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As North Korea Appears to Be Rebuilding Launch Site, U.S. Warns of More Sanctions

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton warned North Korea it must be willing to completely give up its nuclear weapons program or perhaps face even tougher sanctions.

“If they’re not willing to do it, President Trump has been very clear they’re not getting relief from the crushing economic sanctions that have been imposed on them,” Bolton told the Fox Business Network on Tuesday evening. “And we’ll look at ramping those sanctions up, in fact.”

The threat of greater sanctions risks increasing tensions after Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam last week ended without an agreement. Kim wanted Trump to ease most sanctions in return for dismantling a key nuclear production complex, while the U.S. wanted more action on hidden nuclear facilities, as well as warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles that could deliver them to the American homeland.

When asked last week whether the U.S. would strengthen sanctions on North Korea, Trump said the sanctions were already strong. “I don’t want to talk about increasing sanctions. They’re strong,” he told a news conference in Hanoi hours after walking away from the summit. “They have a lot of great people in North Korea that have to live also. And that’s important to me.”

Bolton said the U.S. wouldn’t “buy the same pony that they’ve sold to previous administrations” and called on North Korea “to go back and reassess their strategy.” Accepting Kim’s offer, he said, would’ve “given North Korea a lifeline, giving them a chance to get their breath back economically while potentially still concealing a lot of nuclear weapons capabilities, missiles and the rest of it.”

SOHAE SATELLITE LAUNCH PAD, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 2, 2018: Figure 1. Rail-mounted transfer building is being rebuilt.
Rail-mounted transfer building is being rebuilt. Date: March 2, 2019. DigitalGlobe/ScapeWare3d DigitalGlobe/Getty Images
DigitalGlobe/ScapeWare3d DigitalGlobe/Getty Images

Kim had vowed to meet Trump again to continue talks on his country’s nuclear weapons program, and the U.S. president also maintained an optimistic tone after the summit collapsed. Yet signs of friction are starting to emerge.

North Korea disputed Trump’s assertion that Kim “wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety,” with Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho saying his country had only asked for relief from sanctions enacted in 2016 and 2017. He said that would mean removing sanctions imposed by five of 11 United Nations resolutions against the country.

Two days after the summit ended, new images from Beyond Parallel, part of Washington-based research group Center for Strategic and International Studies, showed that North Korea was rebuilding a long-range rocket site at the Sohae Launch Facility.

Bolton said on Lou Dobbs Tonight that he thought Kim would want to talk to Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, before engaging in talks with the U.S. again. He said he did not believe the two leaders spoke as Kim returned to North Korea.

“We’re going to see a lot of potential decisions coming out of North Korea, whether they’re serious about the talks, whether they want to get back into them and fundamentally whether they’re committed to giving up their nuclear weapons program and everything associated with it,” Bolton said.

“The president’s ready to make a deal, he’s ready to meet again,” he said. “He’s pointed to that bright economic future and if Kim Jong Un decides he wants to take advantage of it, the president’s ready to talk to him.” ‬

In South Korea, a former minister who oversaw inter-Korean affairs during previous administrations blamed Bolton for the breakdown of the summit.

“When it comes to the Korean Peninsula issue, he is really obnoxious,” Jeong Se Hyun, a former South Korean unification minister, told ruling party lawmakers at a forum Tuesday. Jeong likened Bolton to “a white cavalry leader in an old Western movie who doesn’t feel guilty about killing Native Americans,” according to Korea Times.

Jeong, who is part of an inter-Korean summit advisory group for the South Korean government, said Bolton must have demanded North Korea to dismantle its highly enriched uranium program. “Bolton’s specialty is to abruptly move the goal post,” he said.