What Is Kim Jong-un’s Game? By Jean-Pierre Cabestan -NYTimes Opinion

Military, News

Mr. Cabestan is a China expert based in East Asia for more than two decades.

akim.jpgHONG KONG — The immediate causes of the recent diplomatic breakthrough on the Korean Peninsula are well known: stronger international sanctions against North Korea, approved by even China and Russia, and President Trump’s bellicose response to the recent intensification of nuclear and missile tests under Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader since 2011.

But a more fundamental driver is being overlooked: China’s growing ambition to dominate East Asia. Mr. Kim’s apparent move to reconcile with his South Korean counterpart, President Moon Jae-in, is above all a gambit to get closer to America to keep China in check. He hopes to reduce North Korea’s overarching economic dependence on China and curb Beijing’s aspirations to control the future of the Korean Peninsula. After another surprise meeting between Mr. Kim and President Xi Jinping of China on Tuesday, the second in two months, the Trump administration announced on Wednesday that North Korea would release three American prisoners.

The regime’s survival and security have long been the Kim family’s top priority, with political independence not far behind; those are the prime reasons it has sought to develop North Korea’s nuclear weapons and long-range missile capability. That purpose has also been served by political purges, notably the killing in late 2013 of Mr. Kim’s uncle Jang Song-thaek, who was suspected of entertaining especially close relations with China, and in early 2017 of Mr. Kim’s half brother Kim Jong-nam, another Beijing protégé and once an heir apparent to Kim Jong-il, the country’s previous leader and Mr. Kim’s father.

Now that these pressing existential objectives seem to have been satisfied, economic development has become the crux of the regime’s long-term stability. It is no coincidence, for example, that last month the Workers’ Party of Korea abruptly decided to abandon its well-established policy of byungjin — the simultaneous advancement of the country’s military, particularly its nuclear program, and its economy — to refocus entirely on economic development.

But how best to do that? With more than 90 percent of North Korea’s trade already dependent on China, moving even closer to Beijing would risk turning North Korea into an appendage or tributary state — a dream for some Chinese nationalists but the nightmare of almost every North Korean. Integrating with South Korea would undermine the primacy of the Kim family in the North. In theory, Russia could help reduce North Korea’s dependence on China for oil and gas, but little else. So Mr. Kim’s best option to boost the North Korean economy is to diversify its partnerships and open up to the West and Japan.

Moving the country closer to the United States and further from China is also sound strategy from a security point of view. China may not openly threaten North Korea’s independence, but its ambition to better control its near abroad — in Southeast Asia, around the South China Sea, through its One Belt, One Road initiative — can only breed serious suspicions in Pyongyang. (There seems to have been no talk of reactivating the old Sino-North Korean alliance or the two countries’ long-forgotten mutual defense treaty.) Mr. Kim’s overture to Mr. Trump to fend off China today is not unlike Mao’s reaching out to President Richard Nixon to hold back the Soviet threat in the early 1970s.

This development, however implausible or sudden it may seem, should come as no surprise, especially in a part of the world where state leaders tend to be realists in international affairs. And Mr. Kim may be the most realist of them all.

None of this is to say that China will soon be “sidelined,” as some have speculated. Beijing will always be part of the picture, and sometimes part of the problem. The point is simply that China’s neighbors are repositioning themselves as it becomes stronger and tries to establish hierarchical or clientelist relations with them. Some, like Cambodia and Laos, comply. Others, like Vietnam and Singapore, try to push back or at least rebalance. North Korea, too, must recalibrate and hedge.

It does so from a special posture, of course, because of its nuclear program and diplomatic isolation — and because of many remaining uncertainties about its intentions, including over a matter as fundamental as what it means by “denuclearization.” Still, Mr. Kim’s unexpected offer to meet President Trump and Mr. Trump’s quick acceptance suggest that both leaders see in this moment an opportunity for some measure of détente. About that much at least they are correct.

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Lifting sanctions, normalizing relations, starting to trade — these things may not materialize soon, or ever. But the strategic landscape on the Korean Peninsula already has changed, and it has changed in favor of America and its allies.

