‘This Week’ Transcript 5-13-18: President Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton

MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS: Let’s talk about that with the president’s national security advisor, John Bolton. He’s joining us live here the studio this morning. Good morning, Ambassador. Great to see you on this Mother’s Day. This meeting is unprecedented, of course, but the outcome, historically, of some high level meetings are — are kind of predetermined. And President Trump says we’re going to make a great deal for the world, you heard him say that.

Mike Pompeo says the U.S. and North Korea have complete agreement about what the ultimate objectives are. So what kind of nuts and bolts are really left to negotiate here?

JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Well, I think the specifics are quite important and I think the president’s very optimistic because he sees the chance of a breakthrough but I don’t think he has stars in his eyes over this. I think what we need to see from Kim Jong-un is that he and the entire North Korean regime have made a strategic decision that they will be better off without weapons of mass destruction.

And I think one advantage of having this meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un so soon, in effect, without months and months and months of preparation is that President Trump will be able to size Kim Jong-un up and see whether the commitment is real.

RADDATZ: So what’s really non-negotiable?

BOLTON: Well I think the denuclearization is absolutely at the core of it and it means not just the nuclear weapons, North Korea’s previously agreed, several times in fact to give up its uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing capabilities.

We’ve got the ballistic missile issues on the table, we’ve got to look at chemical and biological weapons. There are a range of things to discuss, and so that is really whether Kim Jong-un will — will come through on this, and it’s — it’s the reason why the — the president is both optimistic but realistic at the same time.

RADDATZ: And — and let’s go back to those terms, permanent verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That’s what has to happen?

BOLTON: Right, and that’s something that has to happen before the — the — the benefits start to flow. I think the — the objective for North Korea is to see whether they want to become a normal nation.

RADDATZ: So — so the benefit — you say before the benefits have to flow, so we would give them nothing until all of this has happened, not just beginning it?

BOLTON: We — we want to see the denuclearization process so completely underweight (ph) that it’s irreversible. And —

RADDATZ: So what does that look like?

BOLTON: Well I think the — the implementation of the decision means getting rid of all the nuclear weapons, dismantling them, taking them to Oakridge, Tennessee. It means getting rid of the uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing capabilities.

It means addressing the ballistic missile issue. A lot of things like that, and North Korea has a very extensive program, no — nobody believes that this is easy to do. It’s going to require some discussion with North Korea, they’re going to have to reveal all of their locations, they’re going to have to allow open inspection.

The International Atomic Energy Agency will have a role. The actual deconstruction of the — of the nuclear weapons I think will be by the United States, perhaps with the assistance from others, because that’s not really in the IAEA’s remit.

We hope to do it very quickly, and this is really for —

RADDATZ: One day. Do you — do you want — do you agree on all this in one day, however?

BOLTON: Well we’ll see how far they get, I was speaking of the operationalizing of it.

RADDATZ: Yes, yes, I know that. But — but — you — you can determine all this in one day, you think?

BOLTON: Well I — I — I think that we will at least see whether the decision on North Korea’s part to give up nuclear weapons is something that they’re prepared to carry through on, then other discussions could occur.

I don’t think anybody believes you’re going to sign the complete ending of the nuclear program in one day. But we are also very much interested in operationalizing the commitment as quickly as possible, and that is in North Korea’s interest, when you say it’ll — how long it will take for the benefits to flow.

In many respects, that’s in North Korea’s hands. If they want to see opening to the rest of the world, if they want to become a normal nation like South Korea, the quicker they denuclearize, the quicker that will come.

RADDATZ: Kim has stopped testing nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles. He released those prisoners. But he is in a very strong negotiating position because of (ph) his nuclear weapons capabilities and his ballistic missiles.

So what do you think he wants in return?

BOLTON: Well if he wants to be a normal nation, if he wants to have normal relations with the rest of the world, if he wants trade and investment to be possible for his desperately poor country, this is the path to do it.

Nuclear weapons don’t make North Korea safer, they don’t make it more prosperous. Anybody who has any doubt about what North Korea’s like, take a look at the famous pictures of the Korean Peninsula at night.

The south is lit up, you can — you can almost draw the lines of the coast line. North Korea, you can’t tell the difference between North Korea and the Yellow Sea on the western (inaudible) —


RADDATZ: It’s quite remarkable, really. I’ve talked to a lot of pilots about that, it’s amazing.

