Withdrawing from the Iran Deal Sent the Right Message to North Korea

Defenders of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—as the nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic is formally known—have insisted that President Trump’s decision to withdraw has undermined Washington’s credibility when it comes to negotiations with Pyongyang. But they have it backward, argues Elliott Abrams, as demonstrated by the collapse and still-uncertain fate of the U.S.-North Korea summit:

Logic suggests that what Kim Jong-Un really wanted from the new administration was a JCPOA of his own. That is, he wanted a nuclear deal that was time-limited by sunset provisions, that permitted him to keep on developing better and better missiles, and that required only that he suspend his nuclear work for a short period of years. Such a deal would legitimize the North Korean nuclear program and Kim would see sanctions lifted and major economic benefits.

No wonder he wanted such a deal. . . . President Trump’s decision to exit the JCPOA was a critical prelude to the summit from the American point of view. Kim had to be fully disabused of the notion that such a deal was even remotely available. The best he could hope for was a step-by-step agreement, in which he was not required to end his nuclear program entirely on day one, and instead was rewarded for each serious step he took.

When the Libya example was mentioned [by members of the administration], I do not think Kim really believed that . . . American officials hoped to see him dragged through the streets and killed while his country underwent terrible violence and divisions, [as some commentators suggested, having in mind the fate of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011]. Rather, the “Libya model,” [a reference to Qaddafi’s dismantling of his nuclear program in 2003 and 2004], calls for complete denuclearization at the inception; it was not a long, step-by-step process. For Kim, that was bad enough. . . .

No one who has ever worked on North Korea negotiations could be surprised by what North Korea did [last week]. The surprise might be that U.S. policy was tougher and more realistic than it has been under the last several administrations.

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More about: Donald Trump, Iran nuclear program, North Korea, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy

By Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan, the U.S. Has Freed Israel from “Land for Peace”

March 25 2019

In the 52 years since Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria, there have been multiple efforts to negotiate their return in exchange for Damascus ending its continuous war against the Jewish state. Shmuel Rosner argues that, with his announcement on Thursday acknowledging the legitimacy of Jerusalem’s claim to the Golan, Donald Trump has finally decoupled territorial concessions from peacemaking:

[With] the takeover of much of Syria by Iran and its proxies, . . . Israel had no choice but to give up on the idea of withdrawing from the Golan Heights. But this reality involves a complete overhaul of the way the international community thinks not just about the Golan Heights but also about all of the lands Israel occupied in 1967. . . .

Withdrawal worked for Israel once, in 1979, when it signed a peace agreement with Egypt and left the Sinai Peninsula, which had also been occupied in 1967. But that also set a problematic precedent. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt insisted that Israel hand back the entire peninsula to the last inch. Israel decided that the reward was worth the price, as a major Arab country agreed to break with other Arab states and accept Israel’s legitimacy.

But there was a hidden, unanticipated cost: Israel’s adversaries, in future negotiations, would demand the same kind of compensation. The 1967 line—what Israel controlled before the war—became the starting point for all Arab countries, including Syria. It became a sacred formula, worshiped by the international community.

What President Trump is doing extends far beyond the ability of Israel to control the Golan Heights, to settle it, and to invest in it. The American president is setting the clock back to before the peace deal with Egypt, to a time when Israel could argue that the reward for peace is peace—not land. Syria, of course, is unlikely to accept this. At least not in the short term. But maybe someday, a Syrian leader will come along who doesn’t entertain the thought that Israel might agree to return to the pre-1967 line and who will accept a different formula for achieving peace.

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More about: Donald Trump, Golan Heights, Israel & Zionis, Peace Process, Sinai Peninsula, Syria