Mr. Kim’s two sudden and unannounced meetings with Mr. Xi recently are, more than anything, a remarkable diplomatic show, mainly designed to allow China to save face. During the five years that he has been in power, Mr. Xi has seemed to largely ignore Mr. Kim; he may now regret that approach. As China’s power has risen, America’s has declined, persuading North Korea to move closer to the United States and seek from it security guarantees.

Skeptics will doubt that North Korea, given its ideology, can really move in this direction; optimists may now see the reunification of the Korean Peninsula on the horizon. I think that North Korea’s one-party system will remain in place for a long while and that in the meantime the country’s human rights situation will continue to be dire. Nor will improved relations between the two Koreas, or even the conclusion of a peace treaty, lead to any kind of reunification. Any such thing would be suicidal for Pyongyang and too costly for Seoul.

Yet I also think that this moment is indeed a rare opportunity for both America and America’s allies to improve relations with North Korea — and work with it to establish a new balance of power in Northeast Asia that can offset China’s ambition to dominate the region and better serve the interests of the West.

This article has been updated to reflect news developments.

Jean-Pierre Cabestan is a professor and head of the department of government and international studies at Hong Kong Baptist Universit

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‘Defective at its core’: Trump withdraws U.S. from Iran nuclear deal, reimposes sanctions — Financial Post

News

West Texas Intermediate crude briefly pared losses as Trump announced his decision

U.S. President Donald Trump said the U.S. will withdraw from the landmark 2015 accord to curb Iran’s nuclear program and reinstate financial sanctions on the Islamic Republic, opening an uncertain new chapter for the Middle East.

His decision, widely anticipated by allies and analysts before his announcement Tuesday at the White House, was intended to force Iran to renegotiate an agreement the country’s leaders have said they will not revisit. Trump’s political opponents warned he could lead the U.S. into another Mideast war.

“The fact is this was a horrible one-sided deal that should have never ever been made,” Trump said. “We cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement. The Iran deal is defective at its core.”

West Texas Intermediate crude briefly pared losses as Trump announced his decision. The price for June deliveries of the commodity fell US$1.32 to US$69.41 a barrel at 2:28 p.m. in New York.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who personally lobbied Trump to remain in the deal during a state visit to Washington last month, said on Twitter that “France, Germany, and the UK regret the U.S. decision to leave the JCPOA,” using an acronym for the agreement.

“The nuclear non-proliferation regime is at stake,” he said.

Trump has long criticized the Iran deal, negotiated under his predecessor Barack Obama, as the “worst” ever. He has complained that it doesn’t address threats from the country’s ballistic missile program or its involvement in fomenting regional conflicts, and that provisions of the deal that expire in the next decade would allow Iran to resume nuclear work.

“If I allowed this deal to stand, there would soon be a nuclear arms race in the Middle East,” Trump said. “Everyone would want their weapons ready by the time Iran had theirs.”

He said that because of limits on international inspectors, they are “not able to prevent, detect or punish cheating” by Iran and “don’t have the unqualified right to inspect many important locations” including military bases.

U.S .President Donald Trump speaks to the press after signing a document reinstating sanctions against Iran after announcing the US withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear deal, in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., on May 8, 2018.
U.S .President Donald Trump speaks to the press after signing a document reinstating sanctions against Iran after announcing the US withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear deal, in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., on May 8, 2018.

Trump said in a tweet on Monday that he would announce his decision ahead of a May 12 deadline set by U.S. law to continue waiving U.S. sanctions lifted by the accord. The U.S. will be instituting the “highest level” of sanctions against Iran, Trump said.

The Treasury Department said in a statement that sanctions would be reinstated after “wind-down periods” of 90 or 180 days. Nuclear-related sanctions that had been waived under the deal would take full effect after Nov. 4, the department said.

Oil prices have climbed in recent weeks as uncertainty over the future of the agreement rose. A resumption of U.S. sanctions would threaten Iran’s ability to attract foreign investment, keeping the country’s output flat or lower through 2025, according to a research note published Monday by Barclays.

It is unclear what may unfold following the U.S. withdrawal. American and European diplomats have sought to negotiate side agreements aimed at addressing Trump’s concerns about the deal, and the delay in reinstating sanctions may allow those talks to continue — a prospect that Iran’s ally Russia, a party to the accord, raised ahead of Trump’s announcement.

