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Trump rejected 'bad deal' in North Korea summit, Bolton says

John Bolton, the White House's national security adviser,

John Bolton, the White House's national security adviser, on Jan. 28. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Mandel Ngan

WASHINGTON — White House National Security Adviser John Bolton defended President Donald Trump’s recent summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sunday, saying Trump signaled to the international community that he is “not desperate for a deal . . .  if it’s contrary to American national interest.”

Bolton appeared on three of five major Sunday  television talk shows to tout Trump’s two-day summit last week in Hanoi, Vietnam, as the president faces bipartisan criticism for meeting with Kim for a second time without delivering a denuclearization agreement.

“The obligation of the president of the United States is to defend and advance American national security interests, and I think he did that by rejecting a bad deal,” Bolton told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace.

Trump said last week he decided to “walk away” from the negotiating table after North Korea kept pressing the United States to lift all economic sanctions against the country. North Korea has disputed Trump’s account, saying it asked the United States to lift only some sanctions.

Bolton, on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” said Trump “remains optimistic” that a denuclearization deal is possible, and there’s “no expiration date” to reach an agreement that would lead North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

"Kim Jong Un himself said in our last meeting, you know, we're going to go through many stations … before we achieve this deal. The meeting in Hanoi was one such station. So the president is ready to keep talking,” Bolton said.

 On Twitter, Trump defended his administration's move to suspend a mass military exercise traditionally held in the spring with South Korea, in favor of a series of smaller drills. Both nations have said the scaled-back effort is part of a diplomatic  move to get Kim to abandon North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

"The reason I do not want military drills with South Korea is to save hundreds of millions of dollars for the U.S. for which we are not reimbursed," Trump tweeted. "That was my position long before I became President. Also, reducing tensions with North Korea at this time is a good thing!"

Bolton also attempted to walk back Trump’s comments from a post-summit news conference,  at which he stated that he took Kim “at his word” when the leader denied any involvement in the death of American Otto Warmbier. The Ohio native died in 2017 shortly after being released in a coma from a North Korean prison, where he had been detained on charges that he attempted to steal a propaganda poster while visiting the country in 2016.

"When he says, 'I’m going to take him at his word,' it doesn’t mean that he accepts it as reality. It means that he accepts that was what Kim Jong Un said," Bolton said on "Fox News Sunday."

Trump, speaking Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, praised Warmbier and his parents while explaining the “delicate balance” of negotiating with Kim.

“I’m in such a horrible position, because in one way I have to negotiate. In the other way, I love Mr. and Mrs. Warmbier, and I love Otto. And it’s a very, very delicate balance,” Trump said.

Warmbier’s parents issued a statement last week taking aim at Trump’s initial remarks, saying: “Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that.”

Asked whether North Korea should be held responsible for Warmbier’s death, Bolton told CNN “State of the Union” host Jake Tapper: “The best thing North Korea could do right now would be to give us a full accounting of what happened and who was responsible for it.”

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