Lincoln Chafee Opens Up the Key Question of Who Undermined America’s North Korea Policy: Jack Pritchard or John R. Bolton?


What We Know So Far about Ambassador Jack Pritchard, John Bolton, James Woolsey, Senator Jon Kyl, and American National Security
John Bolton not only tried to get intelligence agent Christian Westermann “removed” from Bolton’s portfolio (read, “fired”) at the State Department, he also seems to have recruited help outside the State Department bureaucracy — from a U.S. Senator in fact — in trying to get Ambassador Charles “Jack” Pritchard fired from his position as America’s Lead Envoy in negotiating with North Korea.
I have spent much of yesterday, last night, and this morning contacting and interviewing a number of senior national security officials and senior foreign policy offiers — some out of government and some still in government service — regarding the issue that Senator Lincoln Chafee opened yesterday during the first round of hearings regarding President Bush’s nomination of John Bolton to serve as Ambassador to the United States.
Here is what TWN has learned so far.
Many officials have reported that John Bolton’s behavior problems began at the very beginning of his tenure at the State Department. Several sources reported that his speeches were always “laced with gratuitous comments” that were frequently not helpful to Bush administration policy.
They report that his need for public platforms, his “high-decibel hyperbole” as well as his desire to comment on national security assessments of weapons capabilities of potential U.S. foes produced a constant concern about John Bolton’s speech-making within the State Department.
Secretary of State Colin Powell and Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage were incensed at John Bolton’s August 2001 comments to the Russian media that implied that the U.S. was giving Russia a deadline to agree to modifications of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty or the U.S. would begin the process of abrogating this treaty. Bolton denied making the comments suggesting that he was misunderstood, and the situation was “walked back.” However, the senior State Department hierarchy was on edge about his behavior and about his reckless disregard from process and protocol when it came to key national security and official foreign policy pronouncements.
Bolton engaged in constant “brinksmanship” with those who had to clear his speeches — and despite Bolton expressing some distance from the process in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearings yesterday — reports are that Bolton was obsessed with getting his speeches cleared throughout the halls of government and in the language he wanted to use. If he was stifled, or a line or section of a speech was not cleared, Bolton would engage in battles with the people involved and frequently go to their senior managers. Reports are that Bolton was attempting and succeeding at a vigorous erosion of controls on him, and constantly fighting those who were trying to censor or direct his language so as to be consistent with the substance as well as the nuances of U.S. foreign policy.
Bolton’s commentary and off-hand remarks regarding North Korea, its behavior and leadership were viewed to be the single biggest factor inhibiting progress in the Six-Party Talks with North Korea which the Bush administration had expressly states were among its highest priorities. While love and affection of the “Dear Leader” in North Korea, as Kim Jong Il is referred to, may not have been appropriate, Bolton was constantly throwing barbs and grenades into the process.
As I understand it, Secretary of State Colin Powell finally decided “enough was enough,” and then via Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage ordered North Korea Envoy and Chief Negotiator Charles “Jack” Pritchard to communicate to the frequently riled North Koreans that the only two sources and “voices” of U.S. foreign policy to whom they should listen were the President of the United States and the Secretary of State. It was communicated to the North Koreans that no other voices within the State Department or the U.S. government reflected or could convey official U.S. policy when it came to North Korea.
There are classified diplomatic notes that reflect Secretary Powell’s orders — and while not mentioning Bolton — their intent is obvious: to remove from the U.S.-North Korea arena as well as the delicate and fragile Six Party Talks process any involvement from or impact by John Bolton.
Comments from various senior staff at the State Department repore that at the beginning, John Bolton’s speeches were “taken on line-by-line.” Some said, however, “there was always a fight.”
But when the now infamous July 31, 2003 speech by John Bolton in Seoul was making early rounds for clearance, Jack Pritchard reportedly refused to sign off on the speech. Others refused as well. One comment reported that there were about “43 line items” in the speech that needed to be challenged and expunged. One commenter reported that Pritchard and Armitage felt that the speech was coming too close to the launch of the First Round of the Six Party Talks.
Bolton began his trip before the clearance process had been concluded and was primarily drafted while Bolton was traveling. It was a speech that all parties involved in the Six Party Talks felt was anethema to everything the Bush administration was trying to accomplish.
Although I don’t have access to State Department documents that either confirm or not confirm Bolton’s speech, Pritchard himself apparently refused to clear any aspect of the speech because it was a colossal affront to the diplomatic process underway. Bolton stated that his speech was cleared, but there are some commenting that this wasn’t the case.
If Pritchard’s clearance was requirted, this controversial speech WAS NOT CLEARED, at least according to several key players in this foreign policy effort with North Korea.
Furthermore, TWN has learned that Bolton wanted the South Koreans to provide some kind of good venue for the speech — but the South Korean government refused to have him speak anywhere where they had control or influence. In the end, the U.S. Embassy in Seoul was brow-beaten into finding a venue.
