President Trump’s Strategy and Style Better for North Korea Than Iran

U.S. President Donald Trump announces his intention to withdraw from the JCPOA Iran nuclear agreement during a statement in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

North Korean diplomacy, even if it proves to be theater with no substance, sets the United States up in a stronger position and may yield a breakthrough.

In the case of North Korea, perhaps Trump’s boldness will pay off: taking a chance on peace is a good thing. If his strategy is successful, however, it will be because this boldness was combined with the desire to catalyze a diplomatic opening. This allows his national-security team to test the true intentions of Kim on total, verifiable denuclearization, a goal that remains an uphill battle.

Trump must remember that scrapping existing foreign policy can only be sparingly done. On North Korea, Trump worked with allies and major powers to engage in new diplomacy after seventy years of failure. But on Iran, Trump has done the opposite: He has undermined commitments with allies and major powers and walked away from diplomacy, with no path for applying sufficient leverage to strike a better bargain.

North Korean diplomacy, even if it proves to be theater with no substance, sets the United States up in a stronger position and may yield a breakthrough. If it fails, we can revert to pressure, deterrence and containment. Iran anti-diplomacy jeopardizes the finite power of the United States, both to manage the Iran threat and to mobilize a powerful international coalition. No amount of one person’s artful deal-making can salvage what is lost there.

Patrick M. Cronin is senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security; Sarah Donilon is the editor of the Yale Journal, The Politic, and currently interning at CNAS.

Image: U.S. President Donald Trump announces his intention to withdraw from the JCPOA Iran nuclear agreement during a statement in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst​

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