Bolton: Rex Tillerson’s State Department Determined to Stay in Iran Nuclear Deal

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 13, 2017, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton joined SiriusXM host Raheem Kassam on Friday’s Breitbart News Daily to discuss President Trump’s address to the United Nations and several key foreign policy areas it covered, including North Korea, the Iran nuclear deal, and the loss of national sovereignty to international arrangements like the Paris climate accord.

Kassam began with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s letter insulting President Trump as a “dotard,” which Bolton said was a “wonderful English word.” He gave North Korea’s speechwriters a tongue-in-cheek salute for their “ability to find strange words and use them.”

Bolton said the president’s handling of the North Korean crisis should have made it clear to the rest of the world by now that “Donald Trump is not Barack Obama,” but the news might not have penetrated to “bizarre places like North Korea.”

“It may be that in a sense, Kim Jong-un is continuing his prior pattern of behavior because maybe he’s simply testing Trump, that ultimately the possibility of the U.S. military using force against him is still pretty remote, even given Trump’s rhetoric,” Bolton speculated.

“I think he’s also looking at the Chinese audience, and he’s saying ‘don’t even think about trying to apply pressure to me. I’m on course to get this nuclear weapon, which China basically endorsed 30 years ago as an idea. It’s a complicated chess match, and it’s one of the reasons why I have always felt that ultimately the only real solution here is get rid of that regime, or get rid of their nuclear weapons,” he said.

“The kind of rhetoric you’re seeing now, including the most recent statement, I think, that he would detonate a thermonuclear weapon in the atmosphere over the Pacific, pose the risk of miscalculation,” he cautioned. “In other words, you can get into conflict not simply because two sides want to get into conflict, and intend it, and go after each other, but because one or both sides miscalculate. In dealing with a bizarre regime like North Korea, their possibility of miscalculating I think is very high, and unfortunately, ours is far from negligible, just given the irrational behavior that they sometimes exhibit.”

“I think Trump’s speech on Tuesday was very important because it did make it clear to everybody who had ears to hear that his patience with the North Korean regime was growing increasingly limited,” said Bolton.

“He said unmistakably – this could be the most important line of the speech – that the only acceptable outcome for North Korea is denuclearization. Meaning that he rejects the Susan Rice – Democratic left idea that we can tolerate North Korea with nuclear weapons. I think, although he didn’t say it with respect to Iran, that’s his view on Iran as well,” he observed.

Bolton stood by his judgment, delivered the morning after on Fox News, that Trump’s U.N. address was “the best speech of his presidency.”

“Frankly, watching the commentary from left and right in the United States and internationally since then has just reinforced my view,” he said. “It was an excellent speech. I think one of the reasons that the critics in the United States, on the left in particular, have been less than effective in their criticism is that it was so well done. It was well reasoned, it was well argued.”

“One point, for example, I thought came across very well is what does he mean by ‘America First.’ Some people have always said that means isolationism, it means a retreat from the world. Instead, he said, ‘Of course I put the interests of the American people first,’ and looking out over the audience, he said, ‘So do all of you. That’s what your people expect.’ There is no answer to that point,” he contended.

Bolton said it “remains to be seen” whether China is truly willing to tighten the noose around Kim Jong-un’s neck with crushing sanctions.

“Certainly some of the things China has said, and the White House announcing yesterday the president announcing these tougher sanctions on North Korea – which are essentially aimed at China and Russia, talking about doing business with North Korea via industries particularly including banks and financial services. The names China and Russia weren’t mentioned in the president’s statement or the sanctions themselves, but that’s who we’re talking about because those two countries are North Korea’s principal trading partners,” he said.

“For 25 years, China and Russia have ignored the sanctions,” Bolton charged. “In particular, China I think understands perhaps better than we do just how fragile that regime in North Korea is, and they have always feared if they really applied their enormous economic leverage, they would collapse the regime. They don’t like that idea because it would mean several million North Koreans fleeing into China, and they fear it would mean U.S. and South Korean intervention from the South to secure the North’s nuclear weapons and chemical weapons and the rest.”

“That’s why the Chinese at the rhetorical level say, ‘Yeah, we just think it’s terrible that they’re pursuing nuclear weapons,’ but at the practical level have done so little,” he explained.

“If that’s shifting, that is a very significant point. I think it’s too soon to tell, but I think if there is a shift, it’s because of Trump. Maybe Kim Jong-un can’t figure out how the American system works, but I think when Xi Jinping was having dessert at Mar-a-Lago and the president politely informed him he had just launched 59 cruise missiles at Syria’s chemical weapons capability, that made a strong impression,” Bolton ventured.