Interestingly, yesterday during his confirmation hearings, Bolton mentioned that U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Tom Hubbard told Bolton that his “speech had been helpful and done them so good.” Reportedly, Ambassador Hubbard hated the speech and dealing with Bolton’s staff and offered friendly commentary to just move Bolton on and out of the country before more damage was done. One reporter on this affair commented that Hubbard reports to an Assistant Secretary in the State Department — and John Bolton who is a “master of intimidation and intrigue” was a more senior Under Secretary of State. Hubbard’s affirmative comment was privately offered, if at all, and it’s odd and many thought “disgusting” that Bolton would trot out Hubbard’s comments as some kind of validation of Bolton’s outrageous and destructive behavior regarding this controversial speech about North Korea.
After Bolton gave his uncleared speech, “A Dictatorship at the Crossroads” in Seoul on July 31, 2003, the North Korean leadership in turn called John Bolton “human scum.”
At this point, Bolton’s speech and commentary had seriously undermined the agreement which had been reached with North Korea to launch the first meeting of the Six Party Talks in Beijing. All parties on the U.S. side of this arrangement knew that Bolton was off the reservation.
Bolton yesterday reported that it was not he that had worked against the Bush administration’s foreign policy — but rather Jack Pritchard.
The next part of this story is key.
The angry North Koreans then ordered a meeting with Ambassador Jack Pritchard in New York, and in consultations with his senior managers, Pritchard reportedly put into full force what Secretary of State Powell had ordered before: no one but the President of the United States or the Secretary of State could announce U.S. policy when it came to North Korean affairs.
What I have learned from several sources very close to these talks is that the following occurred — and all of this is contained in classified diplomatic notes that Senators and Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff (who are cleared) can access.
Pritchard was treated to a tirade as the North Koreans railed against Bolton and his comments in the July 31st speech. Reportedly, Pritchard refused to mention Bolton’s name or to comment on his remarks in any way.
What Pritchard did do was to underscore what Powell and Armitage had stated previously — that U.S. policy was only articulated by the President and Secretary of State, no one else. Secondly, there had been thus no change in U.S. policy. The date of the first meeting had not been changed — nor the venue, which was set in Beijing.
When the classified diplomatic note from this meeting made its way around senior circles in the State Department, JOHN BOLTON HIT THE ROOF.
Bolton was erupting in anger, reportedly, because Ambassador Pritchard had failed to defend him to the North Koreans.
This is incredible. . .and should serve to dramatically underscore some Senator’s concerns about Bolton’s reckless behavior, intimidation tactics, and his tendency to work against those who are working hard to implement Bush administration policy if it runs counter to his own views. This is the mega-loose cannon story.
John Bolton was angry, and he then sought retribution against someone for not defending his honor — rather than thinking about the much more important diplomatic objectives of the Bush administration at hand then.
Enter Jon Kyl, U.S. Senator from Arizona, Honorary Co-Chair of the Committee on the Present Danger. Kyl then alleges in letters to Vice President Cheney, Secretary Powell, and others that Jack Pritchard, in this meeting with the North Koreans, had argued that Bolton’s comments were his personal comments and did not reflect the administration’s views. Kyl wanted Pritchard removed and accused the administration of sending mixed signals regarding U.S. foreign policy.
The diplomatic notes, which I have not seen but have heard about, reportedly make clear that Pritchard never mentioned Bolton and worked to get beyond North Korean anger at Bolton’s remarks by focusing on (1) that the President and Secretary of State were the only ones who could pronounce U.S. foreign policy towards North Korea; (2) that the date had not been changed and that all plans were to proceed with the first meeting in the Six Party Talks; and (3) that the meeting was still scheduled to take place in Beijing.
In my view, Pritchard was a skilled and brilliant diplomat to save from the brink of collapse these important negotiations with North Korea which John Bolton’s self-indulgent, crusading, reckless behavior nearly destroyed.
I do not know whether Bolton went to Kyl directly or whether someone acted as a go-between on Bolton’s behalf. Two reports have come to me suggesting that former CIA Director James Woolsey, who is close to Bolton and who recruited Jon Kyl to serve as Co-Chair of the Committee on the Present Danger which Woolsey helps direct, may have helped to bring this matter to Kyl’s attention.
I don’t know and don’t feel it matters. Kyl got access to matters related to a classified meeting and went public with this information, no doubt with assistance and support from Bolton and his supporters.
Clearly, Bolton has demonstrated a frequent competency in going “around the system” to punish or intimidate those with whom he is at odds.
This is a clear, unambiguous case where John Bolton was at odds with the stated intent of American foreign policy which was attempting to bring under some management control North Korea’s increasing nuclear capabilities and pretensions. John Bolton worked hard to blow apart this effort — and essentially forced out the key envoy responsible.
Bolton is a reckless man.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee needs to inteview Ambassador Pritchard and other key staffers in the State Department hierarchy who know about our engagement with North Korea.
Frankly, Richard Armitage knows all of this I suspect — and he should be called — not to weigh in on John Bolton’s character — which would be inappropriate and not consistent to the class that Armitage demonstrated in his role at State. But Armitage could easily and quickly inform the Senators who was consistent with U.S. foreign policy objectives and who was not.
My hunch is that Armitage and Powell, if asked, would say that Jack Pritchard was doing what he should have done on behalf of the foreign policy of the President Bush.
They would also say that John Bolton was off the reservation, reckless, and at odds with what America was then trying to do with North Korea.
— Steve Clemons