On the 21st of March, US National Security Advisor John Bolton took to Twitter to proclaim his support for new sanctions against the DPRK (North Korea).
Important actions today from @USTreasury; the maritime industry must do more to stop North Korea’s illicit shipping practices. Everyone should take notice and review their own activities to ensure they are not involved in North Korea’s sanctions evasion. https://t.co/AVnOPrWbH6
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) March 21, 2019
But less than 24 hours after Bolton’s Tweet, Donald Trump took to Twitter to announce that he had cancelled his own Treasury Department’s new sanctions on the DPRK.
It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea. I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 22, 2019
Trump did not explain why he had cancelled the new sanctions nor why there was self-evident disagreement on the matter within his own White House, but it is possible to speculate based on Trump’s prior remarks on the matter.
At the recent Hanoi Summit between Donald Trump and DPRK Chairman Kim Jong-un, it was revealed that the DPRK requested only a partial lifting of sanctions in return for expedited efforts towards de-nuclearisation. However, it was later revealed that some on the US side (thought to be Bolton) were unhappy with such a compromise. This ultimately forced the summit to end without any specific agreements being signed.
That being said, while Trump has given John Bolton a free hand in Venezuela, an issue that Trump hardly mentions, when it comes to the DPRK, Donald Trump clearly wants to be in charge. Of all the heads of state from countries with which the US has disputes, Kim Jong-un appears to have the best personal relations with Donald Trump.
Trump’s talk of “falling in love” with Kim clearly demonstrates that the DPRK Chairman’s affable and good humoured approach to discussions has struck a chord with Trump. As such, Trump does not want to risk losing Kim’s good will. Beyond this, the business minded Trump has a clear agenda for the DPRK which contrary to some alarmist analysis involves the eventual American assistance to the opening up of the DPRK economy – something that both Kim and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in also seek, whilst Chinese President Xi Jinping also desires a reformed and opened up DPRK economy.
But while Trump, Kim and Moon are taking an approach to the DPRK which stresses peace through prosperity, John Bolton and some of his “deep state” allies in Washington clearly have not yet woken up to this reality. As Bolton has zero experience running an actual business that isn’t related to military/security issues, perhaps this should not be surprising.
Perhaps feeling emboldened by foreknowledge that the now released (though not publicly available) Mueller report would more or less exonerate him of any wrongdoing in respect of alleged Russian collusion in the 2016 US election, Trump decided to take to Twitter to offer a very public slap-down of those in his own White House of sought further sanctions against the DPRK. In this sense, Trump’s Tweet demonstrates that in a “post-Mueller age” he will perhaps be even less shy about openly disagreeing with his neocon colleagues.
Clearly, as Trump himself expressed after the Hanoi summit, because no new agreements were reached, so long as the DPRK continued to refrain from nuclear and missile tests. sanctions would remain frozen at current levels. Trump’s response to Bolton and his allies makes it clear that Trump intends to keep his promise, even at the expense of exposing internal divisions in Washington.
Trump administration is messy inside. It changes a lot on major decisions, significantly undermining US' credibility. It's difficult for the outside world to trust Washington's commitment. Pyongyang will be more cautious dealing with Washington. https://t.co/fIJyGSMAu5
— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) March 23, 2019
Although Trump did not name anyone as having displeased him in respect of attempting to put new sanctions on the DPRK, it is clear that Bolton was the main target. While Bolton has been largely sidelined in Asian affairs, Trump is happy to allow him to run the show in respect of Venezuela. Clearly, Trump wants Bolton’s focus to remain on Latin America and not on the DPRK.