Bolton: Annapolis will set us back

US 'afraid' linking North Korea to Syria will hurt Washington's diplomatic efforts.

Bolton flags 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bolton flags 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
A former Bush administration stalwart who has become a vocal critic told The Jerusalem Post this week that the planned meeting in Annapolis later this month to push for Israeli-Palestinian peace is "a mistake." John Bolton, a leading neoconservative who served as the US ambassador to the UN before leaving the administration last winter, spoke to the Post following a lecture Tuesday night on his new book, which takes issue with aspects of American policy toward Iran, North Korea and Lebanon, among others. "It's a mistake to push ahead with the Annapolis peace conference in November or December," he said, noting that the date hasn't been finalized. "I just don't see this as the moment to make progress on Israeli-Palestinian matters. And I don't think that a failed conference will simply leave us at the status quo. I think it will set us back, so I think the effort is perhaps well-intentioned but misconceived." In his talk he referred to an Israeli government with "internal political difficulties" and a Palestinian Authority that's "broken perhaps beyond repair," so any attempt at an "unnatural" reconciliation could leave US influence diminished. Bolton, who spoke to an audience at the American Enterprise Institute think tank here, where he now holds a position, also strongly attacked the US response to an Israeli attack of an alleged incipient nuclear facility in Syria earlier this fall. He described "the pall of silence that the administration has caused to fall over Israel's September 6 raid" as "what may be the most disturbing event of recent American history." That's because, in his estimation, the administration was so invested in diplomacy with North Korea that it was willing to make an enormous error by overlooking the proliferation North Korea allegedly engaged in to supply the Syrian site, as well as possible Iranian connections. "If you're afraid to have this information come out, what does it say about the nature of the diplomacy that's under way?" he asked. Speaking to the Post, he dismissed concerns that revealing the nature of the attack - which has been shrouded in secrecy in Israel, in part because of military censorship - would increase the likelihood of a Syrian military response. "I don't think Syria has the military capability and I think they know it," he said. In his presentation, he called for regime change in Syria and said that the poor Western approach on Iran means that the same option, of regime change or a military attack are the only two remaining alternatives to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. In his book, Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad, Bolton attacks the way the US has conducted its Iran policy. Instead of immediately referring signs of illicit Iranian nuclear activity to the UN Security Council for sanctions several years ago, America allowed Britain, France and Germany to undertake negotiations with Iran. Because of that, he assesses, "Iran gained almost four years of additional time to perfect an indigenous capacity throughout the entire nuclear fuel cycle, leaving us in a far more vulnerable position than when we started." His chilling summation: "This is the road to the nuclear Holocaust." Bolton also recounts in detail the formulation of the US position at the UN for dealing with Israel's war with Hizbullah last summer, again faulting the Bush administration for backing down from its original demands. Instead of sticking to the insistence that the conflict not end with a mere cease-fire that would maintain the status quo vis-à-vis Hizbullah and Israel, he says, the administration caved in to international demands and the situation got worse. "Contrary to everything we had said at the outset of the hostilities, the net result, over a year later, appeared yet again to be just another Middle East cease-fire," he writes, "which was, if anything, somewhat less favorable to Israel, and certainly less favorable to democracy in Lebanon, than before." Bolton, who has been on the receiving end of harsh criticism for his unrepentant neoconservative stances and outspokenness, quit the government after he failed to make his temporary appointment as UN ambassador permanent when the Senate wouldn't confirm him. Since he left office, he has openly criticized the Bush administration for straying from what he considers its original principles. He has been particularly disparaging of the State Department, a perennial source of frustration for him, and has suggested it be overhauled. He also doesn't shy from biting put-downs, lambasting former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan for equating himself to a "secular pope" and UN International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohammad El-Baradei for forgetting that "he works for the member governments of the IAEA and not the other way around." Bolton's section headings take aim at the IAEA ("How Many IAEA Meetings Does It Take to Screw in a Lightbulb?") and the European Union ("Iran in the Security Council: The EU-3 Find New Ways to Give In") among others. His book, he said, was partly aimed at providing more information to the public ahead of the 2008 elections.