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.”

It was left to the State Department to try to clean up the confusion on Tuesday, when it declared that “the entire North Korean W.M.D. program,” referring to weapons of mass destruction, is “in conflict with the U.N. Security Council resolutions,” which would presumably include the short-range missiles.

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 this may lessen opportunities to air points of contention in person.

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