Last week in response to North Korea’s nuclear test, President Bush stated:
The transfer of nuclear weapons by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States and we would hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences of such action.
Today on ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopoulos asked U.N. Ambassador John Bolton if Bush’s statement meant the United States would use military force against North Korea. Bolton replied, “No.”
But Bolton quickly backtracked on his answer. Bush has referred to another country as a “grave threat” just one other time during his presidency. In Jan. 2003 he called Iraq a “grave threat to peace.” Shortly after that statement, the Bush administration invaded Iraq. When Stephanopoulos pointed out this fact, Bolton retracted his earlier answer and said, “Well, I’m not going to speculate on what our response might be to something like that.”
Full transcript below:
STEPHANOPOULOS: The President was also very active publicly the day after we learned of the North Korean test. He went into the Roosevelt Room, I believe it was, and laid out a very stern warning. Here it is.
BUSH [VIDEO]: The transfer of nuclear weapons by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States and we would hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences of such action.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Crack the diplomatic code here. When a president calls something “a grave threat,” that means that action will be met by a military response, correct?
BOLTON: No, what the President has said repeatedly is that he seeks a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the problem posed by North Korea’s pursuit, not only of nuclear weapons, but of chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles and other means of delivering them, and by rallying the international coalition that he has leading to this 15–0 vote in the Security Council yesterday, he’s made it clear that he’s going to do what he can through economic and political pressure to isolate North Korea and to deprive them of the means and technology they need to pursue those programs, and as well, to work with China and others to get North Korea to do what Libya did, to see that they’re really much safer giving up the pursuit of nuclear weapons than continuing to go after them.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But Mr. Ambassador, I went back and checked and from what we’ve been able to tell, the President has used that formulation, “grave threat to the United States,” only once before in his presidency. It was in January of 2003 and he was referring to Iraq. Two months later we invaded. Is it the policy of the United States if North Korea transfers nuclear material that that transfer will be met by a military response?
BOLTON: Well, I’m not going to speculate on what our response might be to something like that. I think higher authority will make whatever response is appropriate.