Disconnecting N. Korea and Iran - analysis

All along in Israel there have been concerns that if President Donald Trump cut a soft deal with Pyongyang, it could lead to a softening of pressure against Tehran.

April 22, 2019 20:07
2 minute read.
U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shake hands before their one-on-one

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shake hands before their one-on-one chat during the second U.S.-North Korea summit at the Metropole Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam February 27, 2019.. (photo credit: LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS)


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Neither North Korea nor Iran has given up much in their nuclear standoffs with the Trump administration. But even as the countries have played hardball, the Trump administration has continued to take diametrically opposite approaches with each one.

Iran keeps the status quo by staying within the 2015 nuclear deal despite the US’s renewed sanctions in 2018, while refusing any nuclear concessions. The US responded this month by imposing new sanctions against the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and is expected to reduce sanctions waivers, those exemptions which allow nations to continue trading with Iran.

North Korea keeps the status quo by maintaining talks with the US, but carries out a new weapons test while demanding the removal of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from negotiations. The US has downplayed those tensions and has sent a secret conciliatory message to Pyongyang through the South Koreans.

All along in Israel there have been concerns that if President Donald Trump cut a soft deal with Pyongyang, it could lead to a softening of pressure against Tehran. The Islamic Republic could say that it should be allowed to hold on to any part of their nuclear arsenal which North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un gets to keep.

This could still be a concern, but with the standoffs entering a more mature stage, this concern seems to be deemphasized.

For better or worse – even deep in the process and even as all of the countries have shown their likely positions for the coming year or two, Trump is simply content to treat North Korea better than Iran.

Trump’s main claim to progress with Kim is that North Korea has refrained from missile tests since negotiations started. Pyongyang’s recent weapons test seemed to undermine that, and yet Trump seems to be trying to stay on the country’s good side.

Add to that the audacious demand by North Korea to side-line the United States’ chief diplomat – which Trump did not respond to and Pompeo chuckled about – and it seems there is very little that Kim can do which would lead to additional US pressure (keeping in mind US sanctions are still in place).

In contrast, Trump followed a speech in which Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tehran would remain in the nuclear deal despite its threats to leave and despite the EU’s emasculated attempt to circumvent US sanctions, by launching a significant new pressure campaign.

From a meeting with a US State Department counter-terrorism official Nathan Sales last week, it sounds like the US will be filing new lawsuits at some point against third party financial institutions and companies which do business with entities that are connected to the IRGC.

The US announced Monday that it is reducing sanctions waivers for eight countries doing business with the Islamic Republic.

Of course, Pyongyang’s weapons test was not a ballistic missile test and North Korea carried out a similar test in November without any major escalation between the sides. So maybe Kim made a tiny poke in the eye more than a serious provocation.

But however one looks at these developments, it seems clear that for the foreseeable future, the US will stay soft on North Korea even as it cracks down further on Iran.

For Israel, the only thing that really matters is keeping the pressure on Iran insulated from the North Korea process.

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