With North Korea, 'leverage is on our side right now': John Bolton

On "This Week," Martha Raddatz interviews John Bolton, national security adviser to President Donald Trump, on North Korea, Venezuela and the fight to eradicate ISIS.
16:27 | 03/10/19

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Transcript for With North Korea, 'leverage is on our side right now': John Bolton
We'll cover it all, but we begin with those new and alarming developments coming out of north Korea. New satellite images suggest North Korea could be preparing to revive its missile testing. Just over a week after that Hanoi summit failed to produce a deal. These images taken days before the summit, but just released publicly on Friday, show vehicles, cranes and rail cars near a facility outside Pyongyang where North Korea has previously assembled some of its intercontinental ballistic missiles, leading some experts to believe North Korea is preparing to launch what would be its first missile or rocket in over a year. Those images come just days after another satellite image emerged showing cranes and supplies appearing to be used to rebuild another launch site in North Korea. Despite these warning signs on Friday, president trump appeared confident in his relationship with Kim Jong-un. Time will tell, but I have a feeling that our relationship with North Korea, Kim Jong-un and myself, chairman Kim, I think it's a very good one. I think it remains good. I would be surprised in a negative way if he did anything that was not per our understanding. So what to make of north Korea's latest moves and was anything gained in those face to face meetings with Kim Jong-un? For more, let's bring in our headliner, the president's national security adviser, John Bolton. Always good to see you, ambassador Bolton. So let's get right to it. Do you believe that North Korea is about to launch a rocket, a missile, a satellite? Well, I would rather not get into the specifics on that. What you have just shown is commercial satellite imagery to be sure. The United States government -- I'll just put it this way -- expands a lot of resources and efforts so we don't have to rely on commercial satellite imagery. We have seen a lot in north Korea. We watch it constantly. I have been doing this since the first bush administration, George H.W. Bush. There is a lot of activity all the time in North Korea, but I'm not going to speculate on what that particular commercial satellite picture shows. What can you tell us? Are there railroad, railway cars, are there cranes? And could you give us -- you have been doing this for years. Give us some idea whether that concerns you. Well, look. The president has been very clear that he's not going to make the mistakes of prior administrations, and one mistake that prior administrations made repeatedly was assuming that the north Koreans would automatically comply when they undertake obligations. The north Koreans for example, have pledged to give up their nuclear weapons program at least five separate times beginning in 1992 with the joint north/south de-nuclearization agreement. They never seem to get around to it though. That's one reason why we pay particular attention to what North Korea is doing all the time. We see exactly what they are doing now. We see it unblinkingly, and we don't have any illusions about what their capabilities are. Let me read you a quote. When you put it together from those satellite images, that's what it looks like when the north Koreans are in the process of building a rocket. That's Jeffrey Lewis of the proliferation project. Do you disagree with him? He's an expert. As I say, I don't really want to get into speculation about what they're doing. The particular site in question has two facilities. There is one that Kim Jong-un had told us earlier that he would dismantle. This is the static engine test site. There is also a launch site there that he promised to give up to moon jae-in, the president of South Korea. So it's actually two different parts of the same facility. What would the consequences be if we saw another test launch? Well, as the president said, he would be pretty disappointed if Kim Jong-un went ahead and did something like that. The president said repeatedly he feels the absence of nuclear tests, the absence of ballistic missile launches is a positive sign and he has used that as part of his effort to persuade Kim Jong-un that he has to go for what the president called the big deal. Complete de-nuclearization. Let's listen to what the president said at his press conference in Vietnam right after negotiations broke down. There is no more testing, and one of the things importantly that chairman Kim promised me last night is regardless, he's not going to do testing of rockets and nuclear -- not going to do testing. So, you know, I trust him, and I take him at his word. I hope that's true. The president said he would be surprised if Kim did anything that was not per our understanding. Would you be surprised? You know, nothing in the proliferation game surprises me anymore. I think Kim Jong-un has a very clear idea of where the president stands and what objectives the president is trying to achieve are. It's why the decision the walk away in a friendly way as the president put it, from the Hanoi summit was important for Kim Jong-un to understand the president, despite what a lot of the experts and pundits