Amy Holmes for The Takeaway: Welcome.
Amb. John Bolton: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Amy Holmes: Thanks for joining us. Thanks for coming back to The Takeaway. You say that Clinton's efforts come ?perilously close to negotiating with terrorists.? That's pretty strong stuff. What do you mean?
John Bolton: Well I don't actually think it's all that strong. I mean, what North Korea did in seizing these journalists ? staging a show trial for them and then sentencing them to twelve years of hard labor ? is essentially the same as kidnapping. I don't know why these journalists were inside North Korea. It was a foolish thing to do. I assume we will find out more on that in due course , but they hardly constituted a threat to North Korea. I think North Korea knew from the outset, once it had these ladies they would be pawns in a larger strategic struggle with the United States and they have played them exactly that way.
Amy Holmes : But what were our options then in dealing with North Korea to rescue and release Laura Ling and Euna Lee?
John Bolton: Well, obviously everybody is happy to get them out. But, you know we have had in this country for decades, literally decades, a bipartisan policy of not negotiating with terrorists. And a reason for that policy, particularly in a hostage situation, is that you don't want to encourage those terrorists or other terrorists to think that Americans are on the bargaining block ? that if they can kidnap a few they will be rewarded for it.
John Hockenberry: Wait a minute on the kidnapping thing John Bolton. I'm no advocate for the North Koreans but I mean come on, if two North Koreans wandered into the Pentagon with cameras and started taking pictures they'd probably get arrested in the United States. That's not terrorism is it? Or kidnapping?
Amb. John Bolton: Sir, we don't know the full details but as I understand it, these ladies walked across the very narrow, shallow river defining the Russian/North Korean border. That is hardly the same thing as being in the Pentagon. Now a civilized country would have given them a figurative wrist slap and sent them out of the country. Obviously, North Korea did precisely the opposite. And even if there was to be a penalty involved, do you believe that twelve years of hard labor is appropriate?
John Hockenberry: Well, that's for the North Koreans to decide, not me.
Amb. John Bolton: Oh, I can't believe you just said that. They walked across the border into North Korea and that gets twelve years of hard labor. If you think that's?
John Hockenberry: I'm just saying it's not kidnapping, that's all.
Amb. John Bolton: Of course it is. They held them against their will in a grossly disproportionate fashion.
John Hockenberry: Like a lot of people at Gitmo.
Amb. John Bolton: If you want to?
John Hockenberry: You don't want to go down this road, Bolton.
Amb. John Bolton: If you want to equate these two ladies with fanatic terrorists fighting us in Afghanistan, be my guest.
Amy Holmes: But let's get back to your issue, your contention that the approach here was faulty and you're saying clearly twelve years of hard labor is egregious and extraordinary. So, how could we have gotten them out without sending Bill Clinton at Kim Jong Il's request?
Amb. John Bolton: Well, I think we have to start with what I thought we were on agreement on, but perhaps we're not. And, let me ask you the question: Do you believe we should negotiate with terrorists?
Amy Holmes: Well, I take your point that there is certainly a risk of copy cats out there.
Amb. John Bolton: How about your partner? Does he believe in negotiating with terrorists?
Amy Holmes: Well, you would have to ask him.
John Hockenberry: Look, we're talking about North Korea here.
Amb. John Bolton: That is precisely my point.
John Hockenberry: But this quid pro quo business, whether you are talking six party talks or bilateral talks, people have been talking to the North Koreans for a generation.
Amb. John Bolton: There is a larger issue here. People all over the world have watched this phenomenon and they have been making judgments about how to deal with the United States based on this particular scenario. One of the reasons you don't negotiate with terrorists is because of the larger precedent that it sets. So when you face a hostage situation, as for example the case of hostages held in Lebanon during the Reagan administration, you want to respond in a way that doesn't increase the risk to other Americans overseas.
John Hockenberry: And not sell weapons to the Iranians right? During the Iran-Contra affair.
Amb. John Bolton: Now in the case of Iran-Contra, Reagan did bargain with terrorists and that's exactly the kind of outcome we got. We don't. This is not an abstract debate here. We have three Americans who are now being held inside Iran by Iranian security forces and they have been accused by political figures in Iran and are already being accused of being CIA agents. This at the very time the government of Iran has well over a hundred dissidents on trial. The precedent for that prosecution being that the dissidents themselves are tools of foreign powers. So, the risk to Americans here is not hypothetical, it's not abstract. It's very, very concrete and a president has to take into account the larger picture of the safety of Americans ? protecting Americans against terrorist attacks and abductions generally.
Amy Holmes: And Ambassador, let's look at that question though of terrorist organizations versus these rogue nations in both the cases of North Korea and Iran. These were Americans who wandered into this territory. Are you suggesting that these countries might actually stage events to abduct Americans?
Amb. John Bolton: You will recall Iran. The people governing Iran seized our embassy in 1979 and held the occupants of the embassy hostage for over 400 days. The fact is, when civilized countries find people who have done something foolish ? which I'd be happy to establish right at the get-go that the hitchhikers in Iran and these journalists did by coming near a border like that ? what they do is they may hold them for a few days but they immediately turn them back across the border they came from. This sort of thing is barbarous behavior, uncivilized behavior. It is an act of terrorism. The North Koreans in particular have been kidnapping Japanese citizens and South Korean citizens for decades.
Amy Holmes: Point taken.
Amb. John Bolton: And have refused to give accountings to those two governments.
Amy Holmes: Ambassador, we need to wrap up, we are running out of time. This has been a fantastic discussion that I hope that we can continue. Thank you so much for joining The Takeaway. That was John Bolton, former Ambassador to the United Nations.