What Iran tells us about the North

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What Iran tells us about the North


The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

When it was revealed that U.S. President Donald Trump called off a retaliatory strike on Iran for shooting down a U.S. drone 10 minutes before it was scheduled to begin, I met Barry Pavel, senior vice president of the Atlantic Council, at an event. Having been in charge of defense strategy at the National Security Council in the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, he said that the same pattern of alternating between military confrontation and rough verbal attacks before pursuing negotiations with Iran will appear, just as it had with North Korea. He predicted that negotiations would begin this fall or at end of the year. His reasoning was that Iran has far more complicated relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the European Union (EU) than North Korea, and Trump does not want another war.

While Trump appointed many defense industry insiders from Boeing and other companies, he also openly warned the risk of a military-industrial complex, which was raised in President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell speech in 1961. In an interview with Fox News on May 19, Trump said, “Well, I’m the one that talks about these wars that are 19 years, and people are just there, and don’t kid yourself, you do have a military-industrial complex. They do like war … I said I want to bring our troops back home. The place went crazy. You have people here in Washington, they never want to leave.” The Wall Street Journal reported that after deciding to halt the attack, he told a confidant, “These people want to push us into a war, and it’s so disgusting.”

Mainstream Republicans like Rep. Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, said that Trump should not follow the path of Obama, and claimed that he showed weakness against Iran. But Trump instinctively chose the other way in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. As Trump launched his reelection campaign in Orlando, Florida on June 18, he said he was “charting a path to stability and peace in the Middle East, because great nations do not want to fight endless wars.” The 20,000 people filling the stadium support Trump’s America First agenda of a strong economy and trade and anti-immigration policies, not the United States being the police of the world.

In his 90-minute speech, North Korea was not mentioned. It seems that the United States is not likely to pursue a third summit with North Korea without previous arrangements, as Trump would not take risk of going against his supporters. In response to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s letter to Trump, the president said he found something interesting — fortunately. But if the North Korea-U.S. diplomacy does not get back on track soon, North Korea could remain missing through the 16 months of the U.S. presidential election campaign.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 25, Page 29
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