say, is not under pressure to make any deal. He wants to make the right deal, and he described it to Kim Jong-un at the Hanoi meeting. Have you asked the north Koreans about these images? Has there been contact really since the Hanoi summit? I'm not aware of any. It's possible the south Koreans have spoken to North Korea. I'll be speaking tomorrow with my south Korean counterpart. I suspect this will be one of the things we discuss. I want to talk about one other thing the president said about North Korea which goes to something you were saying as well. We know the country very well, believe it or not. We know every inch of that country. The images that the launch site were from February 22nd, those commercial satellite images. Were you aware of them when you went to Hanoi, and was that something you brought up with the north Koreans? Again, that would get -- get me in involved in discussing intelligence and I would rather not do that. Just say we look every day at the intelligence that's provided to us. It's very important that we know as much as we can about the north Koreans against the possibility that they might agree to the president's proposal. We need to be in a position to verify their compliance with it. This is part of getting ready for that, and in any event, we want to track the potential for a threat if -- if that emerges as well. You talk about the president saying he would be disappointed if there was a launch. That might be putting it mildly. Would this scuttle negotiations? I would rather not speculate on that either. You heard the president is confident in his personal relationship with Kim Jong-un. He has invested a lot of time in developing that relationship. He says he's open to a third summit and none has been scheduled. Some time may have to go by, but he's prepared to engage again because he does think that the prospects for North Korea, which he has been trying to persuade Kim Jong-un to accept if they de-nuclearized, are quite spectacular. Let's backtrack. At the Singapore summit, north Korea committed to only work toward complete de-nuclearization of the peninsula. How do you define that and how do they define that? They have committed to de-nuclearization in a variety of forms several times in writing, solemn international agreements that they have happily violated. We define de-nuclearization as meaning the elimination of their nuclear weapons program, their capability, their plutonium processing capability. From the beginning, we have also included chemical and biological weapons in the elimination of their weapons of mass destruction. This is important to us because of our deployed forces in south Korea and it's important to South Korea and Japan, and of course, we want their ballistic missile program ended as well. But they didn't sign onto that. Well, they have signed onto elements of that in the 1992 joint north/south de-nuclearization agreement, and we have made it clear the idident handed Kim Jong-un a president -- actually two pieces of paper. One in English and one in Korean that laid it out. And it said all that you said and more? Can you tell us what it said and who wrote that? I can't tell you in Korean -- Try in the English. We'll settle for the English. I just did. It's just that? That's whawas said in that piece of paper? I won't tell you word for word, and I don't have it in front of me. That was substance. Who offered that proposal? It was cleared around as usual. The envoy to North Korea said in a speech in January that he hoped the two sides could move simultaneously and in parallel through a road map of concrete deliverables. That sounds like step by step, you do something, we do something. Is that how you see it? Look. The president as I mentioned before, is determined to avoid the mistakes prior presidents have made, and one of those mistakes is falling for the north Korean action for action ploy, and the reason that that doesn't work, is that what north Korea, and it needs it very much right now is economic relief. I think it's very much on Kim Jong-un's mind. He wants the economic sanctions released and to get that, he's prepared to give up some part of his nuclear program. Perhaps at a declaratory level, a substantial part, but the marginal benefit to North Korea of economic relief is far more beneficial than partial de-nuclearization. That's why action for action almost inevitably in the past three administrations has worked to North Korea's benefit, and as I say, over a 25-plus-year period, they never seem to get to de-nuclearization. Isn't that interesting? You also talk about strategic patience. The president said that era was over, and yet just the other day, he said a year. Ask me in a year. You really give him a year? You yourself have said that the time is on the side of the proliferator. The historical estimate is that time is inevitably on the side of the proliferator in the long run, and right now I think it's the president's judgment and it's correct that the economic leverage that we have because of the sanctions puts the pressure on North Korea and that's one reason why all the pundits and experts predicting a deal in Hanoi were wrong because the leverage is on our side right now and not on north Korea's. I want to turn now to Syria, and ISIS. President trump said 100% of the ISIS caliphate in Syria has been defeated, but let me play what a commander said in his testimony