Russia’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mikhail Ulyanov, said the Iran deal wouldn’t end immediately as a result of Trump’s action and “we will have a certain amount of time for diplomatic efforts,” according to the Interfax news service.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani suggested his country would continue to abide by the agreement, but that it was now between Iran and the five other signatories — not the U.S.

Last-Ditch Efforts

Diplomats engaged in the talks on side deals had signalled that they were close to a breakthrough, but key allies have been skeptical that Trump would remain part of the current pact, which curbs Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for relaxing Western financial sanctions. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel signalled after meeting with Trump last month that he seemed intent on quitting the agreement.

Ali Shamkhani, secretary general of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, was reported to say Tuesday that “if the U.S. initiates confrontation with Iran, we won’t stay passive.”If the nuclear agreement “gets destroyed due to the U.S. assault, for sure it won’t be to their benefit,” he said, adding that the “biggest loss will be for the Europeans.”

EU trade with Iran has nearly tripled since 2015.

Following the visits by Merkel and Macron, U.K. Foreign Minister Boris Johnson was in Washington this week to make a last-ditch argument to persuade Trump to remain in the accord, arguing that it is flawed but can be improved by the side agreements.

Johnson met this week with Vice President Mike Pence, National Security Adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other administration and congressional officials.

Trump foreshadowed his decision on Monday, complaining on Twitter about the Iran agreement and deriding former Secretary of State John Kerry for meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif two weeks ago at the United Nations to discuss salvaging the deal. “He was the one that created this MESS in the first place!” Trump said of Kerry.

Saturday Deadline

Under legislation passed by Congress, Trump has until Saturday to decide whether to keep waiving sanctions on banks of foreign countries that haven’t reduced Iranian oil imports, according to an analysis by the Congressional Research Service. Under that law, those sanctions have to be waived every 120 days.

Trump last agreed to waive the sanctions in January, but his frustration with the agreement has only grown since then. Declining to waive the restrictions again means an assessment of whether foreign countries are violating the sanctions would be due Nov. 8, according to the CRS study.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the 2015 accord is fatally flawed and must be “fully fixed or nixed” to stop Iranian aggression sooner rather than later. His comments came as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned that the U.S. would face “historic” regret if it pulled out.

Netanyahu’s Role

Netanyahu delivered a televised presentation last week on secret Iranian files his country’s intelligence services obtained that he said prove that Tehran sought to build a nuclear weapon in the past despite its government’s denials. Trump watched the presentation, and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement declaring that the Israeli intelligence proved “Iran has a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program.”

The White House later corrected the statement online to say Iran “had” a nuclear program, blaming a clerical error. Netanyahu did not claim that Iran currently has a nuclear program.

Members of Trump’s own party are split. Representative Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Sunday he “would counsel against” Trump quitting the accord. Representative Ed Royce, who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, agreed, saying in a statement Tuesday, “I fear a withdrawal would actually set back these efforts” to stop Iran’s nuclear activities.

But House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has said he’s “very comfortable” that the president is standing up to Iran.

Bloomberg.com

via ‘Defective at its core’: Trump withdraws U.S. from Iran nuclear deal, reimposes sanctions — Financial Post

Donald Trump: The U.S. Will Withdraw From the Iran Nuclear Deal — Fortune

News

Trump said he would also reinstate financial sanctions on the Islamic Republic

President Donald Trump said the U.S. will withdraw from the landmark 2015 accord to curb Iran’s nuclear program and that he would reinstate financial sanctions on the Islamic Republic, casting the Mideast into a new period of uncertainty.

“The fact is this was a horrible one-sided deal that should have never ever been made,” Trump said at the White House. “We cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement. The Iran deal is defective at its core.”

West Texas Intermediate crude fell as much as 4.4 percent after CNN reported that Trump was expected to allow sanctions to go forward on Iran but may not completely pull out of the accord. The commodity was down about 3 percent ahead of the announcement.

The president has long criticized the Iran deal, negotiated under his predecessor Barack Obama, as the “worst” ever. He has complained it doesn’t address threats from the country’s ballistic missile program or its involvement in regional conflicts, and that provisions of the deal that expire in the next decade would allow Iran to resume some nuclear work.