BOLTON: It’s — it’s — so that’s — that’s the — that’s the choice Kim Jong-un can make if he gives up his nuclear capabilities.

RADDATZ: Mike Pompeo said that if North Korea takes bold action to quickly denuclearize the United States, is prepared to work with North Korea to achieve prosperity on par with South Korea.

So is what you’re saying is what he’s saying, the administration is prepared to make an economic commitment to North Korea?

BOLTON: I think we’re prepared to open to trade and investment with North Korea as soon as we can.

RADDATZ: And — and will the U.S. — will they consider any sanctions released before you see what you outlined there?

BOLTON: We — we need to see implementation, and I don’t — I don’t think the present policy’s going to change until that happens.

RADDATZ: OK, before becoming National Security Adviser, you were pretty negative about Kim Jong-un, you didn’t trust him, you famously said how do you know the North Korean regime is lying? Their lips are moving.

Obviously the U.S. is going to want verification of all of this, which — which you have outlined. But just in this last month since you because National Security Adviser, has your opinion of Kim changed?

Have you seen a different Kim? Have you learned anything about him that’s changed your opinion?

BOLTON: Well let me just say as a general proposition, I’ve — I’ve read and said a lot of things in the past. I was a free agent, it was a wonderful way to be able to get your opinions about. But I’m not going to compare and contrast what I said over a long period of time with what I do now because, the advice that I give to the president, I give to him and not to discuss.

I think the key point here is that the president’s going to make the decision when he sits down with Kim Jong-un just what exactly the North is up to. And he’ll size him up. And he’s an outstanding — got an outstanding ability to do that. And we’ll see what comes from it.

RADDATZ: I want to go back to that. I wasn’t wanting you to compare. I want to know if there is anything you have learned about him, obviously not classified, but just from looking at him, or seeing what actions he has taken. Is it possible that he wasn’t the man you thought he was months ago, that he really does want to open up his country and change? Is he not the dictator you thought he was?

BOLTON: Well, I suppose I could duck that by saying you really ought to ask Mike Pompeo, who has had the pleasure of meeting him twice. I don’t think this is a question of psychoanalyzing Kim Jong-un. I think it’s a question of what he’s prepared to do concretely and operationally.

RADDATZ: And we were all so happy to see those American prisoners released. But it really did bring to mind Otto Warmbier…

BOLTON: Certainly.

RADDATZ: … who was — who died six days after he was here because he was severely brain-damaged. Do you think he was tortured or they inadvertently killed him?

BOLTON: Well, I don’t think that there’s much doubt that his condition was due to his treatment in North Korean prisons. And we have seen the same pattern of behavior over the years. That’s the kind of pattern of behavior that is simply unacceptable. Unacceptable.

RADDATZ: Do you think he was tortured?

BOLTON: Look, I’m not going to get into the specifics. But it goes to the critical point, if North Korea really wants to be a normal nation, that has to be not only ceased, it has to be exposed in the past for the benefit, for example, of the families in Japan whose children were kidnapped by North Korea over a period of years.

Now if the North is prepared to go ahead with that, if they really want to change their behavior, they have a very bright future ahead of them.

RADDATZ: And I want to move on to the Iran deal in a moment. But the president has criticized Iran and the Iran deal because it didn’t address human rights. The State Department says North Korea violates the human rights of those within its borders every day. It has accused — Kim Jong-un is accused of killing his half brother.

So does the president intend to push Kim on human rights during this summit?

BOLTON: Well, I think he’s certainly going to raise the question of the Japanese abductees. Prime Minister Abe of Japan asked him to do it. He said he would. The South Koreans are very concerned about South Korean citizens who have been kidnapped over the years.

And it’s a proper subject to raise.

RADDATZ: And beyond that?

BOLTON: Well, I think this first meeting is going to be on the critical issue primarily of de-nuclearization. There are other subjects to discuss with North Korea. And I think it would be a factor for American businesses, other foreign businesses, about whether they’re going to be involved in investment in North Korea if the climate doesn’t change.

RADDATZ: OK. And back on that Iran deal. What parts of the so-called JPCOA, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, did Iran violate, in your eyes? The allies say nothing. The inspectors say nothing.