before the house armed services committee on Thursday. The violent extremism is far from over. What we are seeing surrender of ISIS as an organization, but the preservation of their capabilities in waiting for the right time to re-surge. Do you agree with that assessment? It's different, the caliphate and the ideological feelings about ISIS. I don't know what the rest of what his statement said, so I don't want to criticize a partial clip. It has happened to me before that a clip of four words or even a full sentence gets put on television and it doesn't convey the full sense of what I was trying to say. The president has been I think as clear as clear can be when he talks about the defeat of the ISIS territorial caliphate. He has never said that the elimination of the territorial caliphate means the end of ISIS in total. We know that's not the case. We know right now that there are ISIS fighters scattered still around Syria and Iraq and that ISIS itself is growing in other parts of the world. The ISIS threat will remain, but one reason that the president has committed to keeping an American presence in Iraq and a small part of an observer force in Syria, is against the possibility that there would be a real resurgence of ISIS and we would then have the ability to deal with that if that arose. I think people have to be clear, and the importance of the territorial caliphate goes to an ideological point of ISIS and the theory of itself, namely that they were a caliphate because you have to control a territory. I wasn't trying to argue that. I was trying to ask whether you believed a resurgence could happen. How serious that is. We have asked for help from the allies there. Have you gotten any confirmed commitments from allies to help out? Certainly in conversations this past week with my British and French counterparts, I'm very optimistic they're going to participate. It hasn't happened formally yet, but they are looking at it and I think it's very important that we try and get this up and it may or may not succeed. The joint chiefs of staff has worked extensively on this, and we're still pursuing it. The ISIS threat, the Al Qaeda threat, the terrorist threat is an ideological threat worldwide and it's something I think we have to be vigilant against for the foreseeable future. That's something over the years we don't really know how to approach the ideological threat. Have you made progress in that? Do you believe you're where you want to be? Well, I think as long as the ideology is out there, it continues to be a threat, and there are different circumstances in different parts of the world, but for those who have said, for example, the terrorist threat from Iran, those who have said in the year since the 1979 islamic revolution, 40 years now, the ideology will fade and they will become a normal nation again like everybody else. That hasn't been true in Iran. They're still in the grip of a radical theology, and ISIS and Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups show no sign of that ideology fading. I want to turn to Venezuela. We have seen the mass demonstrations. Trying to halt food aid. Nicolas maduro, looks like he is not really going anywhere. ABC's Tom llamas talked to Venezuelan president maduro and he said he fears president trump because of those around him, including you. Let's listen. Do you fear president trump? I think you got the idea there, pointing the finger right at you and others. Do you want maduro to fear the advice you're giving to the president? Let me just say I'm honored to be named by Nicolas maduro. I add him to the list of other people. They have all criticized me over the years. I don't wish him any ill will. I tweeted some weeks ago I hope his future consists of living on a nice beach far from Venezuela. It's not just maduro. It's the entire regime. It's a group of collectocrats. They have impoverished the people, and you can see the collapse of their nationwide electrical grid. Do you think he's going anywhere? It's been about six weeks. Look. I think momentum is on guaido's side, and the reports in the press, the military hasn't shifted and it's missed the point entirely. What's the point? The point is they have not sought to arrest guaido and the opposition and national assembly in the opposition and one reason for that is maduro fears if he gave that order, it would not be obeyed. The fact is, and people don't know it and the media don't talk about this, there are countless conversations going on between members of the national assembly and members of the military in Venezuela talking about what might come, how they might move to support the opposition. You're pretty certain maduro's going to be out? Well, I'm not certain of anything, but I do think momentum is on the side of guaido. I think the overwhelming support of the population and the overwhelming support of the elicited personnel in the military and the junior officers -- the top officer core, only a few have broken. There are a few thousands admirals and generals in Venezuela, which is more than all of the nations in nato combined. That tells you the plunder of economy. Many of them are talking as well. We'll see what happens. Okay. Thanks very much, ambassador Bolton. We'll end on that note. It's always great to have you

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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