles. … There is no deadline for them to eliminate their illegal capabilities, or even freeze their continued production,” Denmark stated.

Reuters reports that U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, who has been serving as an envoy during negotiations with North Korea, met with North Korean officials on Sunday in the border village of Panmunjom to deliver a letter from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Kim Yong-chol, a top North Korean official who has been involved in negotiations with the U.S., South Korea, and China.

The letter reportedly paves the way for Pompeo to visit North Korea for more denuclearization talks, possibly as soon as this week. Pompeo was director of the CIA before he became secretary of state, so a successful visit to North Korea will be presented by the Trump administration as a major step toward denuclearization.

Various experts quoted by Reuters said Bolton’s one-year timetable was ambitious but feasible, assuming a level of cooperation from North Korea that the experts saw as unlikely. They also felt that while it might be possible to dismantle key elements of the North’s nuclear program and secure its existing WMD arsenal within a year, it would take closer to ten years to fully verify that complete and irreversible denuclearization had been accomplished.

To split the difference between optimists and pessimists, it should be possible to effectively halt North Korea’s march to reliable nuclear missile technology within a year, guarantee it cannot be easily restarted, and take charge of existing nuclear warheads, but it is very unlikely that the gold standard of complete, verified, and irreversible denuclearization could be completely accomplished and confirmed within President Trump’s time in office, even if he wins a second term in 2020. Even if denuclearization goes as smoothly as possible, expect a great deal of spirited debate about whether Bolton’s one-year timetable was met in the summer of 2019.

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