Trump said in a tweet on Monday that he would announce his decision at 2 p.m. Tuesday in Washington, ahead of a May 12 deadline set by U.S. law to continue waiving U.S. sanctions lifted by the accord.

Oil prices have climbed in recent weeks as uncertainty over the future of the agreement rose. A resumption of U.S. sanctions would threaten Iran’s ability to attract foreign investment, keeping the country’s output flat or lower through 2025, according to a research note published Monday by Barclays.

It is unclear what may unfold after Trump’s announcement. American and European diplomats have sought to negotiate side agreements aimed at addressing his concerns about the deal. Even the immediate reimposition of sanctions would take time to resolve, as there would be no accounting of violations before November, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Russia’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mikhail Ulyanov, said the Iran deal wouldn’t end immediately as a result of Trump’s action and “we will have a certain amount of time for diplomatic efforts,” according to the Interfax news service.

Last-Ditch Efforts

Diplomats engaged in the talks on side deals had signaled that they were close to a breakthrough, but key allies have been skeptical that Trump would remain part of the current pact, which curbs Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for relaxing Western financial sanctions. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel signaled after meeting with Trump last month that he seemed intent on quitting the agreement.

Ali Shamkhani, secretary general of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, was reported to say Tuesday that “if the U.S. initiates confrontation with Iran, we won’t stay passive.”If the nuclear agreement “gets destroyed due to the U.S. assault, for sure it won’t be to their benefit,” he said, adding that the “biggest loss will be for the Europeans.”

EU trade with Iran has nearly tripled since 2015.

Following the visits by Merkel and Macron, U.K. Foreign Minister Boris Johnson was in Washington this week to make a last-ditch argument to persuade Trump to remain in the accord, arguing that it is flawed but can be improved by the side agreements.

Johnson met this week with Vice President Mike Pence, National Security Adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other administration and congressional officials.

Trump foreshadowed his decision on Monday, complaining on Twitter about the Iran agreement and deriding former Secretary of State John Kerry for meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif two weeks ago at the United Nations to discuss salvaging the deal. “He was the one that created this MESS in the first place!” Trump said of Kerry.

Saturday Deadline

Under legislation passed by Congress, Trump has until Saturday to decide whether to keep waiving sanctions on banks of foreign countries that haven’t reduced Iranian oil imports, according to an analysis by the Congressional Research Service. Under that law, those sanctions have to be waived every 120 days.

Trump last agreed to waive the sanctions in January, but his frustration with the agreement has only grown since then. Declining to waive the restrictions again means an assessment of whether foreign countries are violating the sanctions would be due Nov. 8, according to the CRS study.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the 2015 accord is fatally flawed and must be “fully fixed or nixed” to stop Iranian aggression sooner rather than later. His comments came as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned that the U.S. would face “historic” regret if it pulled out.

Netanyahu’s Role

Netanyahu delivered a televised presentation last week on secret Iranian files his country’s intelligence services obtained that he said prove that Tehran sought to build a nuclear weapon in the past despite its government’s denials. Trump watched the presentation, and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement declaring that the Israeli intelligence proved “Iran has a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program.”

The White House later corrected the statement online to say Iran “had” a nuclear program, blaming a clerical error. Netanyahu did not claim that Iran currently has a nuclear program.

Members of Trump’s own party are split. Representative Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Sunday he “would counsel against” Trump quitting the accord. Representative Ed Royce, who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, agreed, saying in a statement Tuesday, “I fear a withdrawal would actually set back these efforts” to stop Iran’s nuclear activities.

But House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has said he’s “very comfortable” that the president is standing up to Iran.

via Donald Trump: The U.S. Will Withdraw From the Iran Nuclear Deal — Fortune

Iran’s economy since the nuclear accord came into effect

Middle East, News, Politics

— China, South Korea and Turkey remain Iran’s top three trading partners                        — Ordinary Iranians got almost no benefit from nuclear deal

 

The 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers – the US, Russia, China, the UK, France and Germany – lifted international sanctions on Iran’s economy, including those on oil, trade and banking sectors.

BBC News

By Amir Paivar

A shopper passes a food stall in Tehran's Grand Bazaar.AFP

The 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers – the US, Russia, China, the UK, France and Germany – lifted international sanctions on Iran’s economy, including those on oil, trade and banking sectors.

