Special to WorldTribune.com
After vowing at the United Nations to “completely destroy” North Korea if necessary and following that verbal brinksmanship with the harshest economic sanctions ever imposed by the United States government, President Donald Trump has set U.S. policy on a seemingly inevitable collision course with the Hermit Kingdom.
North Korea’s widening nuclear weapons ambitions, now including the threat to detonate a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean and shoot down U.S. aircraft, along with its own verbal flourishes such as calling Trump a “madman,” underscore the growing crisis.
The president also used his speech at the General Assembly to condemn the July 2015 multilateral nuclear deal with Iran, indicating Oct. 15 as the date for a decision on whether to recertify that Iran is in compliance with the agreement. Iran remains a non-nuclear weapons state and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) claims Iran is abiding by its nuclear commitments.
Those differences suggest little linkage between events in North Korea and Iran, but that may be misleading.
The nuclear accord, notwithstanding the IAEA’s view, is riddled with flaws, including its limited duration, preservation of much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and failure to address Iran’s long-range missile program.
Nations that eschew nuclear weapons have no requirement for long-range missiles but Iran may have just tested a new one.
Some argue the deal was the best that could be accomplished, but that was said about the 1994 Framework Agreement with North Korea. History is replete with examples where in the long term, good enough isn’t good enough.
It is illusory to think Trump has any greater freedom of action with Iran than North Korea because many external factors are in play. Iran’s domestic politics offer little reason to conclude Teheran would be willing to renegotiate any of Trump’s major concerns. Other parties to the agreement also won’t reopen negotiations.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is viewed in some Western quarters as a moderate but is buffeted by skeptical, hardline forces, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“Moderate” Rouhani’s speech at the UN labeled as “baseless” charges leveled by Trump that the agreement is “an embarrassment” and asserted that Iran could restart its uranium enrichment program in a matter of hours.
For an administration with limited foreign policy expertise and numerous senior positions at State and Defense still unfilled, the president is embarking on a daunting test of his crisis management skills, dealing with not one but two nuclear crises if the Iranians abandon the nuclear deal in response to a possible U.S. decertification.