While Trump fell in love with Kim, N.Korea built missiles - GulfToday

While Trump fell in love with Kim, N.Korea built missiles

Ivo Daalder


President of The Chicago Council. Former US Ambassador to NATO.

President of The Chicago Council. Former US Ambassador to NATO.


Kim Jong-un with Donald Trump

Over the past two years, President Donald Trump gambled that a fundamentally new approach to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat would succeed where his three predecessors had failed. Strong military threats and increased sanctions were followed by proactive diplomacy, including three summit meetings, in the hope that this new approach would deliver Pyongyang’s agreement to give up its burgeoning nuclear arsenal.

That new approach has now clearly failed. Last week, working-level talks between US and North Korean officials collapsed within hours. In an official statement, Pyongyang denounced the talks as “sickening negotiations” and warned it would not come back to the table until “the US takes a substantial step to make complete and irreversible withdrawal of the hostile policy toward the DPRK.” It reiterated the need to conclude talks by the end of the year, noting that otherwise its moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests would end.

The breakdown of the talks was unsurprising. None of Trump’s three predecessors had been able to prevent successive North Korean leaders from building a robust nuclear and missile force over the preceding 25 years.

Trump faced a tall task, and a new approach, starting with increased pressure on Pyongyang, made sense. When North Korea increased the pace of missile and nuclear tests in 2017, the administration marshalled a strong international reaction, including three new United Nations resolutions to tighten economic sanctions. Trump also turned up the heat on Pyongyang, threatening it with “fire and fury” to end the nuclear threat.

This toughened approach opened the door to diplomacy. Trump’s decision to meet Kim Jung Un in person was a gamble that, while elevating the dictator’s global standing, might have shaken things up sufficiently to enable real negotiations on limiting and ultimately eliminating the North’s nuclear and missile arsenal.

Yet, the first meeting of the two leaders in Singapore in June 2018 set the stage for last week’s failure in Stockholm. Far from using the diplomatic opening to increase pressure on Kim and his regime, Trump embraced the summit pageantry and lost his resolve to achieve a lasting end to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

In Singapore, he settled for a vague statement that left longstanding differences over what each side meant by “the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” unresolved. And while Kim reaffirmed that goal, he only committed North Korea to “work toward” it. Even so, Trump trumpeted the outcome as historic, declaring “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”

That was patently not true. North Korea still possessed materials sufficient for 30-60 nuclear weapons and an expanding arsenal of short-, medium- and long-range missiles. After Singapore, Trump sought to move negotiations forward through flattery rather than pressure. He hailed his frequent correspondence with Kim as an exchange of “beautiful letters,” repeatedly said that he liked the North Korean dictator (at one point even declaring that they “fell in love”), and even decided to make an impromptu visit to the demilitarized zone for a brief chat and handshake.

Despite the niceties, the North Korean nuclear and missile threat continued to grow. Pyongyang has continued to produce nuclear materials and develop new nuclear weapons. And starting earlier this year, it resumed testing nuclear-capable missiles, including a medium-range missile that could be launched from a submarine underwater just days before the Stockholm meeting.

Trump’s gamble hasn’t paid off. We need a different approach, one that is more realistic about the growing threat North Korea represents, understands the importance of standing by our major allies, and recommits to working with key countries such as Russia and China to increase pressure on Kim Jung Un. That requires painstaking diplomacy rather than the loud threats or a strong embrace of a dictatorial ruler that has been at the core of Trump’s approach.

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Majority of US voters support the deal with Iran

US presidential candidate Joe Biden promised to return to the 2015 agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions. Instead, President Biden sticks to the dangerous and destructive policy dictated by Donald Trump who withdrew from the deal in 2018 and slapped 1,500 punitive sanctions on Iran.

Biden hesitates although 54 per cent of registered US voters support a deal while only 20 per cent oppose; among Biden’s Democrats the number is 70 per cent backers and six per cent opponents; among independents 50 per cent support and 30 per cent do not; and 41 per cent of Republicans are in favour against 35 who are not.

Since Biden’s own positive rating is currently a low 41 per cent against 56 per cent negative rating, it would seem it would behove him to re-enter the deal. The main obstacle is Tehran’s insistence that the US must lift Trump’s designation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRG) as a “foreign terrorist organisation,” making the IRG the world’s sole national army to join a host of armed non-state actors.