In exchange, Iran agreed to limit its nuclear activities.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to abandon the agreement and will make a decision on 12 May about whether to reintroduce sanctions from his country.

So, as that deadline draws nearer, Reality Check examines how Iran’s economy has fared since the nuclear accord came into effect.

Shoppers and carpet sellers stand next to carpets in Tehran's Grand Bazaar in Iran.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionCarpets for sale in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar.

How much have oil exports boosted Iran’s economy?

Iran’s economy was in a deep recession in the years before the nuclear agreement. But the International Monetary Fund reported that the real GDP of Iran grew 12.5% in the first year following the implementation of the deal.

Chart showing fluctuating economic growth in Iran

Growth has fallen since then, and the IMF estimates the economy will grow at 4% this year, which is healthy but below the 8% target Iran had for the five years following the deal.

That initial boost was almost all thanks to the hike in oil exports.

Sanctions on Iran’s energy sector halved the country’s oil exports, to around 1.1 million barrels per day in 2013. Now Iran exports almost 2.5 million barrels daily.

Close-up of a handful of pistachio nuts taken in Tehran in 2006.AFP

What about other famous Iranian exports, like pistachio nuts?

Iran’s non-oil exports in the year to March 2018 reached $47bn (£34.5bn) which is almost $5bn more than the year before the nuclear agreement.

According to Iran’s ministry of agriculture, the export of “signature items” such as pistachio nuts stood at $1.1bn in the same period, slightly lower than the previous year.

But Iran’s agricultural exports, including pistachios and saffron, are more affected by the country’s drought, rather than sanctions or trade relations.

Following the nuclear agreement, the US lifted a ban on Iranian luxury items such as carpets and caviar. Sanctions cut exports of Iranian carpets to the US – its biggest market – by 30% .

Iran’s trade with the European Union has increased significantly thanks to the lifting of sanctions but China, South Korea and Turkey remain Iran’s top three trading partners.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, with other US and Iranian officials, meeting in Austria on 16 January 2016. The day the International Economic Energy Agency verified whether Iran had met all conditions under the nuclear deal.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionUS Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Austria on the day international sanctions on Iran were lifted.

Did the nuclear deal stabilise Iran’s falling currency?

In 2012, the rial lost almost two-thirds of its value against the dollar because of sanctions and domestic mismanagement of the currency market. The sanctions limited Iran’s oil revenues and its access to the global banking system.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani promised the nation that following the nuclear deal “you will not see the exchange rate go up every hour”.

Mr Rouhani managed to deliver on that promise by keeping the Iranian currency stable for almost four years. But in late 2017, when President Trump refused to certify the nuclear deal to Congress, the rial started to fall again.

The rial has lost almost half of its value against the dollar since last September. Many Iranians have been buying hard foreign currency to hedge against the possible future collapse of the nuclear deal, the return of sanctions and a fresh currency crash.

It was reported that some $30bn of capital left Iran in the first quarter of 2018, mostly to neighbouring countries and the Caucasus.

The Iranian government has since launched a crackdown on the foreign exchange market, banning exchange offices from selling hard currency and introducing limits (at $12,000) on cash possession – all in a bid to rescue the rial.

Household budgets in Iran since 2005

Are ordinary Iranians richer because of the nuclear deal?

Analysis by BBC Persian of figures from the Central Bank of Iran shows that household budgets (the value of all the goods and services used by a household) have fallen in real terms from $14,800 in 2007-08 to $12,515 in 2016-17.

Household budgets declined steadily for seven years until 2014-15 when the nuclear deal was struck and increased slightly the following year.

The analysis also shows that Iran’s middle class has been hit the hardest in the past decade. While the average household budget has fallen 15%, the figure is 20% for middle-class families.

Experts blame a combination of domestic mismanagement of the economy and international sanctions for the fall in household budgets.

Most of the post-nuclear deal boom came from increased oil revenues that go directly into the government coffers and that takes time to trickle down into people’s pockets.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-43975498

EU Leaders Endorses Iran Nuclear Deal

international News, Middle East

The leaders of Britain, France and Germany reaffirmed their support for the current nuclear deal with Iran. The issue is due to come to a head, again, in May when President Trump decides whether to maintain the treaty.

