During a press appearance with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday, President Donald Trump was asked about John Bolton’s proposal that Libya’s abandonment of weapons of mass destruction might be used as a model for North Korea’s denuclearization. That notion touched a nerve in Pyongyang, where the later toppling of Libya’s government by a NATO military intervention is seen as a good argument for having nuclear weapons. A North Korean official this week specifically cited Bolton’s comments while threatening to cancel the planned upcoming summit with Trump. But from what Trump said today, it’s not clear that he understands what either Bolton or the North Koreans are referring to when they talk about Libya:
It’s a little hard to figure out what the president is talking about here. It may be, as New York Times White House correspondent Peter Baker surmises, that Trump thinks the “Libya model” in question was not the 2003 agreement in which Libya’s government renounced its weapons-of-mass-destruction programs and allowed international inspectors, but the 2011 military intervention itself. “If you look at that model with Qaddafi, that was a total decimation,” Trump said.
Trump also said, “When John Bolton made that statement, he was talking about if we’re going to be having a problem because we cannot let that country have nukes. We just can’t do it.”
This is definitely not what Bolton was talking about.
Appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation on April 29, Bolton was asked if Kim Jong-un would have to agree to “give away those weapons before you give any kind of concession.” He agreed, saying, “I think we’re looking at the Libya model of 2003, 2004.” He later elaborated:
In the case of Libya, for example—and it’s a different situation in some respects—those negotiations were carried out in private. They were not known publicly. But one thing that Libya did that led us to overcome our skepticism was that they allowed American and British observers into all their nuclear-related sites. So it wasn’t a question of relying on international mechanisms.
The “model” here was not a threat of what would happen if Kim didn’t play ball, as Trump suggested today. Bolton is clearly talking about Libya’s actions in 2003, not its eventual destruction in 2011. The reason North Korea doesn’t like any talk of Libya is that the Libyan regime was destroyed despite making a deal. It’s not likely to be reassured after Trump’s comments today.
Trump also says that unlike Qaddafi, Kim would still “be running his country” if he agreed to a deal and that “his country would be very rich.” He continued: “We never said to Qaddafi, oh, we’re going to give you protection, we’re going to give you military strength, we’re going to give you all of these things. We went in and decimated him. If we make a deal, I think Kim Jong-un will be very, very happy.”
Hypocrisy policing is usually fruitless and frustrating with this president, but it’s still worth pointing out that just last week, Trump pulled the U.S. out of what he called the “worst deal ever” with Iran, having spent months blasting the Obama administration for sending plane loads of cash to Iran and facilitating its various nefarious activities in the Middle East. Now, we’re not only cutting a nuclear deal with Kim Jong-un’s murderous dictatorship, we’re promising to make him “rich” and “very, very happy” and giving him “protection” and “military strength”?
In other news, a senior administration official tells Time that Trump has not set aside much time to prepare for the meeting with Kim because “he doesn’t think he needs to.”