- - Sunday, October 28, 2012

UNITED NATIONS — The next U.S. president is likely to face a foreign policy crisis early in his term, with threats looming from the Middle East to North Korea, according to former U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton, who has served in three U.S. administrations and is now advising Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

The top priority is the war on terrorism, but other issues could erupt with little warning, Mr. Bolton told The Washington Times in a recent interview.

“Number one is the continuing war on terrorism, manifested in Afghanistan, Libya and the Middle East,” he said.

Mr. Bolton added that Iran continues to work toward building a nuclear bomb, while the leader of nuclear-armed North Korea remains a mystery.

Other hot spots include China, which is flexing military muscle in an island dispute with its Asian neighbors, and Russia, where President Vladimir Putin continues to intimidate political opposition.

Mr. Bolton said his major concerns include “the nuclear proliferation issue, as manifested both in Iran and North Korea … relations with Russia, and the approach to the U.S. intelligence budget,” which is facing a $25 billion cut over the next 10 years.

Mr. Bolton, now with the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, criticized President Obama and the State Department over the perceived failure to provide enough security to prevent the terrorist attack that killed J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans last month.

“Events are outpacing them,” he said of Mr. Obama and other administration officials who first blamed the assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on a mob outraged over an Internet video that insulted Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

Administration officials eventually conceded that Stevens and the other Americans were killed in a terrorist attack.

Mr. Bolton also denounced the White House for claiming that the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden last year had diminished his terrorist network.

“The narrative out of there [on the status of al Qaeda] is a lie. The veil is coming off the administration’s effort to obscure what is really going on internationally,” he said.

Mr. Bolton said the Benghazi attack by gunmen armed with assault weapons and rocked-propelled grenade launchers showed that al Qaeda retains “incredible operational capabilities.”

“A recent State Department briefing explained that the attack on the consulate was by a large number of people [and] that they have not seen anything like it in recent memory. It was a paramilitary operation, which isn’t anything like the public line that al Qaeda was defeated,” he said.

On the Iranian nuclear program, Mr. Bolton said U.S. sanctions have had little effect.

“The nuclear program continues, [the sanctions] have had little impact on their drive to build a bomb,” he said.

Mr. Bolton also warned that crisis could erupt in North Korea, where Kim Jong-un took over as leader of the secretive communist nation in January.

North Korea has continued to build its nuclear arsenal. Kim Jong-un is still largely an unknown commodity. We just do not know what he is up to,” he said.

Mr. Bolton has served three presidents, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. He was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from August 2005 to December 2006.

He has also served as assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, undersecretary for arms control and international security and as an assistant attorney general.