White House national security adviser John Bolton says the U.S. could dismantle North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs within a year if the North Koreans committed to scrapping their arsenal in accordance with the agreement reached in Singapore last month.
JOHN BOLTON, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Glad to be with you.
BRENNAN: "The Washington Post" is reporting that U.S. intelligence has new evidence that North Korea is trying to obscure and hide the number of missiles, facilities and other parts of its nuclear program.
Have you seen any evidence that they are actually dismantling their nuclear infrastructure?
BOLTON: Well, I don't want to comment on that specific report. I -- really, I don't want to comment on anything related to intelligence. I would rather discuss it as a more general proposition.
We're very well aware of North Korea's pattern of behavior over decades of negotiating with the United States. We know exactly what the risks are of them using negotiations to drag out the length of time they have to continue their nuclear, chemical, biological weapons programs and ballistic missiles.
The president would like to see these discussions move promptly to get a resolution. This has been the advice that China's leader, Xi Jinping, has given us as well.
So we're going to try and proceed to implement what the two leaders agreed to in Singapore. But rather than have a series of reports, things are going better, things are not going well, they're concealing this, they're not concealing that, really, it doesn't serve the purpose of advancing the negotiations.
But there's not any -- any starry-eyed feeling among the group doing this, that we're well, well, well aware of what the North Koreans have done in the past.
BRENNAN: How quickly will North Korea turn over its actual arsenal? I mean, are they using diplomacy as a cover?
BOLTON: Well, it's -- certainly, that's what they have done before.
But Kim Jong-un was very emphatic several times in Singapore he was different from prior regimes. Now we will let their actions speak for themselves. We...
BRENNAN: And you were emphatic that you were different here, as an administration, that the weapons were going to be handed over before concessions were made when you were with us last time.
And we have developed a program. I'm sure that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be discussing with the North Koreans in the near future about really how to dismantle all of their WMD and ballistic missile programs in a year.
If they have the strategic decision already made to do that, and they're cooperative, we can move very quickly. And it's to North Korea's advantage to see these programs dismantled very quickly, because then the elimination of sanctions, aid by South Korea and Japan and others can all begin to flow.
BRENNAN: Within a year?
BOLTON: Well, what our experts have devised is a program that, with North Korean cooperation, with full disclosure of all of their chemical and biological, nuclear programs, ballistic missile sites...
BRENNAN: That hasn't happened yet?
BOLTON: ... we -- we can get -- it has not.
We can get -- physically, we would be able to dismantle the overwhelming bulk of their programs within a year.
I want to ask you, though, about the trip you just made to Moscow, where you met face to face yourself with Vladimir Putin to set up this July summit with President Trump.
What specific changes in Russian foreign policy are you going to ask him for? What is the goal?
BOLTON: Well, the goal of this meeting really is for the two leaders to have a chance to sit down, not in the context of some larger multilateral meeting, but just the two of them, to go over what is on their mind about a whole range of issues.
President Trump has just said in the past week he's going to raise things like Syria, like Ukraine, like the election meddling issue, really the whole range of issues between us.
And I think that, in the president's mind, this is very important, because it gives him an opportunity to size up Vladimir Putin, to see where there are areas where we might make progress together and where there are areas where we may not.
BRENNAN: Well, right now, Russia is blanket-bombing Southern Syria. That violates the last agreement Vladimir Putin made with President Trump.
Why would he believe that he's in any way trustworthy?
BOLTON: Well, we will see what happens when the two of them get together. There are possibilities for doing a larger negotiation on helping to get Iranian forces out of Syria and back into Iran, which would be a significant step forward.
BRENNAN: ... to do so?
BOLTON: To have an agreement with Russia, if that's possible.
This has been something that's been going on now for nearly seven years, this conflict in Syria. But the Iranian presence now across Iraq and Syria, really reaching into Lebanon and their connection with Hezbollah, which has been an Iranian subsidiary from the outset...
BRENNAN: And they're declaring victory. Has Assad won the war?
BOLTON: Well, I don't think Assad is the strategic issue. I think Iran is the strategic issue.
It's not just their continuing nuclear weapons program. It's their massive support for international terrorism and their conventional forces in the Middle East.
And I would say there, this is something that the two presidents will want to discuss at length, because I think President Trump's decision to withdraw from the misbegotten Iran nuclear deal, reimpose our sanctions, begin to put much more pressure on Iran, is having an effect on their decision-making, not just on the nuclear issue, but on these efforts to extend Iranian influence around the region.
BRENNAN: And you think Russia can be a partner?
BOLTON: We will see. I think the Russians are always saying to us they want to cooperate on international terrorism.
BRENNAN: They have been saying that for years.
BOLTON: They certainly have.
In some -- in some areas, going back to the Bush administration, we did cooperate. On Iran, which has been the largest financier of international terrorism around the world, I think that's where the real issue is right now.
