During a meeting in the Oval Office Thursday, President Donald Trump publicly walked back the policy recommendation of his national security adviser John Bolton, who had said the U.S. should push for North Korea to adopt a "Libya model" for its nuclear weapons program.
Libya was working toward the development of a nuclear weapon in the early 2000s but eventually agreed to get rid of its program in 2003. In several recent television interviews, newly appointed adviser Bolton, a well-known foreign-policy hawk, suggested that the "Libya model" might work for North Korea as well.
But the idea appeared to spook North Korea's leadership, which had planned to meet with Trump in Singapore in June to discuss the future of its nuclear weapons program. Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was captured and brutally killed by pro-U.S. rebels around eight years after he agreed to dismantle Libya's nuclear weapons program.
With this in mind, North Korea has been insistent that it will not make the same mistakes as Libya, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un immediately began suggesting that he may cancel the meeting with Trump in response to Bolton's comments. Some members of the international community urged Trump to remain calm and do what he could to ensure the meeting took place.
On Thursday, Trump appeared to heed that advice by reassuring the North Korean regime that Kim Jong Un's leadership is not being questioned in the lead up to the historic meeting.
"The Libyan model is not a model that we have at all when we are thinking of North Korea," Trump said. "In Libya we decimated that country. That country was decimated. There was no deal to keep Gaddafi. The Libyan model that was mentioned was a much different deal. This would be with Kim Jong Un, something where he would be there, he'd be in his country, he'd be running his country, his country would be very rich," Trump continued.
Trump then stressed that the U.S. relationship with North Korea would also be different from that with Libya because the U.S. had never promised Tripoli's leadership, military or economic support. The comments clearly suggested that the U.S. would be willing to promise the hermit kingdom both of those conditions in exchange for denuclearization, and were an echo of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's previous comments that the U.S. would be willing to help North Korea redevelop economically. For example, Trump said that North Korea could go down the same economic path as the wealthier South Korea.
Nevertheless, Trump warned that the U.S. had "decimated" Libya and that the same could be done to North Korea if no deal is made between Washington and Pyongyang. That's what John Bolton was referring to when he said the Libya model could be pursued, Trump noted, shedding a different light on his adviser's comments.
"But if we make a deal, I think Kim Jong Un is going to very, very happy," Trump pledged.