John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, said on Sunday that the United States is using the “Libya model” as it seeks to denuclearize the Korean peninsula—a process that eventually led to the destabilization of that country and the death of its dictator, and one that has drawn North Korea’s ire in the past.
“We have very much in mind the Libya model from 2003, 2004,” Bolton said on Fox News Sunday, referring to the African country’s decision to get rid of its nuclear weapons after negotiating with American officials. Seven years later, Libya found itself in a civil war that led to the death of its dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, after an intervention by the U.S. and its allies.
It’s unclear how Bolton’s message will be received by Kim Jong Un’s regime, which has already taken some steps—though none of them concrete or verifiable—toward denuclearization. Pyongyang has long cited U.S. interventions in countries such as Libya as a reason why it needs nuclear weapons.
As the civil war was intensifying there in 2011, North Korea said it was a mistake for Libya to agree to dismantle its nuclear program. A North Korea Foreign Ministry official described it at the time as “an invasion tactic to disarm the country.”
But Bolton said the Libya process could be an example for the Trump administration, particularly as it seeks hard evidence that Pyongyang is moving toward denuclearization.
“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,” Bolton said in a separate interview on CBS’ Face the Nation. “But one thing that Libya did that 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. We saw them in ways we have never seen before.”
Bolton’s remarks came after South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met for the first time, during which the two countries committed to “complete denuclearization.” Additionally, South Korea said on Sunday that Kim had vowed to shut down a nuclear test site and had invited U.S. experts for inspections.
Bolton attributed those actions to Trump’s campaign of “maximum pressure” on North Korea through the use of sanctions and other measures to get Kim to the table. But he warned that North Korea had made similar promises in the past.
“President Trump is determined to see this opportunity through—hopeful that we can get a real breakthrough. But we’re not naive in the administration, and a lot’s going to ride on this meeting with Kim Jong Un,” he said.
The Trump administration is also winning praise from unlikely sources. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), a frequent Trump critic who has drawn the president’s ire on Twitter, suggested on Sunday that the White House’s strategy could be working.
“I think it’s more than fair to say that the combination of the president’s unpredictability, and indeed his bellicosity, had something to do with the North Koreans deciding to come to the table,” Schiff said on ABC’s This Week.
“But before the president takes too much credit or hangs out the ‘mission accomplished’ banner, he needs to realize we may go into a confrontational phase. And he may not want the full blame if things go south,” Schiff added.