The parties to the Iran nuclear deal sit around a large negotiating table at UN headquarters in New York in 2017.

The leaders of Britain France and Germany reaffirmed their support for the existing nuclear deal with Iran, which is “the best way of neutralizing the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran,” according to a statement released Sunday by the prime minister’s office in London.

Prime Minister Theresa May spoke by phone with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel over the weekend, and the three leaders agreed that the best way forward was to maintain the existing agreement, which was signed in 2015.

Watch video06:19

‘The Day’ Interview – Merkel heads to Washington

But US President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to scupper the deal and his next chance to do so would be in May. With an eye towards that, the European leaders also agreed to work towards achieving additional “important elements.”

“Our priority as an international community remained preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon,” said the statement from 10 Downing Street, referring to the three European leaders.

“They agreed that there were important elements that the deal does not cover but which we need to address — including ballistic missiles, what happens when the deal expires, and Iran’s destabilizing regional activity,” it continued.

Watch video01:57

European Parliament debates Iran nuclear deal

“They committed to continue working closely together and with the US on how to tackle the range of challenges that Iran poses — including those issues that a new deal might cover.”

A “four pillars” solution

The current deal, formally titled the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was signed by the previous US president, Barack Obama, after prolonged multi-party negotiations involving the five permanent members of the UN security council — the US, Britain, France, Russia, China — and Germany, the European Union and Iran.

Read moreUS pursues Iran sanctions

Both Merkel and Macron met with Trump in Washington this past week, seemingly working in tandem as they tried to persuade Trump to see the current deal as a stepping stone to a longer-term, broader accord, featuring a “four pillars” solution.

Watch video03:16

German ambassador warns against unraveling Iran deal

The first column is the current nuclear treaty with Iran. The others would target Tehran’s nuclear activities after 2025, when so-called sunset clauses kick in, enhance global leverage against Iran’s regional influence and try to curb its ballistic missile program.

US National Security Advisor John Bolton said on TV Sunday Trump had not yet made up his mind about whether or not to scrap the accord.

“He has made no decision on the nuclear deal, whether to stay in or get out,” Bolton told Fox News.

Read moreIran questions new nuclear demands

Macron speaks to Iran

Macron later spoke with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and agreed to work together to preserve the deal, according an Elysee statement.

They spoke for more than an hour, with Macron proposing the discussions be broadened to cover “three additional, indispensable subjects,” his office said.

It refered to Tehran’s ballistic missile programs, its nuclear activities beyond 2025 and “the main regional crises” in the Middle East.

aw,bik/rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

Here’s one thing North Korea can do to show it’s serious about de-nuking

international News, News, Politics

Here’s one thing North Korea can do to show it’s serious about de-nuking – By Jamie Tarabay, CNN 

People watch a TV screen showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's New Year's speech, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018.© Ahn Young-joon/AP Photo People watch a TV screen showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s speech, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018.

North Korea is “livening up the mood” with regards to its talk on denuclearization, but doing very little beyond that, say experts who’ve long watched the isolated regime wrestle with its nuclear ambitions and international censure.

And further, they say, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is positioning himself as an amenable leader open to negotiation as he readies for Friday’s summit with South Korea and a forthcoming historic meeting with US President Donald Trump.

On Saturday Kim Jong Un asserted that his regime no longer needed to test its weapons capabilities and that it would be abandoning a test site in the north that had been the location of several nuclear tests.

“It’s just propaganda, the statements have ambiguous meanings,” said Chang-Hoon Shin, senior research fellow with the Korea Institute for Maritime Strategy. He said the test site at Punggye-ri in North Hamyong province would more likely be shut down because of the environmental impact sustained to the mountains there. When North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test last September deep underground, the explosion created a magnitude 6.3 tremor.

“We can say the Punggye-ri site was of no use anymore, so I think North Korea can make use of that situation by declaring they will shut down past sites, but it doesn’t have any meaning,” Shin told CNN.

“It can liven up the mood and make it favorable for the talks, but I don’t think it’s enough because it’s not technically a move towards denuclearization at all.”

