Asked what he thought about the threat of a Palestinian intifada stopping the U.S. embassy’s move to Israel’s capital of Jerusalem, the former Reagan and Bush administration official told CR:
The president made this commitment during the campaign. One thing he’s proven in the first month in office is that he’s going to try and fulfil his campaign obligations. Lots of American presidential candidates have said, ‘Let’s move the embassy.’ They get elected, they don’t do it.
I think it’s going to move. It’s important to be prudent in these things. I think that’s what’s going on, and I don’t think there’s any backing away from the commitment.
You ought to say to those who make those kinds of threats: ‘Actually, the United States puts its embassies where it wants to. And if you ever get to be a state, Palestinians, you’ll feel the same way.’
I think this [intifada] threat is hollow. But if it’s a real threat, it shows the Palestinians are not serious about peace in the Middle East. This embassy will be in West Jerusalem — in territory that nobody, nobody ever considered would be ceded to the Palestinians. The Palestinians have no cause to object that somehow this is infringing on their bargaining position.
The question of whether to move the Israeli embassy isn’t the only issue facing President Trump. When asked about President Obama’s Iran deal, and whether America should scrap the nuclear agreement, Bolton said enforcing the deal is like “trying to nail Jell-O to a wall.” He added, “It’s a very badly negotiated agreement,” and pointed to a recent op-ed he wrote in The Wall Street Journal elaborating on the subject.
The former U.N. ambassador also discussed his broader vision for the Middle East, and, in particular, how the war against the Islamic State must take into account larger geopolitical actors:
Leave out for a moment the Iran nuclear program. Dealing specifically with the conflict with ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the president has requested from the Pentagon new options for revised war plans to destroy ISIS more quickly. And I think that’s important because every day that goes by, the ISIS people can recruit and deploy more terrorists around the world. It threatens us, it threatens Europeans.
Obama said his goal was to ultimately destroy ISIS, but it’s been a very slow rolling effort, and that’s got to change. It has to be done more quickly to minimize the potential external threat that ISIS can deploy.
We need to reverse the way Obama was conducting his campaign, which had the effect of giving Iran and its surrogates (the Assad regime and Hezbollah) a big advantage after ISIS would be destroyed. This is a complex multi-party conflict and it’s just a matter of logic that in that kind of environment, when you destroy one party, you advantage everybody else.
What we ought to try and do is eliminate ISIS quickly in a way that minimizes the upside for Iran .... It requires a 180-degree difference from the Obama administration.
CR also asked the ambassador about the North Korean regime allegedly using a chemical weapon, VX, to kill the half-brother of dictator Kim Jong Un. Bolton stated:
It is a prohibited chemical weapon. We believed for many years that in addition to their nuclear weapons program, the North Koreans have biological and chemical weapons programs, specifically VX nerve gas. We think they have thousands of tons of that chemical agent. It has a very powerful poisonous effect. It could potentially be vaporized and aerosolized, and if spread in a building like this, it could have catastrophic consequences.
This is what this regime does — they kill the president’s half-brother. It’s unbelievable in our world, but not in their world.
The other thing to keep in mind here — not only displaying their chemical weapons abilities, along with their nuclear — is the possibility that this reflects instability inside North Korea. There’s some reason why Kim Jong Un decided to kill Kim Jong Nam in a friendly country in public.