The text, a somewhat amended version of the original document, has been ready for months and awaits finalisation. Why then is Biden procrastinating and prevaricating? He faces stiff opposition from domestic anti-Iran lobbyists and legislators and Israel where the government rejects the deal. In both countries military and intelligence experts are, however, in favour. They hold, correctly, that Tehran has made great strides in developing both nuclear expertise and output since Trump pulled out, prompting Iran to gradually reduce its adherence in retaliation.

Instead of being limited to 3.67 uranium enrichment Iran has 43 kilograms of 60 per cent enriched uranium: this is a few steps away from the 90 per cent needed for a bomb. Instead of having a 300 kilogram stockpile of 3.67 enriched uranium, Iran has a stock 18 times larger of uranium enriched above the 3.67 per cent level permitted. Instead of carrying out enrichment with old, approved centrifuges, Iran has employed advanced centrifuges.

Instead of abiding by the stringent monitoring regime put in place by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran has been slipping surveillance. Until Iran began to breach the regulatory regime, it was the toughest on earth.

Nevertheless, Iran has pledged to revert to the deal once the US re-enters and to halt enrichment above 3.67 per cent, export all but 300 kilogrammes of the permitted 3.67 per cent of material in its stockpile, revert to old centrifuges which have been warehoused, and re-engage fully with the IAEA monitoring effort.

Opponents of the deal argue its “sunset clauses” will expire by 2031, thereby ending restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities. This may be addressed in the new deal.

However, they also contend it fails to curb in Iran’s ballistic missile programme and sup- port for Lebanon’s Hizbollah, Yemeni Houthi rebels, Iraqi Shia militias and the Syrian government.

Since these issues are outside the purview of the 2015 deal, Iran rightly rejects including them in its successor. Tehran has also made it clear that they can be discussed directly with the US once Biden re-joins the deal and sanctions are lifted.

After months of trying to get the external issues incorporated into the nuclear deal, the Biden administration conceded that this is impossible.

On April 29th this year, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told lawmakers that the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign had failed and “produced a more dangerous nuclear programme” while Iran stepped up involvement in regional affairs. These post-Ukraine war remarks suggested that the Biden administration was ready to return to the deal.

However, the administration continues to blow hot at one moment and cold another. Last week Washington may have blown up the deal. At the 35-member IAEA board of governors meeting in Vienna the US — along with acolytes Britain, France, and Germany — secured the adoption of a resolution critical of Iran over its inability or refusal to account for traces of nuclear material at three undeclared sites found by IAEA monitors in 2019 and 2020.

The resolution, which received 30 votes in favour — with Iran and Russia voting against and India, China and Libya abstaining — urges Iran to co-operate “without delay” with inspectors after IAEA director Rafael Grossi reported he had not received a “technically credible” explanation for the presence of particles.

Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi pointed out that uranium “contamination” was possible “in a country as vast as Iran.” He also suggested “human sabotage” by Israel which is blamed for repeated attacks on Iranian nuclear sites and assassinations of Iranian scientists.

Iranian officials are suspicious due to the fact that former Israeli Prime Minister Bin- yamin Netanyahu instigated visits by IAEA inspectors to one of the three contaminate sites at the village of Turquzabad near Tehran. IAEA monitors took soil samples and concluded that there were “traces of radioactive material” at the location which may have been used for storage as there were no signs of processing. How did Netanyahu know there were samples at this site?

Although the IAEA still has more than 40 cameras which will continue to operate at Iran’s enrichment facilities, Grossi stated Tehran’s action mounted to a “serious challenge.” He warned that in three or four weeks the agency would be unable to provide “continuity of knowledge” about Iran’s activities. “This could be a fatal blow” to negotiations over the nuclear deal, he stated.

He also warned that Iran is “just a few weeks” away from having enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb. However, Iran halted work on weaponisation in 2003 and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has repeatedly stated that Iran will not manufacture nuclear weapons as they are prohibited by Islam.

Kelsey Davenport of the “independent” Washington-based Arms Control Association told the BBC that in ten days or less Iran could transform its current stock of 60 per cent enriched uranium into the 90 per cent required for weapons. She said, however, that manufacturing bombs would require one or two years.

If Biden continues dithering the deal could die, further destabilising an already unstable region.

Michael Jansen, Political Correspondent

12 Jun 2022