President Trump said Wednesday that he fired John Bolton because his national security adviser “made some very big mistakes” in the negotiations with North Korea that “set us back.”
“John is somebody that I actually get along with very well. He made some very big mistakes when he talked about the Libyan model for Kim Jong Un,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, after announcing the administration would seek to prohibit the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. “That was not a good statement to make. You just take a look at what happened with Gadhafi. That was not a good statement to make. And it set us back.”
Trump was referring to a remark by Bolton nearly a year and a half ago, describing Libya as a model for the denuclearization of North Korea. Moammar Gadhafi, the longtime Libyan dictator, agreed to give up his nuclear-weapons program in 2003 in exchange for the lifting of U.S. economic sanctions. Eight years later, Gadhafi was overthrown and killed by rebels, who were supported by NATO airstrikes.
Foreign-policy experts believed Bolton’s statement was counterproductive to Trump’s goal of reaching an agreement with Kim. When Trump took his historic step across the border into North Korea, Bolton was not part of his entourage. He had been relegated to a meeting in Mongolia.
Citing administration officials, several media outlets reported this week that tensions between Trump and Bolton came to a head over the president’s invitation to Taliban representatives to peace negotiations at Camp David. That meeting, had Trump not canceled it at the last minute, would have taken place this week, on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which were planned by Osama bin Laden, who was living at the time in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban.
On Wednesday the president said Bolton “wasn’t getting along” with other administration officials and brought up Bolton’s role in supporting the invasion of Iraq under President George W. Bush — an invasion Trump has described as a mistake (although also, at times, as a good idea).
“He was very out there, I can tell you, and wanting to have them do it, and I disagreed with that decision from the beginning,” Trump said, without explaining why he had picked Bolton as his national security adviser in the first place.
“Frankly he wanted to do things — not necessarily tougher than me,” Trump said. “John’s known as a tough guy. He’s so tough he got us into Iraq. That’s tough. But he’s somebody that I actually had a very good relationship with, but he wasn’t getting along with people in the administration who I consider very important.”
Trump added: “And you know John wasn’t in line with what we were doing. And actually in some cases he thought it was too tough, what we were doing. Mr. Tough Guy.”
The president said there are currently “five people I consider very qualified” to fill the vacancy left by Bolton’s departure, but he did not specify any names.
Trump added that he told Bolton he wished him well but couldn’t resist getting in one more dig at his former adviser.
“I’m sure he’ll do whatever he can do to spin it his way,” Trump said of Bolton.
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