Trump can end the Iran deal and still make one with North Korea
How do you expect to sign a deal with North Korea if you renege on a done deal with Iran?
It’s the question Iran-deal supporters keep tossing at President Trump as May 12 approaches. That’s the administration’s next opportunity to do away with the Iran deal. Meanwhile, the White House is making headway on a planned summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.
Panicked European officials and American commentators have been pressing Trump to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, arguing that doing anything else won’t just kill that deal, but kill the possibility for making other such deals.
At the White House on Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron warned of tearing up the nuke deal with no Plan B. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be even more forceful defending the deal Friday, when she comes to Washington.
In Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani threatened “dire consequences” if America leaves or changes the deal. In New York, his ever-smiling foreign minister, Javad Zarif, told the AP Tuesday that if Trump backs out of the Iran deal, North Korea should know he’s “not a trustworthy, reliable negotiating partner.”
Wendy Sherman, an Obama-era State Department official who worked on diplomacy with both countries, concurs: Do Trump officials “really want a crisis at the point that they’re trying to get the North Korea negotiation underway?” she told Bloomberg News. “Do they want to deliver a message that America is not a reliable partner?”
The fact that this argument is popular doesn’t make it any less nonsensical.
If Iran is like North Korea, then Trump’s right. The deal is “insane, it’s ridiculous, it should have never been made,” he said Tuesday. That’s because Pyongyang fabricated a silly excuse to kick out international inspectors for good during the Bush administration. If we thought Iran and North Korea were the same, we wouldn’t trust Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA at all.
But the two aren’t the same at all.
Pyongyang’s “Juche” philosophy has to do with an imagined self-reliance. The Kims always believed the secret to holding power is isolation from the world. Iran, on the other hand, touts international commerce as a way to keep the clerics in power.
What’s good for the ayatollah isn’t good for the Juche Man.
Iran’s threat to race to get nuclear weapons if we even tweak the JCPOA is a bluff. It’ll do anything to lure European companies, which the US so far managed to mostly keep from investing in Iran. Publicly seeking nukes would set that quest back.
In fact, the JCPOA is so advantageous to Iran, it’ll beg Europe to stay in even if the US bolts.
But North Korea only has China — international commerce isn’t even on the table. Under Trump’s pressure (and because Pyongyang drives Beijing crazy sometimes), President Xi Jinping partially shut down some of the trade between the two that sustains the Kim regime. Xi will decide whether to reopen it or keep up pressure based on China’s interests.
Trump should do the same for America’s interests.
Why in the world would Trump negotiate with Kim anything resembling the JCPOA he so detests? Sure, a vain man who sells himself as deal artist would love to earn the moniker “peacemaker,” so Trump could fall into Barack Obama’s vanity trap of trusting a flimsy pact to change history.
Yet, surrounded by hawks, that’s unlikely with Trump. Can you imagine John Bolton or Mike Pompeo steering him toward signing the kind of deal Obama’s top aides went gaga over? They’re unlikely to view the Iran deal as a model for anything but failure.
In fact, contrary to received wisdom, nixing, or at least fixing, the Iran deal on the eve of the Kim summit can actually help. It’ll show Pyongyang that as long as it keeps its missiles, permits only partial inspections and expects to resume its pursuit of nukes after a decade (as is the case with the Iran deal), America will walk away from the table.
If they want a deal, North Koreans simply need to “get rid of their nukes,” Trump said Tuesday. The odds on that are still slim, but they’ll improve if the unreasonable parts of the Iran deal are fixed.
America should also expose covert Tehran-Pyongyang efforts to develop illicit ballistic missiles. Such a move would help convince allies that ending the menace posed by these two regimes will require more than bad deals.
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