National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien: "We Will Have To Wait And See" What North Korea Does | Video | RealClearPolitics

National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien: "We Will Have To Wait And See" What North Korea Does


National security adviser Robert O'Brien spoke about the standoff with North Korea and whether the president expects nuclear or missile tests before the end of the year, in an interview Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

ABC NEWS, JONATHAN KARL: So, let me start with North Korea.

Christmas has obviously come and gone. Are you still expecting some kind of a "Christmas gift" from Kim Jong-un?

ROBERT O'BRIEN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Yes, we always monitor the situation.

And Chairman un has said that there would be something over Christmas. I think the president has engaged in personal diplomacy at a very high level with him over the years. And they have a good relationship personally.

So perhaps he's reconsidered that. But we will have to wait and see. We're going to monitor it closely. It's a situation that concerns us, of course.

KARL: And what will be the consequences if North Korea resumes either long-range missile tests or nuclear tests.

O'BRIEN: You know, I don't want to speculate about what will happen.

But we have a lot of tools in our toolkit, and additional pressure can be brought to bear on the North Koreans. I -- what I want to focus on is the fact that this was the most difficult challenge in the world when President Trump took office.

President Obama warned him that there could be a war on the Korean Peninsula. Multiple administrations...


O'BRIEN: Excuse me -- Republican and Democrat, have dealt with this situation without success over the years.

President Trump took a different attack -- tack, with personal diplomacy. And, so far, we have had some success. Kim Jong-un promised to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. We want to hold him to that commitment. And we hope he follows through with the commitment that he made in Singapore.

But, if he doesn't, we have other tools in the toolkit, as the United States, and we will use those as necessary.

KARL: So, there will be consequences?

Because the president obviously has given him a pass for all those short- and mid-range missile tests. If we see long-range missile tests or nuclear tests, there will be consequences?

O'BRIEN: Look, we will -- we will reserve judgment. But the United States will take action, as we do in these situations. And that's -- that's a -- if Kim Jong-un takes that approach, we will be extraordinarily disappointed, and we will -- we will demonstrate that disappointment.

KARL: Your predecessor, John Bolton, who you once called the most experienced Republican foreign policy hand of our generation, said this week that the president's plan of engaging Kim Jong-un has been a failure.

And he said that Kim Jong-un is never going to give up his nuclear weapons.

This is what he told NPR:


JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I don't think North Korea will ever voluntarily give up nuclear weapons.

I think the inescapable conclusion is, they're happy to sell that same bridge over and over again, but there's no serious chance they will ever voluntarily give it up.


KARL: Is John Bolton right?

O'BRIEN: Well, look, John -- John is a good man. He's a good friend.

I actually worked for Ambassador Bolton earlier in my career and have a high degree of respect for him. The president has a lot of respect for Ambassador Bolton.

But the president and Ambassador Bolton did not always see eye to eye on how to conduct American diplomacy. I think this is one of those cases where, as Ambassador Bolton pointed out, there has been no success, whether in the Clinton administration, or the Bush administration, or the Obama administration, there's been no success with respect to North Korea. The president has taken a different tact. We've gone for a period of time without a nuclear test. We've diffused a very high tension situation, and so we're going to have to see if the president's approach works.

But, look, like Ambassador Bolton, the president has no illusions that this is a very dangerous concerning matter. It was dangerous when he got there, and he's tried to deescalate tensions and get to a point where Kim Jong-un will actually live up to his commitments.

I mean, what the president has promised the North Koreans are a couple things, one he has not insisted on regime change, and number two he's laid out a path that if North Korea gives up its nuclear program, they can have an extraordinarily bright future with a great economy. They've got hard-working people there. So, there's a real opportunity for North Korea.

Now, whether they take that opportunity or not, we'll have to see. And if they don't take it, the United States is still the leading military power in the world. We have tremendous economic power, bolstered because of the fantastic economy that we've under the last three years of the Trump administration and President Trump's policies, so there's a lot of pressure that we can bring to bear and we have to see what happens.

I don't want to speculate, but the president is realistic about the situation there. We hope that Kim Jong-un will live up to the promise he made to President Trump in Singapore.

KARL: I want to get your reaction from a senior, very senior North Korea official, Kim Jong-chul, who said earlier this month "as Trump is such a heedless and erratic old man, the time we cannot but call him a dotard again may come."

Now, again, this is Kim Jong-chul, who you saw, he met with the president in the Oval Office, gave him that first big envelop, was at the dinner that the president had with Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, what do you make of that. Do you -- this statement coming from somebody so close to Kim Jong-un?

O'BRIEN: Well, look, it's their way of trying to negotiate, and you know the president has called Kim Jong-un Rocket Man, or Little Rocket Man, you these things have gone back and forth, and it's all part of the give and take of interesting diplomacy with a hermit kingdom. And, you know, there's not too much to read into that. We'll have to see -- actions speak louder than words, and we'll have to see what actions the DPRK takes and Chairman Kim take.

And, again, he has two paths in front of him, he's got a glorious path for the people of North Korea where they could become like South Korea and be a very prosperous, very wealthy country, or there's another path that takes them down the road of sanctions and isolation and being a pariah state. And we'll see which one they choose.

KARL: Has there been any contact between the United States and North Korea since that meeting with Steve Biegun had in early October?

O'BRIEN: I don't want to get into that. But there are channels of communication that are open between the U.S. and DPRK, but I don't want to get into the details of that communication.

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