BOLTON: Well, the inspectors don’t know everything. I mean, you can’t say honestly that Iran didn’t violate the the deal because we don’t have adequate inspections. We only know — we only know the sites…

RADDATZ: They’re called the most robust in the world.

BOLTON: Well, that’s wrong. That’s just simply wrong. We have never had an adequate declaration from Iran of their prior military activities in connection with the nuclear program. It was a fundamental flaw of Barack Obama and John Kerry’s negotiation of the deal that they gave that up. That just violates every precept of sound arms control negotiation.

Nor have we had, since the implementation of the deal, adequate — really, any inspection of military facilities where the weaponization activities of the Iranians might be conducted. And I think what we saw when the Israelis released this treasure trove of prior information is that there very definitely was a prior military dimension, which gives the lie to the Iranian assertion that they didn’t want nuclear weapons.

Moreover, during the entire course…

RADDATZ: Which they knew when they signed this, correct?

BOLTON: So, right. If you believe what you’ve just said, and if Barack Obama and John Kerry believe what you just said, they lied to the American people, because in Resolution 2231, the fifth preambular paragraph, where it says, we welcome Iran’s reaffirming that they don’t have any intention to have a nuclear weapons program, it was a lie at the time.

The administration then knew it was a lie and accepted it anyway. The Israeli information shows that on the weaponization aspect, Iran is one file drawer away from being pulled out to being right back on track. And that’s only what’s in the files. We have no idea what they’ve done since then.

This network revealed in 2007 the weaponization activities in Parchin, Iran which the Iranians have flatly denied ever since. That’s the kind of background that leads you to believe that the Iranians never had any real intention of complying.

RADDATZ: So Ambassador Bolton, in the interim, are we safer?

How can we know about their nuclear weapons program?

BOLTON: I think we have inadequate information on the nuclear weapons program now. So the real answer to your question is, we don’t know. Since we don’t know where they are now, we won’t know where they are for sure in the near future.

But I will tell you, if you look at the advances that Iran has made under cover of this agreement, its conventional military and terrorist advances, in Iraq, in Syria, in Lebanon, in Yemen, since 2015, Iran was really on the march. They were shifting the balance of power in the Middle East until President Trump got out of this deal.

RADDATZ: Would you advocate for regime change?

BOLTON: That’s not the policy of the administration. The policy of the administration is to make sure that Iran never gets close to deliverable nuclear weapons.

RADDATZ: And reports this morning in “The New York Times” say that the United States and Europe had reached consensus on 90 percent of a supplemental agreement, according to people involved in those talks.

Is that true?

BOLTON: I don’t believe it’s true. I have read the text of the supplemental agreement. It didn’t address the basic flaws in the agreement that President Trump identified.

And back to you, President Trump identified these flaws two years ago. Nobody in the world, nobody should be surprised that the president’s entirely consistent view on the negative aspects of this deal finally materialized on Tuesday in the U.S. getting out of the deal.

RADDATZ: The leaders of the U.K., France, Germany, issued a joint statement, emphasizing their, quote, “continued commitment to the nuclear deal.” They say Iran has been compliant and, quote, “the world is a safer place as a result.”

The new ambassador to Germany, Richard Grinnell, tweeted this after that.

“As @RealDonaldTrump said, U.S. Sanctions will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy. German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately.”

The ambassador’s just making a suggestion of course, not a demand.

But will the U.S. punish countries or companies who keep ties with Iran?

BOLTON: Well, I think the president said in his statement on Tuesday that countries that countries that continue to deal with Iran could face U.S. sanctions. Europeans are going to face the effective U.S. sanctions, already are really, because much of what they would like to sell to Iran involves U.S. technology, for which the licenses will not be available.

This was part of the flaw of the deal, to entice Europe and the United States into economic relations with Iran that eventually would’ve worked against really holding Iran accountable for violations of the deal.

It’s reminiscent of the saying attributed to Vladimir Lenin, that the capitalist will sell us the rope with which we’ll hang them. That’s what’s wrong with this deal.

Why would any business, why would the shareholders of any business want to do business with the world’s central banker of international terrorism?

RADDATZ: I want to turn to the German magazine, “Der Spiegel,” they put a graphic up on the cover of their magazine, depicting Donald Trump essentially giving our allies the finger.

