It’s unclear thus far how much of a role Bolton will play going forward in what will clearly be a Secretary of State Mike Pompeo-led negotiating effort. But his quieter role on the North Korea issue doesn’t necessarily mean that he is being disempowered at the NSC. John Carafano, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation, pointed out that Bolton overhauled the NSC staff when he entered the administration, replacing a series of staffers with his own people. “It’s Bolton’s NSC, he owns that thing body and soul,” Carafano said.

A senior White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity downplayed Bolton’s lower profile recently, pointing out that the initiative was being led by Pompeo and that no one wanted a misunderstanding with the North Koreans. “This has been [Pompeo’s] initiative and clearly he’s the face of it and he’s the one who’s been interacting with the North Koreans,” said the official. “John has history with them.”

“He’s been very clear, his views—everybody knows what his views are—it doesn’t matter,” the official said. Bolton “sees himself as very much a personal adviser to the president and not somebody who’s running a mini State Department.”