Trump withdrawal from Iran agreement means North Korea deal dead on arrival?

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
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In withdrawing from the Iran deal, President Trump has killed two birds with one stone. The first is any leverage the US had over Iran in the way Tehran engages with Israel and with its numerous Shiite proxy militias in the Middle East. The second is the North Korea negotiation, where any deal will now be dead on arrival.

Nobody argues that the Iran deal was perfect. And yes, the fact that the original deal did not extend to cover Iran’s non-nuclear activities in the region, such as their presence in Iraq and Syria, and their backing of the Houthi rebels in Yemen, was regrettable.

But this deal did not prevent the US from using other leverage mechanisms to counteract Iran’s other regional ploys. And it did not tie the US’s hands from directly engaging Iranian-backed threats to US interests and the security of US allies in the region.

What the deal did was to put in place the world’s most thorough regime of nuclear development oversight, in exchange for sanctions relief for the Iranian people. There is nothing unreasonable about that.

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And yes, it is regrettable that the majority of the economic boost which Iran has enjoyed in the wake of the original rounds of sanctions relief was squandered in foreign adventures in the areas of Shiite-Sunni conflict in the region.

But again, the US was quite able and within its rights to counteract those “investment”, and the Iranian people themselves have been stepping up to hold the regime accountable quite more aptly than anything we could have done.

Instead the US is now a rogue diplomatic agent which breaks international treaties and accords on a whim. And then proceeds to threaten its closest allies with secondary sanctions when they refuse to ape its caprices.

It is regrettable that the majority of the economic boost which Iran has enjoyed in the wake of the original rounds of sanctions relief was squandered in foreign adventures

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim

National interests

Who in their right mind would want to make themselves dependent on agreements with the US in this diplomatic and geopolitical environment? All they see is an administration, which makes or breaks diplomatic initiatives with nor rhyme or reason, let alone any regard for America’s own national interests.

They see political quicksand underneath the administration, which can usher in a new Congress or a new administration. It will overturn everything again within the next three years. They see a country with the world’s greatest ability to destroy – but no ability for and no interest in building.

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If you were Kim Jong-un, would you be signing away your nuclear life insurance to someone like President Trump? The irony of all this is that Trump’s behaviour has indeed brought the two Koreas closer. South Koreans are much more afraid of Trump than they are of Kim.

The difference is that Kim is a ruthless dictator who would use nuclear weapons if it helped him maintain power: but using those weapons on South Korea would not help him. Whereas Trump is the kind of man who would start a war without even himself understanding why and what he would hope to achieve. Of the two, Kim is a devil you can know. Trump is not.

Strength of alliance

But this is a threat to US global power in a much wider and significant respect. America has become history’s greatest superpower not through the strength of its army, though that certainly helped, but through the strength of its alliances and its moral leadership of the world.

Now that moral leadership is fully forfeit, and the Trump administration is doing its best to continue to alienate its closest allies – not least the Europeans and the Japanese. And they are gaining no new friends in the process.

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In the efforts to preserve what is left of the Iran deal, Russia, China and the Europeans are now the adults in the room. If anyone can guarantee peace in the Korean peninsula now, it will be the Chinese, not America.

And expect “American leadership” to become one of the most toxic brands in international diplomacy from now on.
Azeem Ibrahim is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Global Policy and Adj Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. He completed his PhD from the University of Cambridge and served as an International Security Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a World Fellow at Yale. Over the years he has met and advised numerous world leaders on policy development and was ranked as a Top 100 Global Thinker by the European Social Think Tank in 2010 and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He tweets @AzeemIbrahim.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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