And they wrote this in an editorial, “The West as we once knew it no longer exists. It is impossible to overstate what Trump has dismantled in the last 16 months. Europe has lost its protective power. It’s lost its guarantor of joint values and it has lost the global political influence that it was only able to exert because the U.S. stood by its side.”

Are you concerned that the withdrawal will drive a wedge between the U.S. and its European allies?

BOLTON: Well, I think the comment you just read is silly. I don’t think it reflects the reality. I think the Europeans are disappointed that we got out of the deal. Perhaps they feel that way in large part because representatives of the Obama administration were working in the past several weeks to try and prevent the deal, for U.S. from abrogating the deal. They may have given the Europeans the false impression that they could prevail.

I think we’ll work with all of the Europeans. As the president has discussed with President Macron of France, with Chancellor Merkel of Germany, with Prime Minister May of England, to move beyond the deal.

We all share the common objective of making sure Iran never gets nuclear weapons. We’re worried about their terrible destabilizing and threatening military behavior across the region and their ballistic missile program. And we’re going to work to stop that.

RADDATZ: And just finally, Mr. Ambassador, the American embassy in Jerusalem opening tomorrow.

Will that make it harder or easier to get any sort of peace agreement?

BOLTON: I think it will make it easier. It’s a recognition of reality. If you’re not prepared to recognize that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and that’s where the American embassy should be, then you’re operating on a completely different wavelength.

I think recognizing reality always enhances the chances the for peace.

RADDATZ: OK. With that, we’ll end it. Thank you very much.



JONATHAN KARL, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: Why do you think he decided to free these prisoners now?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I really think he wants to do something. I think he did this because I really think he wants to do something and bring that country into the real world. I really believe that, John and I think — I think that we’re going to have a success.


RADDATZ: That was President Trump on Thursday, talking to our Jonathan Karl after the dramatic release of those three American prisoners by North Korea. President Trump saying they’re saying Kim is ready to transform his country. But with so little known about Kim and his reclusive regime, how can we be sure? And if he is ready to modernize, why now? What’s motivating the Korean dictator?

We’re joined here by three experts on North Korea and the Kim regime. Sue Mi Terry. She spent nearly a decade as a senior analyst on Korean issues at the CIA, now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Jonathan Cheng, Seoul Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal. He has reported from inside North Korea, most recently last fall.

And here in the studio, Evan Asnos of the New Yorker. He also traveled to North Korea last summer, spent five years in the region as the magazine’s China correspondent and is also an expert on domestic politics. In this week’s issue he dives into President Trump’s war on Washington. Good morning, Evan. I want to start with you. You were in North Korea last summer. Give us a window into what that was like and what the people there may be thinking about what’s happening now.

EVAN OSNOS, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Well, I think they are as bewildered as we are, frankly. This is a country that spent decades being told by their leadership the United States is their enemy. You go down the street, there are billboards with pictures of missiles going into the U.S. capitol. And when I talk to school children, they would say to me why is the United States seeking a confrontation with us.

At the moment, however, we know that Kim Jong — Kim Jong-un is on some level looking to try to change the public narrative. He was on an unsustainable course with the United States and so he’s taken a series of really radical steps to try to change that.

RADDATZ: And you heard President Trump say he thinks Kim wants to bring his country into the real world. Do you think that’s really true?

OSNOS: Up to a point, there’s some truth to that and we know that Kim Jong-un believes that his country cannot stay as poor as it is forever. It’s poorer than Afghanistan. That’s an unstable state if you’re a leader trying to keep your people at bay. He doesn’t want to risk a revolution. So he’s trying to introduce some level of economic modernization but it would be a big mistake to assume he’s willing to give everything up in order to do that.

He’s going to maintain whatever he thinks he needs to protect his regime, and that may mean his nuclear arsenal.

RADDATZ: And Sue, you very recently met with officials from North Korea. What kind of insight did they give you into how Kim is preparing for this summit.

SUE MI TERRY, SENIOR FELLOW FOR KOREA, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, they couldn’t give me a lot of insight because they were completely, you know, confused. I think a lot of this decision is really coming from the very top, Kim Jong-un and just very few people in North Korea. So the foreign ministry’s actually pretty caught up, I would say.

But I have to agree with Evan. In — in — in terms of modernizing, I do think that Kim Jong-un is looking to be a modern leader of modern North Korea. But it’s, again, up to a point. Because is it truly going to be this transformative leader that can really change North Korea over the years in the next — in the coming years? I question this. I think we should be very cautious here.

