Cartoon by Tom Curry
Could Trump-Kim meeting be a model for relations with Iran?
By Omri Nahmias
The Jerusalem Post: US President Donald Trump’s recent meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un created some optimism around the globe.
And while Trump and Kim are not even close to reaching an agreement, many analysts agree that the positive relations between the two could help defuse tensions and help in improving stability in the Korean Peninsula.
But at the same time, on the other side of the globe, in a clear message to the US, the Iranians announced that their stockpiles of enriched uranium are now above the level that was set in the 2015 nuclear agreement.
The juxtaposed events beg the question: Could Trump use the “Kim model” to deal with Iran? For some time, the president has called for the Iranians to go back to the negotiating table to discuss a new nuclear agreement, but they refuse to do so.
What’s the difference between the two cases?
Howard Stoffer, associate professor at the National Security Department of the University of New Haven, told The Jerusalem Post that there is no resemblance between negotiating with Iran and negotiating with North Korea.
“It’s mixing apples and oranges because the circumstances are so fundamentally different,” he said.
“I think that one of the main differences is Ayatollah [Ali Khamenei] is 80 years old. Kim is 35,” he said. “Like [Kim’s] father and grandfather, he always wanted to meet the American president. He’s the first one to have achieved that.
“In the case of the ayatollah, he did authorize and allow an agreement with the United States under the Obama administration. And then Trump comes in and not only breaks the agreement but then imposes sanctions that are very much damaging their economy. And that’s a good thing because while I don’t agree with breaking the agreement, I think that they’d been spending billions of dollars in support of Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Quds forces in Syria.”
Stoffer, who served in the State Department from 1980 to 2005, was deputy executive director of the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate for seven years.
“I think it’s different cultures,” he told the Post. “You have a leader that believes that having a nuclear capability is an assurance that the Americans won’t attack. In the case of Iran, it’s different. They don’t have a nuclear capability. They’re willing to let people suffer because it’s a theocracy.”
He said he couldn’t see the Iranians coming back to the table.
“I don’t think that they would ever be willing after Trump turned his back on them to sit down with him,” Stoffer said. “Trump says: ‘I’ll talk to them anytime.’ Well, what will [come] out of that? That would make them look like they’re bending to Trump’s will. And I don’t think they’re willing to do that.”
Mike Doran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington who specializes in Middle East security issues, told the Post that while negotiations with Iran are possible, it’s not going to take place soon.
“I think the chance of that is small because I don’t think that the Iranians at this stage see an advantage to having a bilateral sit-down with Donald Trump. They might; I wouldn’t rule it out. Especially a few months from now, but right now, I think that their major play is to push the Europeans out to mediate and to get the Europeans to put pressure on Trump.”
He said the Iranians are now trying to save some of the components of the nuclear agreement.
“The number one priority of the Iranians right now is not to get a deal with Donald Trump in the broader sense. And it’s not even to get relief from the economic sanctions – punishing though they are. The immediate goal is to make sure that Donald Trump doesn’t touch the nuclear cooperation agreements that they have with third parties.”
He said the latest tensions with Tehran started after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision to revoke the waiver that allows Iran to export enriched uranium to Russia and heavy water to Oman. “These are seven such waivers that the United States had been issuing, and it revoked two of them,” said Doran.
“They have international agreements, partnerships, with Russia, China and the Europeans on each one of these major aspects of their nuclear program,” he said. “Those international partnerships are vital to them. It gives them international legitimacy against the maximum pressure campaign of Donald Trump, and that’s what they’re trying to save. They’re afraid that Trump is going to take those waivers away and then they’ll lose their international partnerships. These are the guardians of the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. That’s their number one goal. Sitting down with Trump means they have to negotiate with him across the board. That would look like a capitulation to them at this point.”
He added that another significant difference between the two cases is that Kim is trying “to keep doors open” by continuing to negotiate with the US, while the Iranians might feel it’s better for them to wait.
“Most of the Democrats are talking about returning to the JCPOA if they’re elected president. If you’re Ali Khamenei, and you’re watching American politics and all the Democrats are saying, ‘I’m going to go back [to the] JCPOA if I’m elected,’ then that means that Iran can get all of the sanctions lifted without making any concessions in that event,” he said.
“They’re not going to make major concessions to Donald Trump at this stage when they might get everything without negotiating. They’re going to try to limp along and pass the election and then see if he’s still in power. If he’s still in power, then they’ll likely sit down with them and try to come to some agreement.”