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Former U.N. envoy Bolton warns of GOP neo-isolationists at state Republicans' fall dinner

| Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

HARRISBURG — The former ambassador to the United Nations warned Republicans against “neo-isolationist” elements within the party, saying the GOP's foreign policy stance is one of its key differences with Democrats.

“We are the party of national security,” John Bolton, a former George W. Bush administration official, said during his keynote address of the state Republican Party's fall dinner in a Harrisburg Hilton ballroom.

Bolton, a frequent critic of President Obama, blamed the president's “weakness” in foreign policy for a series of crises around the globe, most recently in Syria.

Democrats said Bolton's foreign policy involvement was “disastrous.”

“John Bolton has zero credibility when it comes to foreign policy,” said state Democratic Party spokesman Marc Eisenstein. “He was one of the main architects of some of the worst foreign policy decisions we saw under the Bush administration.”

Obama appeared poised to strike Syria after an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack, widely believed to have been triggered by Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces, killed more than 1,000 people in Damascus suburbs. Obama instead put the decision to Congress, asking for a vote to authorize the use of force.

Within weeks of that decision, administration officials brokered a deal with the Russian government, which is a key supporter of Assad's regime, in which Assad would turn over his chemical weapons to prevent a U.S. missile strike.

“But we are not just going to take Russia and Assad's word for it. We need to see concrete actions to demonstrate that Assad is serious about giving up his chemical weapons,” Obama said Sept. 14 in his weekly radio address. “And since this plan emerged only with a credible threat of U.S. military action, we will maintain our military posture in the region to keep the pressure on the Assad regime.”

The deal won't work, said Bolton, a former undersecretary of State for arms control and international security. He predicted Assad would underreport his arsenal of chemical weapons and the Russians would help them slow-walk the handover of those weapons to the United Nations — something that would allow Assad to continue fighting rebels in his country while maintaining Russia's influence in a key part of the world.

“He's got (Russian President) Vladimir Putin writing op-eds in The New York Times,” Bolton said. “He's putting his thumb in the president's eye because he sees weakness.”

Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7900 or mwereschagin@tribweb.com. Staff writer Adam Smeltz contributed to this report.

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