RADDATZ: And Jonathan, you were at that other historic summit between North and South Korea. What struck you about Kim? I — I thought it was remarkable how relaxed he looked.

JONATHAN CHENG, SEOUL BUREAU CHIEF, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Yes, I agree with that. This is a guy who is in his mid-thirties. He hasn’t had this sort of experience very much. He has just gone to see Xi Jinping in China a few weeks before but that was about it. And here he was looking very comfortable, I think, on camera and he knew he was going to be on the front page of every newspaper around the world the next day.

And he was joking, he was laughing, he was deferential in all the right ways, but he was very much looking comfortable in my opinion.

RADDATZ: And Sue, we’ve seen Secretary of State Mike Pompeo now meet two times — there was that smiling picture of Pompeo of Kim. How much groundwork do you think he is setting before President Trump arrives?

TERRY: As much as he possibly can. I mean, we don’t have a whole lot of time before the decision — Trump’s decision to meet with Kim Jong-un. There’s not a lot of time to prepare. But obviously they’re doing that in the back channel. This is why Pompeo went to North Korea, met with Kim Jong-un twice now.

And you don’t — you know a situation like this, you don’t want to walk into a meeting and not know exactly what’s going to happen. So I’m sure they’re working on — in this agreement right now. So before the summit, ideally you know exactly what you’re agreeing to.

RADDATZ: And — and Evan, I want to come back to you. You have a piece, as we mentioned, coming out in the New Yorker this week, Donald Trump’s War on the Deep State, which details how the Trump administration, you say, is gutting the diplomatic core.

So how prepared will the U.S. be in this meeting?

EVAN ASNOS, JOURNALIST, NEW YORKER: We’re coming at this with a much thinner bench than we usually would. On the North Korean side, they’ve got diplomats who I’ve met who have been working on these issues for decades.

They could tell you every in and out of every American negotiation going back for five or six decades. But on the U.S. side, as we all know, there’s been this mass exodus from the State Department, 60 percent of the most senior diplomats have left, 79,000 civil servants have retired or resigned since Donald Trump took office.

We saw some of that inexperience last week, Mike Pompeo bungled the name of Kim Jong-un, called him chairman un rather than Chairman Kim.

RADDATZ: Would (ph) that little kind of equivalent of a typo (inaudible) —

ASNOS: Might have been — might have been — I mean pressure, he’s — nobody would — nobody would think that he’s not working under incredible stress here. But we don’t have the sort of — we’re operating without a net these days.

RADDATZ: OK, thanks Evan. And Jonathan, just finally to you. What do you think Kim needs to achieve success in his country?

CHENG: I think — for this summit, I think what he wants is to come across looking statesmen like. I think he’s already passed the test where Xi Jinping or with (ph) Moon Jae-in of South Korea, but now he’s meeting the leader of the free world as it is.

And you know, North Korea studies the U.S. very closely. They know how Donald Trump is perceived overseas and around the world, and I think his real goal here is to come across as looking sincere about what he wants to do, which is to give up nuclear weapons.

Now whether or not he really wants to is another question, but if he can come away looking like the reasonable one here, I think that’s — he’ll have seized the moral high ground, and no matter what happens next.

And I think that’s definitely something that — that would be a success on his part if he can — if he can do that.

RADDATZ: OK, thanks to all of you, a fascinating conversation. Up next, the Powerhouse Round Table is here to talk about the fall out from that White House staffer’s comments on John McCain, and new revelations about Michael Cohen’s business deals.

And later, more from my exclusive interview with those hero pilots who saved that Southwest Airlines flight.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My first thoughts were actually oh here we go, just because it seemed like a flashback to some of the Navy flying that we had done.



RADDATZ: The roundtable is standing by. And all week long, you can get the latest on politics with breaking news alerts on the ABC News app. Download it during the break.



BOLTON: Thank you.

RADDATZ: When we come back, more on that historic summit from a different view. Those with insights into North Korea and it’s dictator. Is Kim Jong-un really ready to make a deal? We’ll ask a former CIA analyst and two journalists who have spent time inside North Korea. And a powerhouse roundtable on the firestorm over those insensitive remarks on John McCain. Has civility disappeared entirely from our politics? We’ll be right back.