The art of the deal: North Korea now wants to patch things up; Iran literally extorting Europe on JCPOA

The art of the deal: North Korea now wants to patch things up; Iran literally extorting Europe on JCPOA
The contestants. (Images: Kim: YouTube screen grab. Trump: White House official photo. Khamenei: Twitter)

If nuclear security could ever be a laughing matter, now would seem to be the time.  It’s as if the universe (wink) has decided to have a good chuckle at, well, someone’s expense.

Here’s the tally from the last 24 hours.  In the opposing corners: negotiating with Trump on your team, and negotiating without Trump on your team.

This is just a dose of reality, by the way.  This isn’t about who’s right or wrong regarding the proper way to engage in diplomacy and negotiation.  It’s not about whether Trump is good or bad.  This is just an account of what has happened.

With Trump

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Earlier on Thursday, 24 May 2018, President Trump sent North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un a letter announcing that the U.S. will not go ahead with the planned summit meeting in Singapore on 12 June 2018.

The reaction in the U.S. media has been predictably lugubrious; the gear stuck on “I told you so.”

In a response to a James Woods tweet today, I gravely miscalculated:

It wasn’t two weeks.  It wasn’t even two days.  On Thursday, 24 May 2018, the North Korean regime announced that it still wants to “resolve problems” with the U.S., with no conditions on when or how that is done.

“We had set in high regards President Trump’s efforts, unprecedented by any other president, to create a historic North Korea-U.S. summit,” said the vice foreign minister in a statement released on Friday by the North’s central news agency.

“We tell the United States once more that we are open to resolving problems at any time in any way,” he said.

Also on Thursday, North Korea went ahead with the promised demolition of the collapsing nuclear test site, as reported by foreign journalists in attendance.

Shortly thereafter, North Korea released photos of the reported demolition.

Of course, Fox News is quite right to be skeptical about what these photos are of.  Kim Jong-Un can blow up anything he wants in North Korea, and say he demolished a nuclear test site.  Stringent verification is in order.  And we don’t know what the outcome of the regime’s pushback on the Trump cancellation will be (i.e., whether there’s any way to get back to the table by 12 June).

But Kim’s eagerness to resume engagement is what is noteworthy here.  He’s not playing hard to get.  Whoever he’s playing to – call it “world opinion,” if you want, although world opinion has been there with the same dopey look on its face for the last 25 years, and has never gotten this reaction out of a Kim before – he’s the one trying harder.  He’s the one who wants it more.

Without Trump

A few thousand miles to the west, Iran is sorting things out after Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) of 2015, and – in Mike Pompeo’s speech on Monday – laid out a new strategy for dealing with Iran.

This week, a report came out, originally carried by the New York Times, that since the announcement of the JCPOA in July 2015, Iran has continued rocket testing that would support development of an ICBM capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.  An ICBM, as a reminder, is a delivery vehicle that could reach North America.

This assessment serves to highlight the weak points of the JCPOA.  The potential use of rocket motors in weapon systems is a military application integral to the development of nuclear weapons: a topic on which Iran has never come clean.  It was supposed to be a requirement of the JCPOA’s implementation that Iran do so – but the JCPOA was implemented without that reckoning.  Iran got a bye from the UN on the matter, precisely so that the JCPOA could be implemented anyway.  (See link below on the Netanyahu brief, for more.)

Overview of rocket test site location. (Google satellite map; author annotation)
(Google satellite image; author annotation based on work by the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, Monterey, California. See links in text)

The test site in question was first used in 2013, and imagery analysis indicates it was used for rocket testing in 2016 and 2017 as well – after the JCPOA was implemented (in January 2016).

Defenders of the JCPOA are quick to point out that the JCPOA doesn’t prohibit Iran’s rocket program.

But the answer to that is: exactly.  That’s why it’s a lousy agreement.  The JCPOA doesn’t address the “delivery vehicle” element of a nuclear weapons program in any useful way.  And since it cannot guarantee access to military R&D sites, it doesn’t have any teeth for monitoring the “warhead development” element of a nuclear weapons program.  The only thing it touches with anything close to rigor is uranium enrichment.

For those who still needed an awakening after Benjamin Netanyahu’s brief on the Israeli intelligence haul from the Tehran raid earlier this year, the information on continued rocket testing at the Shahrud site should be an alarm bell.

But Iran has a back-pocket option, with the U.S. now out of the JCPOA.  That’s the Europeans, who have been making noises about defying the restoration of U.S. sanctions and doing business with Iran anyway.

Set aside for the moment that this means, quite literally, helping Iran fund terrorism, proxy wars, arms proliferation, and whatever Iran’s engineers are doing behind the curtain to put in place the elements of a nuclear arsenal, ready for its break-out.

The nearer problem for the Europeans is that it makes them the patsies Iran will cynically seek to extort.

On 23 May, Ayatollah Khamenei came out with a series of tweets in which he announced the price the Europeans (Germany, France, and the UK) will have to pay to keep Iran in the JCPOA.

There’s no doubt this puts the Europeans in a tough spot.  The U.S. sanctions are coming back.  The EU-3 can’t make guarantees about U.S. behavior to Iran, any more than they can make guarantees about Iranian behavior to the U.S.

But they can sell out to Iran themselves.  If they do, it will be unsightly: uncomfortable and unpleasant to watch.  There’s no American public now that Iran needs to posture for, to keep America in the “deal.”  We’re out.  There won’t be any pretense of a mutual-interests engagement going on.  Iran will simply be nakedly strong-arming the capitals of Western Europe.

We can hope for better things from Europe, and I do.  But none of us has ever seen anything like Khamenei’s contemptuous, tweeted list of requirements for the Europeans to keep his nation in the JCPOA.  The mask of reciprocity and comity is completely off.  This one can’t really be walked back to the lie we were living under the JCPOA.  That lie required American participation to stitch together.

We’ll see if Europe wants Iran to stick with the JCPOA badly enough to be the ones who want it more, and who are willing to give up the most.

There is, as always, a lot more to say.  (More in the coming days on the new Iran strategy.)  But for the moment, I’ll just conclude by reiterating something from a few days ago, which a fellow blogger at Tundra Tabloids quoted:

The bottom line is that American security cannot be held at risk by the choice of Europeans to live in the shadow of a nuclear threat from Iran.

All else is secondary, for America.  There is no justification for demanding that the president of the United States have any higher priority.  Happily, that comports nicely with the security priorities of our allies in the Middle East.

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.


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