For the past few weeks, new national security adviser John Bolton has been publicly emphasizing that the United States would seek a “Libya-style” agreement with North Korea. A lot of experts, including me, warned that this was a deliberate effort to sabotage the prospect of a summit with North Korea. After all, bringing up instances of leaders who disarmed only to be brutally murdered is not likely to be an effective testament to the security of a world without nuclear weapons.
North Korea, it seems, has now had enough.
Last week, North Korea canceled a meeting with South Korean officials and threatened to cancel a planned summit with President Trump. Ostensibly, the cancellations were over the participation of U.S. B-52 bombers in a military exercise with South Korean troops — a show of force that was to occur at the same time North Korea was scheduled to bring journalists to watch the closure of its nuclear test site. But subsequent statements made clear that the real problem were the statements by Bolton and other White House officials crowing about the impact of Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign and continually referencing Libya. Kim Kye-gwan, a senior North Korean official, was very direct. “It is absolutely absurd to dare compare the DPRK, a nuclear weapon state, to Libya,” he said, and then mentioned Bolton by name: “We shed light on the quality of Bolton already in the past, and we do not hide our feeling of repugnance towards him.”
The North Korean threats worked. The United States canceled the exercise with the B-52s, taking pains to emphasize that the planes had been part of a separate and unrelated exercise all along. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders threw shade at Bolton from the podium during a briefing. Sanders denied that anyone in the White House had ever mentioned “the Libya model” — although Bolton had done so on national television — and made clear who was in charge. “This is the President Trump model. He’s going to run this the way he sees fit,” she said, before adding “as we all know you’re aware, he’s the best negotiator and we’re very confident on that front.” Even Trump made a game effort to further reassure