Ex-Ambassador Bolton Criticizes Clinton Trip

John Bolton i i

John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., is criticizing President Clinton's trip to North Korea. The trip resulted in the release of two American journalists held in North Korea for nearly five months. Dennis Cook/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Dennis Cook/AP
John Bolton

John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., is criticizing President Clinton's trip to North Korea. The trip resulted in the release of two American journalists held in North Korea for nearly five months.

Dennis Cook/AP

Former President Clinton's visit to North Korea, where he secured the release of two American journalists held for nearly five months, will only embolden other countries to do the same thing North Korea did, says a former U.S. envoy to the United Nations.

"The symbolism of a former president going to meet with Kim Jong Il I think is something that benefits Kim Jong Il a lot more than the United States, and it only encourages others to do the same thing," John Bolton, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, tells Madeleine Brand.

Clinton made an unannounced visit to North Korea on Tuesday and met with Kim. The two journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, were released soon afterward. They arrived Wednesday in the Los Angeles area with Clinton, and were reunited with their families.

Writing in The Washington Post on Wednesday, Bolton called the visit a "knee-jerk impulse for negotiations" and "poorly thought-out gesture politics." He tells Brand that the case could encourage Iran, which arrested three American tourists last week for straying into their territory while hiking in northern Iraq.

"You can bet that in Tehran they watched this little performance in North Korea and are no doubt calculating how they might use it to their advantage," Bolton tells Brand.

Bolton, who served as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. from August 2005 to December 2006, says a better alternative would have been working with China, which is believed to hold considerable influence with North Korea.

"It may have taken a little bit longer, but I think when you look at the overall picture for 300 million Americans, that's the course I would have taken," he says.

The Obama administration described Clinton's visit as private, denying North Korean claims that the former president carried a message from Obama to Kim. The U.S. and its allies have had little luck trying to persuade North Korea to return to talks on abandoning its nuclear program.

Bolton says that talking to North Korea is futile because over a course of nearly two decades, Pyongyang pledged four times to abandon its nuclear program. He says that even when it pledged in 1994 to abandon its program in exchange for concessions from the U.S. and its allies, there was an almost immediate violation of the pledge.

"The proper policy is to put as much pressure as we can on North Korea economically, politically and otherwise," he says. "I think we faltered badly in that regard during the Bush administration, in effect giving North Korea its own lifeline."

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