“The Chinese have a very important party congress coming up next month, about three weeks from now. It happens once every three years,” he noted. “Xi Jinping is using this for domestic purposes to consolidate his power. He really wants to be the next Mao Tse-tung. I think that’s what his attention is focused on, but it cannot be that he’s ignoring what’s happening here in Washington, even as that’s proceeding.”

“So we may, underline the word ‘may,’ be in a different atmosphere here with respect to North Korea, and I think inevitably that has a knock-on effect on the Iranian nuclear weapons program as well,” he said.

“Look, we don’t know whether Iran is in compliance or not,” Bolton said of the nuclear deal, with an eye toward the next scheduled formal certification of compliance in October.

“The IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, conducts inspections at known, previously-declared Iranian nuclear facilities. That’s what they do,” he explained. “And they have found violations of the agreement, several of them: enriching uranium above the limits, producing more heavy water than is permissible, having more of the most sophisticated centrifuges than the agreement seems to allow. These, I think, are part of a pattern.”

“But let’s look at the larger question: IAEA does not have unimpeded access anywhere it wants to go in Iran. What Obama and Kerry said, there would be anytime, anywhere inspections, is a lie. There’s just no other way to describe it,” he declared.

“So you cannot say Iran is in compliance, because you do not know, and our intelligence services don’t know,” he argued. “We don’t know whether a good part of the Iranian nuclear program is under a mountain in North Korea, for example.”

“But the key thing is, the certification that President Trump is required to do does not rest simply on compliance. He has to certify that this deal is in the national interest of the United States, and it palpably is not in the national interest of the United States,” said Bolton.

“My prediction is he’s not going to certify in three or four weeks. The real question, though, is whether he gets out of the deal entirely. The State Department and many of its allies are just obsessed with the idea of staying in the deal, so even though the president on Tuesday again described it as the worst diplomatic deal in history, described it as an embarrassment to the United States, these people want to say in the deal,” he said.

“I reject that,” Bolton said. “To demonstrate leadership on an issue as important as this, the president needs political and moral clarity. Getting out of the deal is the only way to demonstrate it.”

“When Paul Laxalt, Ronald Reagan’s best friend in the Senate, was talking to Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines back in the Eighties – whether he should resign from his presidency, leave the Philippines, and whatnot – he asked Laxalt what his advice was, and Laxalt said to him, ‘Cut, and cut clean,’” Bolton recalled. “So my advice to President Trump on the Iran nuclear deal is the same as Paul Laxalt’s to Marcos: cut, and cut clean. Get out of it.”

Another agreement Bolton advised Trump to complete his promised withdrawal from is the Paris climate accord. He agreed with Kassam that it was foolish for British Prime Minister Theresa May to pick a fight with Trump over doing so, since the U.K. will want an even stronger partnership with the U.S. after Brexit.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with Theresa May’s government. It’s been increasingly disappointing to me,” Bolton mused. “Were it not for the critical Brexit negotiations, I think there would be a revolt within the conservative party in Parliament. There would have been a revolt long ago.”

“The best reason to stay in the Paris accord is that it’s silly and meaningless,” he said. “In fact, that was the argument that many people made why we should stay in, because we can set whatever emissions target we want. That’s what makes this deal seemingly so ridiculous. If Trump wanted to reduce our emissions targets, the cuts in emissions, to one-tenth of what Obama said, we could probably do that.”

“The real problem with the Paris accord is that it’s just one more desperate step by the global governance crowd that wants to remove decision-making from sovereign nations – the kind of decision-making Trump talked about on Tuesday – and put it in supra-national institutions like their favorite, the European Union,” he said.

“They failed at Kyoto, they failed at Copenhagen. They had to have a quote-unquote ‘win.’ That’s what Paris was,” Bolton elaborated. “They had an agreement that doesn’t mean anything, and they view that as a step forward, in the way that leftists tend to do, because having had that win, maybe the fourth effort at an agreement can get you back to something that’s actually binding. That’s what they really want.”

“I think it’s important for Trump to break the string,” he advised. “Even President George W. Bush wouldn’t pull out of Kyoto formally. I think it’s important to get out of this Paris accord. We’ll set our own environmental policy. We’ll have a democratic debate in this country. We don’t need 120 other countries to tell us what our climate policy ought to be.”

John Bolton is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and head of his own political action committee, BoltonPAC.

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