Wanted: Diplomatic miracles for Iran, North Korea


few scant months ago, it seemed that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump, two combative and unpredictable leaders, were moving toward a possible nuclear confrontation that could result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people.

Kim taunted the Untied States and its allies by firing off long-range missiles capable of reaching the mainland of the United States. Trump threatened to retaliate with “fire and fury” and taunted Kim as “Little Rocket Man.” Then, seemingly out of nowhere, there was a dramatic reversal of course with North and South Korean leaders holding cordial face-to-face talks and Kim offering to meet with Trump. The world breathed a sigh of relief as the threats of war turned to diplomacy.

The Kim-Trump summit has been set for June 12 in Singapore. While Kim has expressed some last-minute reservations about the meeting and a potential deal to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, it appears, for now, that the historic meeting will happen.

Meanwhile, Trump made good on his oft-repeated campaign promise to “tear up” the Iran nuclear deal so painstakingly negotiated by former President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. 

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Trump said: “The fact is, this was a horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made. … It is clear to me that we cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement. The Iran deal is defective at its core.”

The president and secretary of state Mike Pompeo also announced that to ensure that Iran would not immediately go forward with its nuclear weapons program, the United States would impose severe sanctions to prevent any new business deals, including on banks that purchase oil from Iran. They also demanded that Iran end its sponsorship and support of terrorist groups. To be sure, there is much about the Iran deal to dislike and distrust:

• The deal was negotiated as an agreement between Iran and the so-called P-5 Plus One — the United States, China, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and Germany — the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. The agreement was not a formal treaty, which would require ratification by the U.S. Senate.

•  The deal indeed seems one-sided because it does not allow inspections of Iran’s military nuclear facilities, where much of its nuclear work is conducted. The inspections require a three-week notice to Iran before anything can be inspected. Critics of the deal point to this aspect as a fatal flaw.

•  Iran is given independent control of the soil samples it has agreed to present to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), making it possible for Iran to make sure that the samples it presents are free of nuclear weaponstraces.

• In addition to releasing $100 billion in Iranian assets, Iran was given an up-front payment of $1.7 billion in cash, a debt owed to Iran when it was under the rule of the Shah, who was an ally of the United States. Critics say that Iran’s present theocratic regime no longer has a rightto those funds in view of its takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, holding 52 American hostages for 444 days, an action described as an act of war in international law.

• Iran continues to stage regular anti-American and anti-Israel events in which mobs chant, “Death to Israel” and “Death to America,” and burn American and Israeli flags. Is this a regime that has earned our trust?

If all of the above were not bad enough, the deal contains a “sunset” clause after a fixed period, after which Iran will be free to “break out” of the terms of the deal and move forward with developing a nuclear weapon.

The North Korean and Iranian nuclear issues are indeed two sides of the same coin. 

It has been argued that, yes, the Iran deal is flawed, but we should try to renegotiate its terms rather than abruptly pull  out of an international deal.  How could the fanatical regime in North Korea trust the United States if it can repudiate a multilateral deal on its own?

North Korea is also nervous about the comments of John Bolton, the ultrahawkish national security adviser who suggested the “Libya Model” for the North Korean talks. Under the Libyan deal, the United States led a coalition to oust Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi who was later killed by an insurgent. Gadhafi was killed after he had unilaterally ended his nuclear weapons program and allowed the IAEA to conduct an inspection, which proved that he had complied. What is North Korea to make of the “Libya Model,” except that it provides a template forremoving from power a tyrant who moves toward denuclearization?

Trump considers himself a master of “The Art of the Deal” and has expressed confidence that he can achieve a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and go on to make “the deal of the century” by achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians.Of course, all Americans of good will want Trump to besuccessful in his upcoming talks with Kim Jong Un and incoming up with a sound strategy for replacing the Iran nuclear deal with something that is strong, enforceable and permanent.

He will need not only negotiating skills, but also a healthy dose of good luck to pull off these diplomatic “miracles.”