Trump’s art of the nu­clear deals

The goal now must be to thwart the am­bi­tions of both Tehran and Py­ongyang

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Clif­ford D. May

Don­ald Trump in­her­ited two deadly se­ri­ous na­tional se­cu­rity crises, one in the Mid­dle East, one in the Far East. Look closely and you’ll see that these crises are in­sev­er­able. The dy­nas­tic, neoS­tal­in­ist who rules North Korea and the ji­hadist, im­pe­ri­al­ist theocrats who rule Iran have al­ways har­bored hos­tile in­ten­tions to­ward Amer­ica and Amer­ica’s al­lies. Both have been il­lic­itly de­vel­op­ing nu­clear weapons and the means to de­liver them to tar­gets in Amer­ica or any­where on Earth.

One Amer­i­can pres­i­dent af­ter an­other has at­tempted to mit­i­gate their in­ten­tions and/or curb their ca­pa­bil­i­ties. One Amer­i­can pres­i­dent af­ter an­other has failed.

Start with Pres­i­dent Clin­ton who in 1994 con­cluded the Agreed Ac­cord with Py­ongyang. “North Korea will freeze and then dis­man­tle its nu­clear pro­gram,” he an­nounced at the time. “The United States and in­ter­na­tional in­spec­tors will care­fully monitor North Korea to make sure it keeps its com­mit­ments.”

Py­ongyang, of course, went on to de­velop nu­clear weapons and in­creas­ingly so­phis­ti­cated mis­siles. The United States and In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency (IAEA) in­spec­tors made sure of noth­ing.

The North Kore­ans also col­luded with the Ira­nian regime, even build­ing a nu­clear re­ac­tor for its client, Syr­ian dic­ta­tor Bashar As­sad. IAEA in­spec­tors did noth­ing about that, ei­ther, other than po­litely com­plain that the Syr­ian govern­ment was not pro­vid­ing suf­fi­cient co­op­er­a­tion for them to de­ter­mine the pur­pose of the fa­cil­ity.

Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush thought this dilemma could be re­solved diplo­mat­i­cally. The Is­raelis dis­agreed. In 2007, the Is­raeli Air Force re­duced the fa­cil­ity to rub­ble. Four years later, the IAEA be­lat­edly con­firmed that the Is­raelis had in­deed de­stroyed a nu­clear re­ac­tor.

Mr. Bush also made no progress on the Ira­nian file. He turned a blind eye as Tehran sup­ported, in­structed and armed Shia mili­tias that killed and maimed Amer­i­can troops in Iraq. He was re­luc­tant to widen the con­flict.

Pres­i­dent Obama’s pol­icy to­ward North Korea was known as “strate­gic pa­tience” — wonk lingo for do­ing noth­ing. But he lav­ished at­ten­tion on Iran’s theocrats, at­tempt­ing to ad­dress their griev­ances, ap­pease their hege­monic am­bi­tions and bol­ster those he took to be “mod­er­ates.” He was con­vinced that Iran’s rulers were as ea­ger as Amer­i­cans to main­tain sta­bil­ity in the Mid­dle East.

To be fair, such ideas had long been con­ven­tional wis­dom within the lib­eral for­eign pol­icy es­tab­lish­ment. But they were wrong. At the mo­ment, the most vivid ev­i­dence is in Syria, where more than half a mil­lion men, women and chil­dren have been killed, and many mil­lions more dis­placed due largely to Iran’s sup­port of Mr. As­sad’s war on his Sunni sub­jects.

Even­tu­ally, of course, Mr. Obama con­cluded — de­spite con­gres­sional dis­ap­proval — a deal that has given the world’s lead­ing state spon­sor of ter­ror­ism more than $100 bil­lion. It has al­lowed Iran’s rulers to con­tinue de­vel­op­ing mis­siles that can de­liver nu­clear weapons. And it has let Ira­nian forces con­tinue what Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo last week­end called their “march across the Mid­dle East.”

At the same time, the deal has made it im­pos­si­ble for the IAEA to in­spect mil­i­tary sites where Iran’s rulers have covertly worked on nu­clear weapons in the past and may be so do­ing in the present. And it has ef­fec­tively pre­vented the U.S. from re­spond­ing to Tehran’s other ne­far­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties — of which there are many.

Sweet as this deal was for Iran’s rulers, the “atomic archive” re­trieved by Is­rael’s Mos­sad pro­vides clear ev­i­dence that they have vi­o­lated both their obli­ga­tion to dis­close all past nu­clear work and their pledge not to “seek, de­velop or ac­quire nu­clear weapons.”

Two sen­tences about Europe: In a joint state­ment last week, France, Bri­tain and Ger­many as­serted that “Iran’s nu­clear pro­gramme must al­ways re­main peace­ful and civil­ian.” This of course ex­presses not the re­al­ity but only their wish, one they have done noth­ing to make come true.

The ap­proach Mr. Trump has taken to­ward both Iran and North Korea is quite dif­fer­ent. His harsh rhetoric and tough sanc­tions ap­pear to have caused Kim Jong-un to pon­der whether his nu­clear am­bi­tions en­dan­ger, rather than for­tify, his power and longevity. We can be hope­ful about up­com­ing talks. But should Mr. Kim prove de­cep­tive or in­tran­si­gent, the pres­i­dent must be pre­pared to walk away and im­me­di­ately ratchet up his “max­i­mum pres­sure” strat­egy. Cou­ple that with Mr. Trump’s de­ci­sion last week to with­draw from the Iran deal and the broader logic is plain. Mr. Trump in­tends to do what his pre­de­ces­sors promised and failed to do: Per­ma­nently pre­vent both these regimes from ac­quir­ing the ca­pa­bil­i­ties needed to mass mur­der Amer­i­cans at a time of their choos­ing.

To suc­ceed will re­quire enor­mous de­ter­mi­na­tion, sharply in­creased eco­nomic pres­sure and a cred­i­ble threat to use mil­i­tary force as a last re­sort. If our en­e­mies be­lieve we are stronger than they are and unwilling to take no for an­swer, they are less likely to give us that an­swer — as­sum­ing they are ra­tio­nal. If they aren’t, all the more rea­son not to per­mit them to re­al­ize their in­ten­tions and achieve their am­bi­tions.

This much should be ob­vi­ous: Un­less the rulers of both Iran and North Korea are de­fanged, the peril they pose will only grow. It will spread, too: Nu­clear non-pro­lif­er­a­tion will be­come an idea whose time has gone. Other regimes will be­come nu­clear-armed. Who would pre­vent them and on what ba­sis? Sooner or later, some of these regimes will trans­fer nukes to ter­ror­ists. The world — not just the Mid­dle East and Far East — will be­come a tin­der­box. An Amer­i­can pres­i­dent in the not-so-dis­tant fu­ture will in­herit the cri­sis. By then, how­ever, there may be no so­lu­tion, just a day of reck­on­ing.

In 2007, the Is­raeli Air Force re­duced the fa­cil­ity to rub­ble. Four years later, the IAEA be­lat­edly con­firmed that the Is­raelis had in­deed de­stroyed a nu­clear re­ac­tor.

Clif­ford D. May is pres­i­dent of the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies and a colum­nist for The Washington Times.

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