Trump op­ti­mistic on North Korea talks

Pres­i­dent Trump said prepa­ra­tions con­tinue, blames China for N. Koriea’s tougher stand.

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Noah Bier­man Wash­ing­ton Bureau Staff writer Tracy Wilkin­son con­trib­uted. noah.bier­man@latimes.com

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump dis­avowed a con­tro­ver­sial re­mark made by his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, John Bolton, as he ap­peared in­creas­ingly ea­ger Thurs­day to pre­serve a historic oneon-one meet­ing with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sched­uled for next month.

Bolton spooked North Korea re­cently by sug­gest­ing Py­ongyang fol­low the path taken by Libya more than a decade ago, when that coun­try aban­doned its ef­fort to build nu­clear weapons in ex­change for eco­nomic ben­e­fits and warmer re­la­tions. Within a few years, Libya’s leader, Moam­mar Gad­hafi, lost his job and his life at the hands of Western-backed rebels.

North Korea threat­ened this week to back out of the sum­mit, cit­ing Bolton as it ac­cused the U.S. of mak­ing un­rea­son­able de­mands for rapid aban­don­ment of its nu­clear pro­gram.

“The Libyan model isn’t a model that we have at all,” Trump told re­porters dur­ing a photo ses­sion with the vis­it­ing sec­re­tary gen­eral of the North At­lantic Treaty Or­ga­ni­za­tion, Jens Stoltenberg. “We dec­i­mated that coun­try.”

By con­trast, Trump promised that if the United States reaches a deal with North Korea, Kim would “be run­ning his coun­try. His coun­try would be very rich.” The pres­i­dent also vowed that Kim would “get pro­tec­tions that will be very strong,” a sharp de­par­ture from the fiery rhetoric Trump used just months ago. Pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions have of­fered eco­nomic in­cen­tives and pledges not to take hos­tile ac­tion against the North Kore­ans but have not said they would af­fir­ma­tively pro­tect the North.

Trump also im­plied Thurs­day that China’s pres­i­dent, Xi Jin­ping, may be try­ing to in­flu­ence the North Kore­ans to take a harder line with the U.S., per­haps in re­sponse to U.S. pres­sure on trade.

Trump’s efforts to soothe Py­ongyang high­lighted his ea­ger­ness to get a deal — an emo­tion that even some of Trump’s aides fear could lead him to give up too much at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

His dis­avowal of Bolton’s re­mark could also un­der­mine Trump’s abil­ity to present a uni­fied front for his ad­min­is­tra­tion as he pre­pares to face off with a coun­try that for decades has de­fied in­ter­na­tional laws and scut­tled U.S. efforts to rein in its nu­clear pro­gram.

“When the pres­i­dent openly dis­agrees with his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser about the ob­jec­tive of talks, that’s go­ing to en­cour­age North Korean mis­chief, and it’s go­ing to dis­cour­age al­lies who de­pend on the United States to be steady,” said Michael J. Green, who served as se­nior Asia ad­viser to Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush dur­ing a prior ef­fort to ne­go­ti­ate with North Korea.

John Park, di­rec­tor of the Korea Work­ing Group at the Har­vard Kennedy School of Gov­ern­ment, said Trump was mak­ing clear to North Korea that he is fo­cused on the deal above all else. The North Kore­ans, as they threat­ened to with­draw this week, also said they felt mis­led about the ex­tent of joint South Korean-U.S. mil­i­tary ex­er­cises. By lay­ing out their con­cerns in pub­lic with­out with­draw­ing, they were leav­ing Trump a way to pre­serve the sum­mit, Park said.

“The way that things are play­ing out right now, the choice for the pres­i­dent is Bolton or the sum­mit,” Park said. “The early signs are that he’s pri­or­i­tiz­ing the sum­mit,” he said, adding that he did not think Bolton would lose his job.

Dur­ing the im­promptu ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion, Trump re­turned twice to China’s role, say­ing the North Kore­ans be­gan mak­ing more provoca­tive state­ments shortly af­ter a re­cent meet­ing be­tween Kim and Xi, the sec­ond be­tween the two. China is North Korea’s most im­por­tant po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic ally.

“There has been a big difference since they had the sec­ond meet­ing,” Trump said.

“Pres­i­dent Xi could be in­flu­enc­ing Kim Jong Un,” Trump added, not­ing the dis­putes be­tween the U.S. and China over trade.

But ex­perts in the re­gion say that China gen­er­ally sup­ports U.S. efforts to bro­ker peace with North Korea, es­pe­cially if a deal in­cludes a reduction of U.S. troops in the re­gion.

The State Depart­ment in­sisted Thurs­day that prepa­ra­tions were con­tin­u­ing. Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, who has met twice with Kim, has been on the tele­phone this week with South Korean of­fi­cials to as­sure them that the meet­ing is still on track. “We al­ways knew there would be twists and turns,” a se­nior State Depart­ment of­fi­cial said.

ANDREW HAR­RER/BLOOMBERG NEWS

John Bolton, cen­ter, spooked North Korea re­cently by sug­gest­ing it fol­low the path of Libya more than a decade ago when that coun­try aban­doned its nu­clear weapons ef­fort.

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