After he nearly scuttled the historic talks with North Korea by hinting that Kim Jong Un could face a fate similar to former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, National Security Advisor John Bolton is being sidelined by President Trump ahead of the historic June 12 summit in Singapore, CNN reports.
According to the report, several senior administration officials have lost their patience with Bolton and his hawkish approach to North Korea, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has pushed to limit Bolton's role in the upcoming summit, saying it would be "counterproductive" for Bolton to attend certain Oval Office meetings.
Like Trump, Pompeo was reportedly livid following Bolton's now-infamous Fox News Sunday interview, and in an angry confrontation Pompeo accused the moustached neo-con of trying to scuttle the talks for his own selfish reasons.
Pompeo told Trump it would be "counterproductive" to allow Bolton to attend the Oval Office meeting with visiting North Korean official Kim Yong Chol, two people familiar with the matter said, citing an escalating feud between the top diplomat and Bolton. The simmering tensions between two of the President's top foreign policy advisers reached a boiling point after Bolton went on television last month and cited the Libya model when talking about North Korea abandoning its nuclear program -- and in doing so, also raising the specter of Libya's subsequent invasion and its leader's brutal murder.
North Korea reacted furiously, lambasting Bolton in a statement. It revived long-held criticism from the regime, most notably in 2003 when North Korean state media described Bolton as "human scum and a bloodsucker" during the Bush administration.
But the remarks about Libya also infuriated Pompeo, who angrily confronted Bolton in a heated conversation at the White House.
While the White House has sought to play down rumors about tensions between Pompeo and Bolton, CNN says the Secretary of State has the backing of other high-ranking White House officials - including Vice President Mike Pence and Chief of Staff John Kelly. Both men have come to rely on Pompeo for his ability to cajole President Trump.
White House chief of staff John Kelly has remained in line with Pompeo, and has come to rely on his ability to guide the President, an official said. Kelly greeted Kim Jong Chol at the White House diplomatic entrance on Friday and escorted him to the Oval Office.
"Secretary Pompeo has always been the president's lead on the North Korea summit," the spokesman said, adding that Bolton "continues to coordinate and integrate the interagency process and provide the President with national security options."
This wouldn't be the first time that President Trump has pitted two of his senior officials against one another - a management strategy that Trump has become famous for. And even though Bolton has been sidelined when it comes to North Korea, the president still has faith in his national security advisor, CNN said.
Speaking from the south lawn of the White House on Friday, the president said he would temporarily set aside his push to exert "maximum pressure" on North Korea. But that doesn't mean the White House won't step up the pressure if Kim starts getting cold feet.
"I don't even want to use the term 'maximum pressure' anymore because I don't want to use that term because we're getting along. You see the relationship. We're getting along," Trump told reporters after bidding farewell to his North Korean visitor, a former spy chief and currently the country's chief nuclear negotiator. "So it's not a question of maximum pressure. It's staying essentially the way it is. At some point, hopefully, a deal -- for the good of millions of people, a deal will be worked out."
The administration insists that, for now, sanctions relief won't come until North Korea takes firm steps toward abandoning its nuclear program.
Indeed, people familiar with the summit planning now say there is little expectation Trump will emerge from his meeting with Kim having secured the type of historic, detailed commitment on denuclearization that officials once said was a prerequisite for the talks.
Instead, Trump and his aides have suggested the most concrete product of the June 12 encounter could be a peace agreement formally ending the Korean War -- a far cry from the commitment to immediate denuclearization that the administration once insisted would be required for Trump to come to the table.
However, administration officials have also cautioned that they won't let North Korea off the hook from US sanctions until the process of denuclearization has started. For now, White House officials are saying all they can hope for at the June 12 summit is a broad declaration from Kim that he's open to giving up his nukes. Such a declaration would give Pompeo and his allies in the White House enough momentum to continue pursuing a peaceful deescalation with North Korea.
However, if Kim suddenly balks, Bolton could find another opening to reassert a more hawkish approach to dealing with the Hermit Kingdom. Unless, of course, Pompeo has had enough of his neo-con rival and convinces Trump to ditch him. For now, Bolton's odds of sticking around remain high... if only for the next three weeks. According to PredictIt, the contract "Will John Bolton be National Security Advisor at end of day June 30?" is currently pricing in 91% odds.