Regime change is the name of Trump’s game with N.Korea, Iran - GulfToday

Regime change is the name of Trump’s game with N.Korea, Iran

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Kim Jong Un and Donald at the North Korea-US summit in Hanoi, Vietnam. File/Reuters

North Korea has joined Iran in rejecting the Trump administration’s approach to bilateral dealings.  Pyongyang’s foreign ministry spokesman said his country will never resume talks with the US unless the administration changes its policy on nuclear disarmament. He also blamed the US for making unacceptable demands which caused the failure of February’s summit between Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

“We hereby make it clear once again that the United States would not be able to move us even an inch” with its current policies which Kim said created mistrust and hostility.  He vowed a fierce reaction if this continues.

The US claims that there has been no progress because of North Korean demands for full lifting sanctions in exchange for phased disarmament. North Korea argues that this is not its position. Instead, Pyongyang calls for phased sanctions relief in exchange for phased nuclear disarmament.  Kim has said Washington must put forward acceptable terms in order to restart negotiations.

North Korea’s language echoes the statement by Iran’s National Security Council spokesman Keyvan Khosravi who said, “Tehran will not hold talks with the US “under any circumstances” while the administration continues to disrespect the rights of Iran.  “We have said clearly the rights of our nation are not satisfied, as long as words do not change into action, our path will stay the same as now.”

Iran wants the US to recommit to the 2015 deal for dismantling that country’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

US policy on both North Korea and Iran is to exert “maximum pressure” via sanctions to force them to negotiate. Pyongyang on the nuclear weapons it already possesses and Iran on the nuclear deal which prevents Tehran from building weapons it says it does not want. This is the deal Trump rejects. His stance may cause Iran to wish it had a few nuclear bombs in its arsenal like North Korea which also has long-distance ballistic missiles to deliver them.

Trump has called for talks with both Pyongyang and Tehran.  South Korea maintains a backchannel to defuse tension but there is no direct or indirect contact between Iran and the US, making their standoff all the more dangerous. Oman and Switzerland have tried to mediate without success. Trump’s erratic behaviour is risky.  He recently urged Iran to “call” him but subsequently threatened to “end” Iran if it provoked war.    

It must be remembered that Trump began his term in office with threats to “burn” North Korea when it tested ballistic missiles and called Kim “little rocket man.”  Trump abruptly shifted from bullying to cultivating Kim, declaring them best friends. This approach has all too clearly soured although phone lines remain open to avoid dangerous mishaps.

In both cases, Trump has been pushed toward confrontation by his national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. While he has met Kim several times, Pompeo has never spoken on the phone or in person to Iranian foreign minister Muhammad Javad Zarif.  Instead, Pompeo insults Iran and Zarif on Twitter. Zarif stated, “Pompeo makes sure that every time he talks about Iran, he insults me.” He asked, “Why should I even answer his phone call?”

Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the Iran nuclear deal and demand for full North Korean nuclear disarmament before granting sanctions relief has led to deterioration of his short-lived good relations with North Korea.

Signed by France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China, approved by the European Union, and blessed by the Security Council, the Iran agreement was not a bilateral deal between the US and Iran but multilateral agreement. Trump had no legal right to attempt to abrogate it by pulling out and tightening sanctions on Iran with the aim of forcing Tehran to renegotiate as well as encouraging Iranians to rise up against their rulers. His drive to compel other signatories to follow his lead and to observe sanctions have upset and alienated  Washington’s Western allies and angered China and Russia.

Regime change is the US game with both North Korea and Iran.  When he met Kim in Hanoi early this year, Trump held out the carrot of massive economic advancement and prosperity for impoverished North Korea if it gave up its nuclear arsenal and dismantled its missile programme. This would bring about regime change.

The austere, ideological, Communist regime in Pyongyang would no longer exist and Kim would be out of a job, in jail or worse.

Pompeo has put forward a list of 12 demands as preconditons for renegotiating the nuclear deal. These include: providing the International Atomic Agency with a full account of the military aspects of its nuclear programme and a pledge to abandon such work indefinitely, stop all uranium enrichment, end production of ballistic missiles, release foreign prisoners, end support for Hizbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, halt support for Iraqi Shia militias and Yemen’s Houthis, withdraw forces from Syria, and cease threats against neighbouring countries.

Submitting to such demands would amount to Iranian surrender to Trump. This will not happen.  Trump seemed to realise this when he asked Iran to “call” without mention of Pompeo’s demands.  But Trump cannot be counted on to stick to a policy for more than five minutes and obsesses over rebuffs.

He has now launched a spat with Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer over accusations that his administration is engaged in a “cover-up” of misdeeds that could lead to impeachment. Trump responded by rejecting cooperation with Democrats on legislation to rebuild crumbling US bridges, roads, and other infrastructure and by tweeting insults.  Pelosi questioned his sanity and suggested that members of his inner circle and family should intervene and that he should consider taking a holiday as the strain of one-man rule is becoming too much for him.

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