Trump’s Disdain for Nuclear Deal Makes a North Korea Pact Even Harder

Trump’s Disdain for Nuclear Deal Makes a North Korea Pact Even Harder  Trump’s Disdain for Nuclear Deal Makes a North Korea Pact Even Harder

US President Donald Trump's approach toward the Iran nuclear agreement has raised new challenges in his dealing with North Korea, whose leader he has agreed to meet in a historic first, say political experts.  

The Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs, drastically different but often spoken of in the same breath, are now being thrust together, as Trump's determination to kill the landmark 2015 accord is colliding with his scramble to reach a far more complex deal with Pyongyang.

"The man who wrote 'The Art of the Deal' has staked out a position that the Iran deal was the worst one in history," said Robert S. Litwak, the director of international security studies at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars and the author of "Preventing North Korea's Nuclear Breakout."

"Now he has to show that he can do much better, with a far harder case," Litwak said in recent remarks carried by the New York Times.

In May, the US president will face a deadline on deciding whether to abandon the Iran deal, which he has called a "disaster".

The same month, if all goes as Trump plans, he will head into a face-to-face negotiation with North Korea's Kim Jong-un—the first time an American president has ever spoken with the leader of that country—to persuade the North Koreans to denuclearize.  

  High Bar

On Sunday, US Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo, speaking on a CBS program, set an extraordinarily high bar for his boss, if he ever gets to that negotiation. Pompeo acknowledged that Trump, given his disparagement of the Iran agreement reached by the Obama administration, will have to get a better deal out of Kim.

David E. Sanger of the New York Times believes that the North Koreans have been closely watching what Tehran got in return for restrictions on its nuclear program, weighing whether the promised economic benefits were worth curbing its nuclear activities.    

"If Mr. Trump pulls out of the Iran deal, Mr. Kim may well wonder why he should negotiate with the United States if a subsequent president can simply pull the plug on any agreement," he says.  

By statute, Trump must decide by May 12 whether to make good on his threat to exit the Iran deal. American officials have said Trump could pull back if European allies agree to unilaterally crack down on Iran's missile development—which is not covered by the nuclear deal—and begin a process to make certain limits on Iran's nuclear activities permanent.

"Yet if Mr. Trump sticks with the agreement—as his top aides have quietly urged him to do—he faces a different challenge," Sanger noted.  

  Nuclear Capability

He argues that while the US president will have to negotiate a deal with the North Koreans that is even stricter than the Iranian one that he has denounced as naive, insufficient and dangerous, that task will be made all the harder by the fact that Pyongyang, unlike Tehran, actually possesses nuclear weapons.    

North Korea has at least 20 by some estimates, or upward of 60 by the count of the US Defense Intelligence Agency. Iran has never produced one and denies any intention of seeking atomic weapons.

Even with the most rigorous inspection regime, it will be hard to assure that the North Korean program is really dead, he commented.    

  Unified Stance

Sanger also noted that the Iran deal was aided by a unified stance among the US, the Europeans, China and Russia, while none of those conditions exist in dealing with North Korea so far.

"If the president gets the North Koreans just to stop what they are doing, and perhaps get a timetable for future action, that would be a huge step in slowing the North Koreans' program," said Christopher Hill, who negotiated the last major deal that the US had with North Korea, under the George W. Bush administration. "But it still wouldn't be close to what Iran agreed to do."

Trump's two major complaints about the Iran deal are that it is not permanent and that it is not broad enough to include a number of other issues such as Iran's regional policies or missile activities. So it is believed that matching those requirements in a North Korea deal would make it all the harder to reach.  

"In the North Korea case," Litwak said, "no one has yet said what the scope of a deal would be, but if you look at the Iran deal critique, presumably it would have to solve a lot more than just our nuclear problems."


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