Even if a Trump‐Kim summit actually takes place, it merely will be the first, modest step in a difficult process to resolve the nuclear crisis. Trump’s appointment of the ultra‐hawkish John Bolton as his new national security advisor does not bode well for constructive negotiations. Bolton previously has stated that a preventive U.S. military strike on North Korea would be justified. His statements since his appointment about the negotiating strategy the United States should pursue in any Trump‐Kim meeting likewise do not inspire confidence about his desire for a peaceful settlement of the crisis.
As with most hardliners, Bolton insists that North Korea make a firm commitment at the outset that it is willing to terminate its nuclear and missile programs. In fact, he stated in a recent interview that if Pyongyang doesn’t make that preemptive concession, any meeting between Trump and Kim would be—and should be— very brief. On another occasion, he indicated that that Trump should insist on an agreement akin to the one the United States and its European allies reached with Libyan leader Muammar el‐Qaddafi in 2003.
That is an astonishingly unrealistic position, and it creates major doubts about whether Bolton wants a peaceful settlement at all. He acts as though North Korean leaders don’t recall what followed the Qaddafi agreement. When the Libyan strongman agreed to terminate his country’s embryonic nuclear program, the Western powers lifted many of their economic sanctions and eased Libya’s ostracism from international institutions. However, the United States and its NATO allies later double‐crossed Qaddafi and helped insurgents overthrow his regime. The culmination of that betrayal was the Libyan leader’s torture and gruesome execution.