BRENNAN: I want to ask you about the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, who said very clearly in June that Russia is actively targeting American society in ways that could affect our midterm elections.
Did you tell Putin and his associates to knock it off?
BOLTON: I -- I had meetings all throughout the day on Wednesday, including with President Putin and his foreign minister and his defense minister and his diplomatic adviser, for about an hour-and-a-half.
The election meddling issue was definitely something we talked about. And I thought it was significant.
BRENNAN: Now? Meddling now?
BOLTON: Yes, absolutely, meddling -- meddling in the 2016 election and -- and our concern about what they're doing in the 2018 election.
And what President Putin said, through a translator, of course, but what he said was, there was no meddling in 2016 by the Russian state.
BRENNAN: Very little happens without Vladimir Putin's OK in Russia.
BOLTON: Well, I -- I think that's an -- that's an interesting statement. I think it's worth pursuing. I'm sure the president will want to pursue.
BRENNAN: What do think he means?
BOLTON: Well, I don't know. That's -- I didn't have an unlimited amount of time with him.
But that is very different from saying, my view, that there was no Russian meddling at all.
BRENNAN: So, you see that as some admission on his part?
BOLTON: I -- I -- I think -- I think the president will have to pursue that further.
And I think that is -- one reason why he and President Putin need to have this conversation, as much as I enjoy speaking with my counterpart in Russia, with the foreign minister, with others, is that Vladimir Putin is the one who makes the decision, and I think our leader needs to speak with him.
BRENNAN: On Air Force One this week, President Trump, when he was speaking to reporters, seemed to leave the door open to recognizing Russia's annexation of Crimea, saying, "We will have to see what happens" when the issue comes up in the meeting.
Is the U.S. endorsing the idea that international borders can be redrawn by force? Is this actually a topic?
BOLTON: No, that's not the position of the United States. But I think the president...
BRENNAN: Which is why it was newsworthy when he said it.
BOLTON: Well, I don't know that that's what he said.
I think he -- I think the president often says "We will see" to show that he's willing to talk to foreign leaders about a range of issues and hear their perspective.
President Putin was pretty clear with me about it. And my response was, we're going to have to agree to disagree on Ukraine.
BRENNAN: But that's not up for negotiation?
BOLTON: That's not the position of the United States.
BRENNAN: Right. But saying "We will see" suggests it might be.
BOLTON: Well, we will see.
BRENNAN: Well, that's shocking for our European allies.
BOLTON: I don't -- I don't think it's shocking at all. As I have said, the position of the United States is clear on this.
BRENNAN: Right, but is that open to changing as the United States' position, if the president is saying the door is open?
BOLTON: The -- the president makes the policy. I don't -- I don't make the policy.
BRENNAN: Well, what is so deeply worrying to so many of our -- our European allies, particularly going into this next NATO meeting, are comments like that, things that show some kind of crack in the military alliance of NATO...
BOLTON: I -- I don't...
BRENNAN: ... that the president is looking to be friendlier with adversaries than our allies.
BOLTON: I think that's nonsense. Really, I think that's nonsense.
I think what the president has said to the NATO allies that has caused them concern is that he wants them to live up to the commitment that they themselves made during the Obama administration to spend...
BRENNAN: In terms of spending?
BOLTON: Well, it's not just spending.
But let me make the point that they committed to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense matters. It's not just matter of dollars and cents. This is a collective defense organization.
NATO is the most successful political military alliance in history. But if core members, including Germany, aren't willing to spend what's necessary for their own self-defense, what are -- what are we to make of that?
BRENNAN: But U.S. intelligence believes Russia is actively trying to undermine NATO.
You understand why the president's comments, spending aside, things undermining the European alliance...
BOLTON: Don't say spending aside. Don't say spending aside. What is the depth of the European commitment?
BRENNAN: Your are correct that past presidents have also said that is deeply troubling and they want to see more spending. Exactly.
BOLTON: Barack Obama, in fact, said that free-riders aggravated him.
BOLTON: So, I don't -- I don't think it's fair to criticize President Trump for simply saying what President Obama said earlier.
BRENNAN: But when the president -- sure.
But in terms of redrawing international borders, like with Crimea, leaving the door open to that, saying things that undermine the alliance in that particular, specific way, are very unique and troubling.
BOLTON: I don't think that's what that comment means.
There will be a lot of discussion. There was discussion this past week at the European Council about the E.U. position on Ukraine. And this is a subject where there's been disagreement among the Europeans as well.
The president wants a strong NATO. If you think Russia is a threat, ask yourself this question. Why is Germany spending less than 1.2 percent of its GNP?
So, when people talk about undermining the NATO alliance, you should look at those who are carrying out steps that make NATO less effective militarily.
BRENNAN: We will be watching for that at that summit with NATO and with Vladimir Putin.
Thank you very much, Ambassador, for coming on the show.