Experts say Iran, N. Korea might manipulate, wait out Trump

North Korea is already a nuclear state, while Iran can still be prevented from becoming one.

US PRESIDENT Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un enjoy a stroll during their historic meeting. (photo credit: REUTERS)
US PRESIDENT Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un enjoy a stroll during their historic meeting.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Two experts on North Korea and Iran have told The Jerusalem Post that in light of ongoing developments, they fear both states might succeed at obtaining nuclear weapons. However, the experts view many of the issues involved differently.
Emily Landau, the director of the Institute for National Security Studies Arms Control, is concerned that Iran might try to play for time, waiting out US President Donald Trump in the hope a new, less confrontational president will replace him in 2020.
From there, she worries that the few remaining options for preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon may not succeed.
Landau does hold out hope that Trump’s process of pressure can achieve a better deal than the one cut by the Obama administration, which she viewed as too weak.
She is also pessimistic that North Korea can be convinced to give up its nuclear weapons. She says the high-profile nuclear summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un was, in reality, merely about reducing tensions and never about actual denuclearization.
Jeffrey Lewis, of Middlebury Institute’s East Asia Nonproliferation Program, is concerned that Trump will just call any agreement stronger and better than the Obama deal simply because Trump negotiated it, and then close his eyes to Iranian duplicity.
Regarding North Korea, Lewis said there was not the slightest evidence that denuclearization would be achieved by the summit, other than that Trump kept repeating it.
Not that Lewis is against reducing tensions. He mentioned his fictional book, The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States, as nightmare scenario, albeit very unlikely, if Trump and Kim do not reach some kind of understanding.
The two experts disagree about the connection between North Korea and Iranian strategic decision-making. Landau views them as mostly unrelated, while Lewis sees them as closely connected. (Landau, however, does believe the states have cooperated in the nuclear arena in the past.)
Landau said North Korea’s goal has always been to get a bilateral audience with a US president, whereas for Iran, “Talking to the US almost goes against the essence of the Islamic Republic. ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel’” are part of their motto, so the two countries “come from very different starting points.”
She noted that North Korea is already a nuclear state, while Iran can still be prevented from becoming one.
Because of that – and because Iran’s troublemaking in the Middle East disturbs the US more than North Korean adventurism – Landau said the Trump administration has treated the two tracks differently “since day one.”
She said it was positive that Trump’s team has been aggressive in dealing with Iran as a strategic decision since the start of his term. She faulted the Obama administration and the EU for letting Iran push them around.
“Of course, a big problem is that... the Europeans were not forthcoming from February to April, when the US was trying to strengthen the deal before Trump left [the deal]. And now we see the extent that the EU is going to in shielding European companies to undercut Trump’s sanctions. They want to save the Iran deal even at the cost of opposing the US,” she said.
“There is a race now regarding the economic pressure. There will be more pressure in November. There is still a chance to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear state. But if it happens, then it’s over and we face all the terrible consequences.”
In contrast, Lewis said Iran’s saw the North Korean success in teasing and toying with the Trump administration, just enough to keep the president staying publicly positive. And he feels that will make the Islamic Republic more likely to try to do the same.
Lewis said Trump could only “hang onto this fiction” of progress with North Korea for so long and that negotiations will likely deteriorate eventually when Pyongyang “feels the need to test something.”
Likewise, he said that at some point Iran’s patience with sanctions will run out, or it will violate some new deal it signs with Trump and then start testing “longer range solid-fuel missiles” under the guise of non-nuclear tests.
He said for Iran, the North Korean case, along with “India and Israel, shows that if you go ahead and get it done and it is a fact that people will be sore about it for a while, but then people get used to it.
“I do not want to say we need to live with a nuclear Iran. We should try to prevent that outcome. But if things keep going the way they are going, that is where we are headed.”