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As US – North Korean summit nears, John Bolton takes a back seat

In contrast to the National Security Adviser’s usual fiery rhetoric, recent developments show Bolton’s role has been downgraded

Many hackles get raised worldwide at the mention of the name of America’s present National Security Adviser, John Bolton. Most recently, the fiery hardliner made news when he ruffled the feathers of the North Korean leadership, by suggesting that the “Libya model” be applied to North Korea’s present regime. (This refers to the policy whereby Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi agreed to surrender all his weapons of mass destruction in 2003 during George W Bush’s tenure as President, only to be later captured and brutally executed by American forces during the misbegotten “Arab Spring” under President Obama in 2011.)

The result of this rhetoric was so much fiery rhetoric from the North Korean regime that President Trump had to announce a cancellation of the June 12 summit, which was a rather drastic measure. While this got North Korea’s attention re-focused and calmed down, certainly there was need of a different approach to the situation at hand.

That approach appears to have been charted under the leadership of the President, for while John Bolton remains a key figure in the upcoming talks, his role is very muted, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is reportedly in the lead role at this stage in the negotiations.

Reuters reported on Thursday 7 June that the assembly of the diplomatic team is taking place with great speed:

While the hawkish Bolton – who has adopted a lower-key approach in recent days – is expected to be in Singapore for the talks on Tuesday, Mr. Pompeo has taken the lead as the administration assumes a softer tone toward Pyongyang ahead of the summit, several U.S. officials said.

Mr. Pompeo’s ascendancy combined with Bolton’s more muted public role illustrates how the sometimes messy power dynamic in Trump’s inner circle has played out going into the first-ever meeting between U.S. and North Korean leaders.

But Trump’s ability to deliver the biggest foreign policy success of his presidency could rest heavily on the team he has hastily cobbled together to advise him after announcing in March he was prepared to meet Kim in an effort to persuade the North Korean leader to give up a nuclear arsenal that now threatens the United States.

“This summit is being thrown together faster than any we’ve ever seen for something this important,” said one U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “So unless we want the president to get played by Kim, a lot rests with the team that’s putting this
all together.”

The White House has not given any comment on the organization of leadership in the upcoming talks, but it is also clear that while Mr. Bolton is not leading the charge here, he remains described as a key player in the upcoming talks.

The Reuters piece goes on to note that Mr. Bolton has “taken the hint” as far as being more reserved about the talks.

As noted earlier, the speed at which this meeting is being brought together is surprising. As with many aspects of the Trump Presidency, the speed and dynamic style at which this summit is being prepared sometimes raises concern that it is not careful enough or that it cannot succeed in the way a more traditionally held approach to diplomacy might. However, on the converse side of this debate is the sheer fact of the upcoming summit itself. The meeting is expected to be historic, certainly, and there is great interest in how it proceeds and what the outcome will be.

One of the observations here that Reuters noted is that President Trump appears to be rapidly gaining experience and wisdom in terms of how to manage his team. The placing of Mike Pompeo has been, thus far, very successful with the North Koreans. Managing a team that is perhaps in its own way just as fiery as its President is a dynamic process.

While traditional attitudes suggest what one might call “diplomatic reserve”, it is evident that there is nothing like that now. The success that Mr. Trump and his team’s approach to the North Korean matter will be closely watched by many nations around the world.

 

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