Trump seems to be doing his best to ruin the deal with North Korea

Brahma Chellaney
Brahma ChellaneyMay 23, 2018 | 10:58

Trump seems to be doing his best to ruin the deal with North Korea

US President Donald Trump does not seem to recognise the contradiction between wanting to blow up the Iran nuclear deal and pressing North Korea to sign a nuclear deal.

Indeed, Trump and his national security advisor, John Bolton, do not appear to understand that, by raking up the “Libya model”, they are undermining the prospect of a North Korea deal.

Trump’s planned summit meeting with Kim Jong-un is still days away but the US president has already stirred things up by warning the North Korean leader of “total decimation”, in the way Muammar Gaddafi met a gruesome end, “if we don’t make a deal”.


Even if that threat were to frighten Kim into agreeing to a deal, he has no assurance that Trump will keep his end of the bargain. Trump’s record, after all, attests to his proclivity to renege on commitments.

Unilateral withdrawal

In fact, following Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, Kim appears to have got cold feet. This is apparent from Pyongyang’s change of tone, including new warnings to the US and South Korea, thereby undercutting the White House hype over the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore.

Bolton triggered an angry reaction from Pyongyang by saying the US wants to apply the “Libya model” to North Korea. Bolton’s statement was clearly a provocation for Pyongyang.

Kim had earlier cited the fate that Gaddafi and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein met when they renounced the nuclear-weapons option.

When Gaddafi was captured, tortured and murdered by NATO-aided rebels, then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton exulted in a TV interview.

Her reaction to receiving that news on her cell phone was to rephrase Julius Caesar’s famous line after a decisive Roman victory in 46 BC as, “We came, we saw, he died.” Clinton then laughed and clapped her hands in apparent celebration.


Against this backdrop, Kim has viewed a nuclear deterrent as the way to escape Gaddafi’s fate. When he assumed power barely two months after the Libyan leader’s killing, Kim made accelerating his country’s nuclear and missiles advances his top priority.

Indeed, when NATO began its air war against Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, a North Korean official said the intervention showed that Gaddafi had been duped in the 2003 nuclear bargain with Washington.

Yet, in the lead-up to the Singapore summit, Trump and Bolton have gratuitously referred to the “Libya model”. The imprudent references to the “Libya model” can only ensure that Kim will not make the same mistake as Gaddafi.

North Korea’s nuclear negotiator and vice-foreign minister, Kim Gye Gwan, calling such references “highly sinister”, said the “world knows too well that our country is neither Libya nor Iraq which have met miserable” fates.

The Trump administration has given no hint as to what concessions it might be willing to make to secure a deal with Kim. Yet, it has publicised demands that North Korea is unlikely to accept.

For example, Bolton said Pyongyang will have to surrender its entire nuclear programme before the US relaxes economic sanctions.



Gaddafi example

Pyongyang has made it clear that to preclude a bait-and-switch approach that ensnared Gaddafi, a deal must involve a phased process, with each side making reciprocal concessions in stages.

To try and overcome Pyongyang’s stubbornness, US negotiations have suggested a partial surrender upfront of nuclear delivery vehicles (and their components and blueprints), especially the Hwasong-15 and Hwasong-14 ballistic missiles. These two supposedly intercontinental-range systems were tested last year.

This is in keeping with what secretary of state Mike Pompeo has suggested — that America’s main objective is to remove North Korea’s nuclear threat to its homeland, not to its allies.

Pompeo’s statement has caused misgivings in Japan and South Korea because a deal that eliminates only North Korea’s long-range missile capability will leave regional allies in the lurch.

Forestalling threats

Such a scenario cannot be ruled out. After all, the US has always focused on forestalling threats to its own security even if its regional friends are left at the receiving end.

For example, the US has tolerated the fast-growing nuclear arsenal of Pakistan — one of the largest recipients of American aid in this century — because its nuke capability is sub-regionally confined.

It is doubtful Pyongyang will countenance a partial surrender demand because it reeks of the US nuclear bargain with Libya.

Gaddafi did not have nuclear weapons like North Korea, but he sealed his fate when he handed Libya’s uranium-enrichment centrifuge components and nuclear-weapons blueprints to the US.

At a time when even US allies are finding it difficult to rely on the unpredictable and capricious Trump administration, Kim’s strategy will likely seek to safeguard his nuclear “crown jewels” until a comprehensive peace and denuclearisation accord is reached — an agreement he wants with reciprocal obligations, including South Korea coming out of the US nuclear umbrella and the US, China and Russia committing neither to introduce nor threaten to use nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula. Such a complex accord can be implemented only in a lengthy process.

If no deal emerges next month, Trump could write a sequel to his 1987 book, The Art of the Deal, with the title, "The Art of Unmaking a Potential Deal.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Last updated: May 24, 2018 | 19:31
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