MELISSA BLOCK, host:
On yesterday's program, I spoke with Evans Revere. He was the State Department's main liaison with North Korea from 1998 to 2000. He's now president of the Korea Society, and he said the choice of President Clinton to go to North Korea was a good one. Well today, a different view. John Bolton says President Clinton's trip was a bad idea. Bolton was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the Bush administration.
BRAND: Writing in the Washington Post, he calls the visit a quote, knee-jerk impulse for negotiations, and poorly thought-out gesture politics. John Bolton joins me now, and what do you mean by that - poorly thought-out gesture politics?
Mr. JOHN BOLTON (Former U.S. Ambassador, United Nations): Well, I think, obviously, we're all delighted that the two reporters have been released, but any president needs to think beyond the immediate humanitarian need and consider the risk that he might be causing to other Americans in other circumstances by encouraging rogue states, or terrorists, from doing this sort of thing: kidnapping Americans, holding them hostage, holding them for ransom, in effect. And 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 that only encourages others to do the same thing. You know, we face a situation in Iran, even as we speak, where three American hikers somehow or another found themselves in Iran, apprehended by Iranian security forces and are being accused, by some political figures in Iran, of being CIA agents. So 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.
BRAND: Well, what do you think would have been a better way to deal with these two journalists in North Korea - leave them there?
Mr. BOLTON: Well, as I say, the president, as when he faces a decision of American soldiers in jeopardy, has to think of the welfare of the entire American population. I think the alternative would've been to have worked harder with China. I don't doubt the administration did work with China, but I think there was more there to say, that we needed these people released. And it may have taken a little bit longer, but I think when you look at the overall picture for 300 million Americans, that that's the course I would have taken.
BRAND: President Obama has said that there - or the White House has said that there had been no message from President Obama with former President Clinton about restarting nuclear talks. But even if some discussion did go on between Kim Jong Il and Bill Clinton over the nuclear issue, what's wrong with the idea that perhaps some renewed negotiations, perhaps the six-party talks again, will come out of this? What's wrong with that?
Mr. BOLTON: You know, we've been negotiating with North Korea to try and get them to give up their nuclear weapons program for 18 years. During which time, North Korea has pledged, on at least four separate occasions, to give that program up. North Korea loves to talk about its nuclear program. It gives it time to improve that program. It gives it legitimacy. So, negotiation is something that almost entirely benefits North Korea and doesn't result in coming any closer to the objective of eliminating the nuclear weapons program.
BRAND: Although, during the Bush administration when the talks were suspended, that didn't stop them from renewing their nuclear program.
Mr. BOLTON: Ma'am, they never stopped the nuclear program. They had nuclear weapons as early as the 1990s, according to most outside observers. When they signed the agreed framework with President Clinton in 1994, they began to violate it almost from the time the ink was dry. It's been, as best I think we can tell, pretty continuous for well over 20 years.
BRAND: John Bolton, thank you very much.
Mr. BOLTON: Okay, thank you.
BRAND: That was former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton. He's now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
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