How will John Bolton figure into North Korean talks?

When it comes to controversial selections for national security adviser, there are few more divisive than John Bolton. The former U.N. ambassador’s hawkish politics and belittling public statements have made many bitter enemies over his decades in public life.

Among his most vocal critics is North Korea, an isolated dictatorship tentatively scheduled to hold talks on nuclear disarmament in the coming months — talks on which Bolton will play a key role in advising President Trump.

In August 2003, North Korean state media devoted an entire article to Bolton, personally insulting him by describing him as “human scum and a bloodsucker.” In the same article, a representative of the North Korean Foreign Ministry said that Pyongyang would no longer deal with the Bolton, the then-undersecretary of state for arms control and international security — indeed, Bolton did not attend talks with North Korea that took place the next month. Almost 15 years later, it is unclear whether that ban still stands.

What had he done to incur such personal insults from North Korea?

The context of the time is crucial. In his January 2002 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush had included North Korea in his “axis of evil” along with Iraq and Iran. Bolton visited Seoul at the very end of July 2003. There, he delivered a speech titled “A Dictatorship at the Crossroads” and argued that the United States would demand a complete rollback of North Korea’s nuclear program but offer no concessions in return. During the speech, Bolton personally insulted then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, calling him a “tyrannical dictator” who enjoyed the high life while his citizens suffered deeply, though Bolton later said he did not seek regime change. In the speech, Bolton took much of the standard State Department rhetoric about North Korea, but personalized it so it was about Kim.

A few days later, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency released its article belittling Bolton. “We know that there are several hawks within the present U.S. administration but have not yet found out such rude human scum as Bolton,” an English-language version of the article read. “What he uttered is no more than rubbish which can be let loose only by a beastly man bereft of reason.”

[The Washington Post]

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