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Trump Undercuts Bolton on North Korea and Iran



Mr. Bolton did not address the matter afterward, and a spokesman declined to comment on Tuesday. Speculation arose when the national security adviser skipped the state dinner, although it was not clear why. But rather than fly home with the president, as an aide worried about his position might do, Mr. Bolton flew directly to the United Arab Emirates for meetings, a sign to his allies of the confidence he has in his relationship with Mr. Trump.

“Ambassador Bolton works for the president, and the president sets the policy,” said Fred Fleitz, the president of the Center for Security Policy who was Mr. Bolton’s chief of staff until last year. “Bolton has said for years: ‘Look, I work for the guy who won the election. He sets the policy.’ That’s always been his approach under any president he’s worked for.”

For his part, Mr. Bolton has privately expressed his own frustration with the president, according to several officials, viewing him as unwilling to push for more transformative changes in the Middle East. At the same time, his allies said he had been misunderstood, cast as favoring military action in Venezuela, for instance, when in fact they say he does not.

But Mr. Bolton is an inveterate disrupter, eagerly upsetting the status quo in furtherance of his policy goals. He has never seemed to worry much about offending others; he does not appear to care much about being liked.

He came into the job last year saying he hoped to emulate the process Brent Scowcroft ran under President George Bush, but he has had his own conflicts with the Pentagon and the State Department.

In reorganizing the national security apparatus, Mr. Bolton eliminated some meetings of the highest-ranking officials known as the principals’ committee, or P.C., in favor of what are called “paper P.C.s,” meaning documents that are distributed. Cabinet officers rarely complain about fewer meetings, but as one former senior administration official put it, Mr. Trump rarely if ever reads much paper of any sort.

Instead, Mr. Bolton provides briefings on issues for the president, allowing him to control the flow of information. Mr. Bolton and his allies have said he makes a point of ensuring that all points of view on major issues get aired before the president, and he does not try to block other officials from seeing Mr. Trump directly. He has breakfast once a week with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan when everyone is in town.

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