- - Friday, January 25, 2019

Interview: National Security Adviser John Bolton explains Trump’s strategy on North Korea and on China trade

President Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton sat down recently at the White House complex with Tim Constantine. They discussed the Middle East, the upcoming trade talks with China and President Trump’s second summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. The full interview follows:

Tim Constantine: My guest serves as the 27th National Security Adviser to the President of the United States, counseling on matters of national security, both domestic and international. Ambassador John Bolton, thanks for joining us. 

JB: Glad to be with you.

Tim Constantine: The United States has become a world leader in the production of natural gas. We are now the world leader in production of oil. How important is that in our standing in the world, and in the security of the United States?

JB: It is extremely important. I think not well appreciated even by people who do foreign and defense policy for a living. It has obviously had a significant impact on the United States having oil and gas produced here domestically in quantities that really make a difference in holding the prices down but it also has an international strategic significance as well. We are less dependent and our allies are less dependent on sources of oil and gas from very difficult parts of the world. They have an alternative now, for example, in Europe to buy liquified natural gas from the United States rather than relying on Russia.

Tim Constantine: How does this impact our relationships in some of the big oil producing Middle Eastern states? 

JB: I don’t think it has really had a negative effect and the reason of course is they are so significant in the market as a whole that they are going to continue to make money even in times of greater competition. I do think, from an economic point of view, very advantageous to help keep the price down. We really now are the price setting producer and, it’s not because we have national government telling people what to produce but are responding to the market. I think that is a very thing.

Tim Constantine: Saudi Arabia has traditionally been a dominant player in the world energy market. The killing of Jamal Khashoggi impacted and has the potential to really derail their place there. You have spoken with the Crown Prince more than once since that incident happened. The Saudis’ story  changed three or four times as new facts came out. Has the Crown Prince been 100% straight forward and honest with you in his conversations? 

JB: Certainly as recently as two weeks ago when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the kingdom he made it clear we wanted everyone who had involvement in that murder held responsible. The President has been very clear on that point too. The President has also been very clear that the relationship with Saudi Arabia is a critical one. We are managing both of those policies simultaneously. All of the Gulf Arab states know how important this is for us and they know how important it is for them dealing with the threat they face with Iran.

Tim Constantine: And do you feel the Crown Prince has been completely forthcoming with you? 

JB: He says that they are going to get to the bottom of it. The King has said the same thing from the very first conversation with President Trump that they would get to the bottom of it and we expect them to do it.

Tim Constantine: Does this give the United States some leverage to help push the Gulf states into getting the Gulf Crisis to end?  

JB: We have been trying in any number of different ways, certainly since I have been here in the White House to try and get the dispute among the six major oil producing monarchies in the gulf put behind them. I think they understand they need to do it as well to deal with Iran. It has got its own local characteristics and probably that is the way it will be resolved. But we are working constantly to overcome the problem that is posed for us.

Tim Constantine: We are about to enter into trade talks with China. Explain to America what is our primary concern with China and trade? 

JB: When you look at the way China has abused the international trading system over the last twenty years and really even before that. They have stolen intellectual property from the United States and Europe and Japan. They have engaged in forced technology transfers. They have discriminated against foreign businesses and investors in China. Their judicial system is not a model of independence and integrity. All of these steps have enriched China. If you get for example, the benefit of all the research and development of our intellectual property without paying any of the investment that is required to get it and you can introduce, stealing that property and selling to the American market, it is no wonder their goods come in with a lower price. This over a long period of time has had an enormous effect of transferring wealth to China and that transfer of wealth is now being used by China to be converted into military capability which poses a threat to the region and a threat to us. So President Trump has identified overcoming this economic problem as critical, not simply to right the balance economically, to make China play by the rules everybody else plays by, but to prevent an imbalance in political/military power in the future as well. The two aspects are very closely tied together in his mind, which is why he has put such emphasis on trade negotiations. 

Tim Constantine: What are the specific goals the United States hopes to achieve that will solve that issue? 

JB: We have given China a long list of changes we expect them to make in the intellectual property area, in the question of discrimination against foreign investors, really right across the board. Over one hundred and forty specific things that we want to change. And we don’t want lip service to this if we reach agreement. We want actual implementation. We want verification. We want proof that things will be different. If we can make progress in those areas it will be very significant. 

Tim Constantine: March 1 has been set as a goal, a timetable to try and achieve some of these goals. What happens if we do not meet that March 1st deadline? 

JB: I am not going to speculate on that. I have done my share of international negotiating. I am not directly involved as a negotiator in this. I don’t envy those who are. It is a very difficult and expansive assignment that they have, but everybody has been working hard on it. They heard what President Trump and President Xi said in Buenos Ares on December 1st so I know there is a lot of effort being put in to it. We will know more, as you suggested, in late January when a significant Chinese delegation will come here to Washington. 

Tim Constantine: What role has China played in negotiations with North Korea and moving forward, what role should they play? 

JB: In past negotiations they played a very significant effort, part of the six party talks. President Trump has tried a different approach. The six party talks obviously failed, so he has been negotiating directly with Kim Jong-un. The Chinese tell us that they agree with the press for denuclearization. We certainly say to them on every occasion that we want them to maintain the international economic sanctions against North Korea very tightly. Watch the border, as President Trump says to them, and that is the position we are going to continue to take as we get ready for the second summit between the President and Kim Jong-un. 

Tim Constantine: That is tentatively set for late February. The President has said we have made significant progress in our talks for denuclearization for North Korea. Can you define what progress we have made? 

JB: President Trump, I think, has said repeatedly that North Korea has not engaged in nuclear tests. North Korea has not engaged in missile tests. What we need from North Korea is a significant sign of a strategic decision to give up nuclear weapons and it is when we get that denuclearization that the President can begin to take the sanctions off. 

Tim Constantine: Can we trust Kim Jong-un? 

JB: It’s the sort of thing where the negotiation really is between the President and Kim Jong-un. He is prepared to engage in this negotiation. If I was Kim Jong-un, I would not think of crossing the President. 

Tim Constantine: Let’s go to Russia just for a minute. In 2012 President Obama famously whispered to then President Dmitry Medvedev “After the election I will have more flexibility. Tell Vlad I will have more flexibility.” There were many people critical of that and wondered what that really meant. How much has all the claim of Russian collusion impacted the ability of this President, President Trump, to just do regular business with Russia? 

JB: I think it’s had a significant impact and I think that has been unfortunate. I am not saying that if the Russia collusion issue disappeared entirely that suddenly we’d have an unlimited vista of agreements with the Russians. They are tough negotiators, I can tell you from my own experience. But in the current circumstances every effort that we make toward trying to find common ground is subject to a political second guessing that somehow there is some nefarious Russian influence over the administration. I have heard, and I think we’ll see more of the criticism, that even yours truly is somebody that is somehow is under the sway of Russia. This is really a new experience for me. But in this kind of febrile atmosphere it is not surprising that it is hard to reach agreement and I think it has been to the detriment of our national interest.

Tim Constantine: Maybe the most challenging question of all. Coming up is Super Bowl 53. Is it going to be New England or is it going to be the Rams.

JB: I have to tell you, I still root for the Baltimore Colts, so when the NFL fixes that I will answer your question. 

Tim Constantine: Ambassador Bolton, thank you very much.

JB: Glad to be with you.

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