The USA-North Korea-Iran Strategic Interconnection
President Trump with Kim Jong-un by Dan Scavino Jr./Assistant to @POTUS (Public Domain) via Wikimedia
The geo-strategic ripple effects of the 2018 U.S. nuclear negotiation with North Korea and the 1994 U.S. nuclear Agreed Framework with Pyongyang have been closely scrutinized by Iran’s ayatollahs. Similarly, North Korea has studied the geo-strategic consequences of the 2015 U.S. led nuclear accord with the ayatollahs (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). The track record of the nuclear negotiations with the ayatollahs and North Korea verifies a clear and direct interconnection between the two processes. Moreover, the nuclear agreements with both the ayatollahs and North Korea were largely shaped by the State Department establishment, in general, and Wendy Sherman, the former Chief Negotiator and Acting Deputy Secretary of State, in particular. Furthermore, the overall conduct of both rogue regimes—as far as abandoning or advancing nuclearization, ending or expanding terrorism, subversion and ballistic capabilities—has been immensely impacted by the U.S. negotiation posture. Thus, the less assertive and more eager the U.S. is, and the more reluctant it is to use the military option, the less deterred and the more radicalized are Iran and North Korea. They consider concessions made by the U.S. and other Western democracies to be a sign of weakness, especially when the concessions are tangible and immediate—in return for future reciprocity—ignoring the tenuous, violent, unreliable, and lawless track record of the two rogue regimes. For example, according to the 1994 Agreed Framework and subsequent nuclear agreements (negotiated until 2001), North Korea was supposed to dismantle its nuclear program and to refrain from developing, testing, producing and selling ballistic missiles (hardware and technology), which exceed a 300-mile range. In defiance of those agreements, North Korea has dramatically enhanced its non-conventional capabilities, sharing some of its nuclear technologies with Iran and Syria. It led to the erection of a nuclear reactor in Syria, which was destroyed by Israel in 2007. On October 18, 1994, President Clinton stated: “…This agreement will help to achieve a longstanding and vital America objective: an end to the threat of nuclear proliferation on the Korean Peninsula. This agreement is good for the U.S., for our allies and for the safety of the entire world….” However, in 2006, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test. The U.S. response—in an attempt to salvage the nuclear (supposedly disarmament) accord—featured additional concessions, such as the removal of North Korea from the State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism. This further eroded the U.S. posture of deterrence, intensified Pyongyang’s intransigence and infuriated and undermined the national security of Japan and other allies of the U.S. Since the July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran Nuclear Agreement), the ayatollahs have radicalized and intensified their military involvement in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, as well as their subversive and terrorist operations, aiming to topple all pro-U.S. Arab regimes in the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula (primarily Saudi Arabia and Bahrain), Jordan and Egypt, as well as multitude of pro-Western regimes in Asia and Africa, and entrenching their anti-US presence in Latin America. Since July 2015, the Shia’ ayatollahs have escalated their subversive efforts to annex the Saudi-supported island of Bahrain, which they consider an Iranian province, where a 70% Shia’ majority is ruled by the Sunni House of Khalifa. In the process, Teheran has smuggled military systems to its terrorist network in Bahrain. Since July 2015, the ayatollahs have bolstered their military assistance to the anti-Saudi Houthi (mostly Shia’) rebels in Yemen. They consider Yemen—Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbor—a platform to launch missiles into Saudi Arabia, in an attempt to destabilize and topple the House of Saud. Simultaneously, the ayatollahs have expanded their incitement of—and subversive initiatives in—the oil-rich, Shia’-dominated regions of Al Hassa’ and Qatif in the eastern part of Saudi Arabia. Will President Trump avoid—or repeat—the critical errors committed by his predecessors in dealing with North Korea and the ayatollahs? Has President Trump recognized the well-documented rogue, unreliable, violent and lawless track record of the ayatollahs and North Korea, which requires a drastic and tangible transformation, ideologically and geo-strategically, domestically, regionally and globally? Does President Trump realize that bolstering the U.S. posture of deterrence—including a viable military option—is a critical prerequisite to a constructive agreement with rogue regimes? Has President Trump concluded that flawed agreements with rogue regimes are dramatically worse than no agreements? Is President Trump aware of the interconnection between agreements concluded with North Korea and the ayatollahs, on the one hand, and the global U.S. posture of deterrence and the homeland security and national security of the U.S. and its allies, on the other hand?
Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger is the director of The Ettinger Report: Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative