The White House national security adviser described US President Donald Trump's summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a success despite the lack of an agreement providing for the verifiable dismantling of the North's nuclear sites.

John Bolton, in three television interviews, tried to make that case that Trump advanced America's national security interests by rejecting a bad agreement while working to persuade Kim to take "the big deal that really could make a difference for North Korea."

The US and North Korea have offered contradictory accounts of why last week's summit in Vietnam broke down, though both pointed to American sanctions as a sticking point.

Bolton said the leaders left on good terms and that Trump made an important point to North Korea and other countries that negotiate with him.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was among those needling Trump about the collapse of the talks in Hanoi. At a news conference last week, the California Democrat suggested that it should not have taken Trump so long to recognise that Kim is not serious about denuclearisation.

"The prospect for success seemed dim in light of the insincerity of Kim Jong Un," Pelosi said.

"He's not desperate for a deal, not with North Korea, not with anybody if it's contrary to American national interests," Bolton said.

Bolton said there is "no expiration date" for talks on denuclearisation.

"The President is fully prepared to keep negotiating at lower levels or to speak to Kim Jong Un again when it's appropriate," he said.

Bolton also sought to explain Trump's comments about taking Kim's word about Otto Warmbier, the American college student who was held prisoner in North Korea, then sent home in a vegetative state.

Trump said he didn't believe Kim knew about or would have allowed what happened to Warmbier.


"He tells me that he didn't know about it, and I will take him at his word," Trump said at a news conference last week.

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Bolton said that Trump's "got a difficult line to walk to" in negotiating with North Korea.

"It doesn't mean that he accepts it as reality. It means that he accepts that's what Kim Jong Un said," Bolton said.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R, a close Trump ally, broke with the President.
"I think Kim knew what happened, which was wrong," McCarthy said.

Some have been critical for Trump letting Kim stand with him on the world stage given North Korea's poor human rights record. Kim will be able to portray himself to his people and supporters as the charismatic head of a nuclear-armed power, not an international pariah that starves its citizens so it can build weapons.

But Bolton said that Trump's view is that he "gave nothing away".

Asked whether that was his view, too, Bolton replied: "The President's view is he gave nothing away. That's what matters, not my view."

Congressman Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, summarised the summit as a "spectacular failure" made all the worse by Trump's comments on "murder of an American citizen, Otto Warmbier."

Kim Jong Un waves at the Dong Dang railway station in Vietnam, as he boarded his train for the return trip to North Korea. Photo / AP
Kim Jong Un waves at the Dong Dang railway station in Vietnam, as he boarded his train for the return trip to North Korea. Photo / AP

"This is, I think, the result of a president who is not prepared for these kind of negotiations, a staff that is not well-prepared and that is essentially flying by the seat of its pants, and it has real-world consequences," Schiff said.

"Those reactors continue to spin on, producing more material that can threaten us and our allies."

Bolton said Trump has "turned traditional diplomacy on its head, and after all in the case of North Korea, why not? Traditional diplomacy has failed in the last three administrations."

An example of that non-traditional diplomacy was formally unveiled yesterday when South Korea and the US announced they would not conduct massive springtime military drills and were replacing them with smaller exercises. They described it as an effort to support diplomacy aimed at resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis.

"The reason I do not want military drills with South Korea is to save hundreds of millions of dollars for the US for which we are not reimbursed," Trump tweeted today. "That was my position long before I became President. Also, reducing tensions with North Korea at this time is a good thing!"

Schiff countered: "Of course the president did give up a great deal," arguing that Trump helped enhance Kim's prestige and noting that the drills with South Korea had riled Kim's regime.

- with AP