Trump pulling out of the Iran deal may give Kim Jong Un a chance to drive an even harder bargain

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty ImagesUS President Donald Trump
  • President Donald Trump’s long-awaited decision to exit the Iran nuclear deal came on Tuesday.
  • Critics say the decision is likely to undercut upcoming talks with North Korea about its nuclear program.
  • But North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may see it as an opportunity to push his interests in those talks, according to Australia’s former prime minister.

President Donald Trump’s decision to exit the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, was long expected, but his announcement on Tuesday comes just a few weeks before Trump is set to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to discuss that country’s nuclear program.

Critics of Trump’s decision have warned that scrapping the accord, signed by Trump’s predecessor, former President Barack Obama, in 2015, would undercut negotiations with North Korea, signalling to Kim that the US is an unreliable partner.

According to Keven Rudd, Australia’s prime minister between 2007 and 2010 and for part of 2013, the regime is unlikely to be cowed by what appears to be erratic or aggressive moves by the US.

“I think the overall North Korean take, given that these people are very hardened, disciplined, experienced negotiators with Americans, going back over the three previous exercises in reaching a new agreement with the United States on the future of the North Korean nuclear program, is that Kim Jong Un will see this as negotiating opportunity,” Rudd said on Tuesday at the Asia Society in New York City, where the Lowy Institute’s Asia Power Index was released.

Kim’s success in arranging two summits with Chinese President Xi Jinping, a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and an upcoming meeting with Trump, “without having given anything away or put anything really on the table of substance, I think that’s someone who’s actually playing the game of poker reasonably well so far,” said Rudd, who is the inaugural president of the Asia Society’s Policy Institute.

“Given that that America has now decided to renege on the JCPOA and the Iranian nuclear deal, [Kim] will see this as an opportunity, I think, to drive an even harder bargain with the United States against the negotiating premise that the United States may not stick with its agreements,” Rudd added.

“I don’t think it frightens them at all, because if the North Korean regime is frightened, they would behave in many different ways,” Rudd said. “This is a tough, totalitarian regime. I think that’s point.”

‘The deal is not dead’

Numerous experts and US lawmakers have made similar warnings about the effect scrapping the deal could have on talks with North Korea. Recent polling has also found that a majority of Americans supported staying in the deal.

Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to North Korea from 2006 to 2009, said prior to Trump’s announcement that Kim would be paying attention. “The DPRK is watching,” he told Bloomberg. “If you walk away from a deal agreed to by your previous administration, it will set a bad example.”

“Why should Kim Jong Un take our word when we’ve just reneged on a major international agreement?” Robert Einhorn, a Brookings Institute nuclear-nonproliferation expert who helped formulate Obama administration policy on Iran’s nuclear program, told Business Insider in April.

“The logic is that if the US withdraws from one nuclear deal even though the other side is abiding by it, North Korea would be more hesitant to enter another nuclear deal,” Mark Fitzpatrick, executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ office in Washington, told Business Insider at the time.

Mike pompeo kim jong unTwitter/White HouseUS Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump has inveighed against the Iran nuclear deal since beginning his presidential campaign in 2015, and his decision to exit the deal comes despite “no credible indications” Iran has work on developing a nuclear weapon since 2009, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Iran nuclear is a multilateral pact, to which the US, Iran, China, Russia, the UK, France, and Germany are all signatories.

After Trump’s announcement, European officials said they would work to salvage the accord. “The deal is not dead,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said. “There’s an American withdrawal from the deal, but the deal is still there.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who signed the deal in 2015, said his country remained committed to the deal but was ready to restart uranium enrichment should it fall apart.

Trump also said on Tuesday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was headed to North Korea to finalise the details of his meeting with Kim. On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted that Pompeo was returning with “the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting,” likely referring to US citizens held by North Korea.

“Secretary Pompeo and his ‘guests’ will be landing at Andrews Air Force Base at 2:00 A.M. in the morning,” Trump said. “I will be there to greet them. Very exciting!”

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