If North Korea was really serious, Shin said, it would re-apply to the Non-Proliferation Treaty or accede to international norms under the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. And there’s been no indication it wants to do that.

No ‘popping champagne bottles’ yet

The announcement has done little more than solidify prospects the Trump-Kim summit will go ahead, said Catherine Dill, a research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

“I think that this certainly improves the odds for a Trump-Kim summit actually occurring, but it may complicate the longer term picture,” Dill told CNN.

“A careful reading of the announcement shows that North Korea is walking a fine line in exactly what they are conceding at this point: an end to testing does not automatically result in the verifiable dismantlement of the nuclear and missile programs. Verification of testing alone would be quite complex, and the verification of dismantlement would take years of careful negotiation and implementation,” she said.

“I think that while this particular concession by North Korea appeals to Trump’s vanity, it has improved dramatically the prospects for the summit,” she added.

Abraham Denmark, director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center, agreed.

“This is posturing, it’s still not committing North Korea to anything. They actually committed to no testing before — as recently as 2012 — and that lasted about a week. So it’s a good thing, but I’m not popping any champagne bottles at this point,” he told CNN.

In 2012, the North Korean regime agreed to halt its nuclear testing in exchange for food aid from the United States, the so-called Leap Day agreement. But the deal fell apart after North Korea launched a rocket into orbit several months after the deal was signed. The North Koreans said the rocket was sending a satellite into orbit, but the US, South Korea and Japan claimed that was a cover for a long-range ballistic missile test.

Lack of concrete measures

If North Korea is so confident in its weapons capacity and wants to join the nuclear club, then it should abide by conventions adhered to by other nuclear states, Shin notes.

“In order not to be deceived by North Korea again, concrete measures and gestures must be shown by Pyongyang,” he told CNN. “Talking of denuclearization gives a certain illusion, but there must be certain measures like returning to the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency]. I argue that returning to those organizations are the minimum standard for verifying their real intention or will of denuclearizing.”

North Korea pulled out of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in January 2003, declaring at the time that it pledged to limit its nuclear activities to “peaceful purposes.” It had announced in 1993 that it would withdraw from the treaty then, but suspended decision to enter into talks with the US.

By choosing to focus on direct talks with the US, Shin says North Korea is bypassing the scrutiny and verification process it would have to accept under UN auspices.

“If you look at the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, the resolutions always ask North Korea to return to the IAEA and the NPT, so North Korea knows very well, it’s trying to avoid such situations, it wants to discuss denuclearization directly with the US rather than in the context of international norms,” Shin said.

“If North Korea can lift US sanctions first, then the UN sanctions aren’t as significant.”

A deal for a deal’s sake

The announcement follows diplomatic outreach including a visit by Kim to Beijing, his first foreign visit as leader, to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping. China has yet to comment on Saturday’s events.

Meanwhile, President Trump responded positively to the news out of Pyongyang, tweeting about it twice on Friday night. The news that North Korea was suspending its tests and closing down a site, he said, was “very good news for North Korea and the World – big progress! Look forward to our Summit.”

But at least one American ally in the region was circumspect.

“The only thing that is important is whether or not it will lead to the completely verified and irreversible abolition of nuclear and missiles,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters. “We would like to keep a close eye on it.”

His defense minister was even more direct, calling the announcement “insufficient.”

Speaking in Washington, DC, Itsunori Onodera told reporters that the move was “not satisfactory” for Japan “as the disposal of middle and short-range missile and of nuclear weapons was not mentioned.”

He added that Japan will continue its policy of “maximum pressure” until “North Korea gives up WMDs [weapons of mass destruction] and nuclear missiles completely.”

Japan’s fear is that in a bid to get a win, Trump will be satisfied with a commitment from North Korea that would abandon nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, but not press to include short and medium-range weapons that are able to target Japan.

“So far, White House officials have been saying that the US is not going to give anything until North Korea completely denuclearizes, it’s setting a very hard line on negotiations,” said Denmark.

“But as we’ve seen in the past the President doesn’t necessarily follow through on the advice of his people and so it’s impossible to know what’s going to happen when he gets in a room and sits down with Kim. Even if they come to an agreement, the president has demonstrated a penchant in his life of pulling out of agreements so sticking to an agreement is going to be very difficult,” he said.

MSN 

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