Bolton Brings Hawkish Perspective To North Korea, Iran Strategy Bolton takes the job as two major foreign policy challenges come to a head, in North Korea and Iran. He replaces H.R. McMaster, becoming the third man to hold the position under President Trump.
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Bolton Brings Hawkish Perspective To North Korea, Iran Strategy

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Bolton Brings Hawkish Perspective To North Korea, Iran Strategy

Bolton Brings Hawkish Perspective To North Korea, Iran Strategy

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Joining us to talk a little bit more about the incoming national security adviser is NPR's Michele Kelemen. Hey, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi. Nice to be here.

CHANG: So as we just heard, John Bolton is a regular commentator on Fox News. What else can you tell us about him?

KELEMEN: Well, he's a - he started in the Bush administration. He was a lawyer. Actually, he worked on the Florida recount when President Bush was elected. And then he was undersecretary for arms control and U.N. ambassador. And he was a very controversial figure. He was known for this hard-line approach on foreign policy. He once famously said that if you get rid of the top 10 floors of the U.N. Secretariat, it wouldn't make a bit of a difference. He actually was never confirmed for that U.N. job. He had it only on a recess appointment for a short time.

CHANG: And what about the timing of all of this? I mean, it's coming at a pretty significant moment for foreign policy decisions the president has to make about North Korea, Iran.

KELEMEN: Right. So you have this possibility of a meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as early as May. And I can tell you that Bolton was not an advocate for nuclear diplomacy on North Korea when he was at the State Department. I was covering it at the time. He's more of a regime change proponent - same, too, with Iran. Trump has so far stayed in the Iran nuclear deal, but he has to decide in May if he continues to stay in and continues to offer sanctions relief. He wants the Europeans to fix the deal by May. But Bolton has been pretty clear on that. He wrote an op-ed just in January. He said no fix - he said there's no fix that will remedy what he called the diplomatic Waterloo Mr. Obama negotiated.

CHANG: So with Bolton coming in and Tillerson leaving, the former secretary of state - you know, today was Tillerson's last day at the State Department - does this mark a shift in President Trump's foreign policy approach, you think?

KELEMEN: I think so. I mean, Mike Pompeo, the CIA director who's been named to replace Tillerson, and Bolton are hawks particularly on Iran. And, you know, remember; it was Tillerson who seemed to be the main voice perhaps along with Mattis, the defense minister - the defense secretary to stay in the Iran deal. So with these moves, you know, you do see more of a go-it-alone foreign policy, but also something different than what Trump, you know, campaigned on. These were both supporters of the Iraq war. So I'm not sure how that fits into President Trump's views now.

CHANG: What sort of reaction have you been hearing on this latest shuffle?

KELEMEN: You know, when the names first started floating, I saw Richard Painter, the White House ethics adviser in the Bush administration, send out a tweet. And he said that Bolton was - and this is a quote - "by far the most dangerous person we had in the eight years of the Bush administration"...

CHANG: Wow.

KELEMEN: ..."Hiring him is an invitation to war." That was his quote on Twitter. So, you know, a lot of people are very concerned about where this heads now.

CHANG: Are you hearing any support for Bolton's arrival?

KELEMEN: Well, you know, certainly he was at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, and there are plenty of people who do support this kind of rough-and-tumble approach to foreign policy. And, you know, it wasn't very effective where things were - where things were going with Tillerson and McMaster, so maybe this straighten things out. But I think a lot more concern than you hear of that side.

CHANG: All right, that's NPR's Michele Kelemen. Thanks very much.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

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