The eyes of the world will be directed toward Singapore on Tuesday when US President Donald Trump sits down for historic talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. And there will be few places in the world where you will find people paying closer attention than in Tehran.
Because what happens in Singapore – whether Trump succeeds or fails to broker a deal to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear arms arsenal – will have huge ramifications going forward if the US turns its full attention from disarming North Korea of nuclear capabilities, to doing the same for Iran. An argument can be made that whatever emerges from the Singapore meeting will actually be good for Israel regarding attempts to denuclearize Iran.That, at least, was an argument put forward last week by former US deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, though he did not frame it precisely in that manner.Rather, Abrams said that if Trump succeeded in getting a deal – something he acknowledged is unlikely, though not inconceivable – “I assume Trump would turn around and say this is the kind of deal we want with Iran.”And, Abrams said, it is most likely that if he does do a deal with North Korea, it will be a better deal than the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that was negotiated with the Iranians, and which Trump has repeatedly said was simply a “horrible” deal.According to Abrams, it was no coincidence that Trump decided in May to withdraw from the JCPOA, just before beginning the negotiations with the North Koreans.“I think withdrawing from the JCPOA was the essential predicate for negotiation with North Korea,” he said. “What did Kim really want? He wanted a JCPOA: a deal that says ‘we legitimize your nuclear program,’ you can have it, you can enrich, and you can develop missiles.”Abrams said that the deal with Iran, and the deal that the North Koreans wanted, also put an end to a conventional arms embargo and ensured that eventually all the sanctions would disappear.“That is what Kim wanted, and the president had to make clear to him at the outset that nothing remotely like that will be available,” Abrams said.“Trump said in his campaign the JCPOA was the worst deal ever – he had to act on that.Once he did, he could start the negotiation process with North Korea.”Abrams said he did not know if an eye on the North Korean situation may have been one reason Trump ditched the JCPOA, but that it was crucial for the Americans to make clear to Kim that the type of deal former US president Barack Obama worked out with the Iranians was not anywhere near the table.“The Iranians must be concerned about one thing,” Abrams said. “What if the US strikes a deal with North Korea that is a denuclearization deal.”According to Abrams, if such a deal were indeed reached – a deal which stipulated that North Korea would really denuclearize – “I assume Trump would turn around and say that this is the kind of deal we want for Iran.”If Trump could get this type of deal with the North Koreans, then it would be difficult for the Europeans or anyone else to say it is not possible to achieve the same thing with the Iranians.And all of that, of course, would be good for Israel.But what if Tuesday’s meeting in Singapore is a colossal failure? What if the two leaders leave without any deal or agreement, and are at even greater loggerheads after they shake hands than they were before? That too, Abrams said, would not be lost on Iran. What this would mean, he said, is that “Trump isn’t kidding when he says that he won’t sign a bad deal. It means that he got out of the Iran deal, and won’t sign a bad deal with North Korea.”And if he won’t sign a bad deal, Abrams said, the Iranians will have to be asking themselves what the unpredictable US president will do to stop their nuclear drive. And although under the Obama administration they were not really concerned about an American military strike, under Trump they will never be able to be sure – a situation of uncertainty that, at least from Israel’s point of view, is also not all that bad.
Donald Trump arrives in Singapore ahead of North Korea summit, June 10, 2018 (Reuters)