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[Newsmaker] Bolton’s exit may add flexibility to NK talks but could hinder full denuke efforts

Hawkish US national security adviser John Bolton’s departure may bring flexibility to the upcoming nuclear talks with North Korea but could undercut efforts to achieve the regime’s complete denuclearization, analysts said Wednesday.

US President Donald Trump announced in a surprise tweet Tuesday that he has fired the conservative advisor and that he will name a replacement next week. He cited strong disagreements with many of Bolton‘s foreign policy suggestions.

John Bolton (Yonhap)
John Bolton (Yonhap)

Bolton’s removal came as the United States and the North are expected to resume their nuclear talks late this month after a period of tensions caused by Pyongyang’s angry reactions to last month’s military exercise between Seoul and Washington.

The North is likely to welcome Bolton’s departure given that he has long been a target of its opprobrium due to his past advocacy of a preemptive strike against the regime and his uncompromising views on how to denuclearize it.

However, the absence of the nonpolitician security professional has fueled concerns that Trump’s external policy could be driven more by political considerations, particularly ahead of his reelection battle.

“Now, Bolton, who is well versed in the denuclearization issue and not a politician, was removed, which means that politicians like Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may spearhead the handling of the North Korea nuclear quandary,” said Park Won-gon, professor of international politics at Handong Global University.

“So the chances are that politicians may prioritize political interests, particularly when the election season approaches,” he added.

Bolton took the top security post at the White House in April last year, succeeding H.R. McMaster. He subsequently stuck to his hard-line stance on the North, insisting that there would be no sanctions relief until Pyongyang takes sweeping, verifiable denuclearization steps.

The North has taken umbrage at Bolton’s hawkish positions, denouncing him as “a security-destroying adviser,” “warmonger,” “structurally defective guy” and “human defect” that “deserves an earlier vanishing.”

Thus, Trump’s firing of Bolton could help ease tensions with Pyongyang as they brace for what would be yet another grueling tug of war on the North’s denuclearization steps and the US’ compensation in return.

But concerns linger that a US foreign policy team devoid of a figure steeped in principles could settle for a political compromise short of Washington’s much-trumpeted goal of the “final, fully-verified denuclearization” of the North.

Pompeo dismissed views that Bolton’s departure could lead to a policy change.

“I don’t think any leader around the world should make any assumption that because one of us departs that President Trump’s foreign policy will change in a material way,” Pompeo said at a press meeting at the White House. (Yonhap)