The much-anticipated summit meeting scheduled for mid-June between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore has been cancelled. The decision was made by President Trump following recent comments and actions by North Korea indicating that perhaps the North was not turning over a new leaf as many were hoping. Last week Pyongyang canceled scheduled talks with South Korea over joint US-South Korean military exercises going on in the South. Earlier this week, the first cracks became apparent. On Monday, North Korea made comments suggesting a nuclear showdown could occur if talks between the US and North Korea fail. Twenty-four hours later, Trump indicated there was a chance the planned summit might not take place at the planned time and place. Unknown to many outsiders, and journalists at the time, the president was making reference to North Korea’s failure to attend recent meetings in Singapore to work out planning for the summit. Then came Thursday’s cancellation with Trump citing North Korea’s ‘tremendous anger and open hostility’
What happens next is the great unknown. The cancellation took South Korea by complete surprise. South Korean President Moon Jae-in expended a lion’s share of political capital to make the US-North Korean summit a reality. In politics, of course, perception matters more than reality. Moon has to know his image will take a big hit as the fallout from the cancelled summit settles. Upon learning of Trump’s decision to call the meeting off, the South Korean government expressed complete surprise. Moon called an emergency meeting of his close advisers, and national security team to try and make sense of the US move.
The South Koreans are on the sidelines for the time being, however. The next step in this unfolding drama will depend on Pyongyang and how Kim chooses to respond.
The past few weeks have been a challenging period for Iran, both at home and abroad. The regime is facing a variety of obstacles and growing opposition to its policies, actions, and to its rule. This is not the first time that Iranian leaders have faced this sort of situation, however, the present geopolitical climate does not favor Iran. Unless Tehran moves swiftly and favorably on at least one front, the trend will not change.
Iran’s leadership is pinning its hopes on salvaging the Iran nuclear deal, believing that this will help reverse its fortunes of late. The future of the deal is very much up in the air at the moment. In spite of the European Union striving to keep the current deal alive, there’s no guarantee that anything substantial will stem from the effort. The US withdrawal from the deal has complicated matters for both Iran and the EU. Tehran has said it will live up to the terms of the nuclear deal if the EU is able to counteract US sanctions. A prime concern for Iran is that sanctions will have an adverse effect on its oil industry, and subsequently, on its economy as a whole.
With the US giving consideration to imposing new sanctions on Iran, a number of European companies are thinking hard about pulling back from Iran. This has led to claims by Iranian government officials over the weekend that the EU is clearly not doing enough to keep the nuclear deal alive. Next Friday, a meeting will be held in Vienna between representatives from Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia to discuss the future of the deal after the US withdrawal. According to Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, his nation will also be taking part in Friday’s talks.
Time is working against Iran at the moment. On Monday US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to lay out a potential US plan to force Iran back to the negotiating table. The plan will address not only Iran’s nuclear program, but its activity in other areas such as involvement in Syria, Yemen, and its escalating proxy war with Israel. If a US plan comes to fruition and gains traction, Iran’s options will narrow, forcing the regime to contend with the rising amount of international pressure in a less cooperative fashion.
With less than thirty days remaining until the US-North Korea summit is scheduled to take place in Singapore, the first signs of trouble have appeared. North Korea’s statement expressing ‘disappointment’ with National Security Adviser John Bolton’s remarks over the weekend suggesting that North Korea’s potential denuclearization could follow the ‘Libya Model.’ Considering that Muammar Gaddafi’s gave up his nation’s nuclear program only to be killed by Western-backed rebels a few years later, it is easy to see why the North Koreans are a little disturbed by Bolton’s words. It is no secret that the North has long been wary of Bolton and his hawkish views. Vice-Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan. even admitted in the statement that his country finds Bolton ‘repugnant.’
Frustration with Bolton is not the only matter irritating North Korea. Max Thunder, a joint ROKAF-USAF military exercise currently underway have apparently displeased Pyongyang enough for it to cancel high-level talks with South Korea that had been scheduled for today. KCIA, North Korea’s state-run media outlet has stated the exercise could prevent the 12 June summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un from taking place.
Washington is publicly projecting great confidence that the summit will take place. Behind the scenes, though, questions about North Korea’s candor regarding talks with the United States, and the eventual denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Tuesday’s statements and actions suggest Pyongyang might be embracing tactics of the past to project its unwillingness to discuss at length the subject of denuclearization with Trump at the summit. Bolton’s remarks likely appear to be a suitable justification for North Korea to try and shift the focus of the summit away from its nuclear weapons and the future of the program.
Gaza exploded in violence, and blood today when a protest by Palestinians turned into a mass attempt by thousands of people to cross the border fence separating Gaza from Israel. Israeli soldiers responded with tear gas, and rifle fire in an effort to prevent the Palestinians from entering Israel. Monday’s clashes and casualties have made it the bloodiest day in Gaza since the 2014 Gaza war. The death toll stands at 58 and is expected to rise, with over 1300 men, women, and children injured to one degree or another.
Israel defended its actions, claiming it opened fire to maintain control of its border, and to prevent Hamas from using the protest as a distraction to filter operatives across the border and launch attacks on the Israeli side. Israel, of course, has the right to defend its borders from outside aggression. Hamas is responsible for launching dozens of attacks against Israel throughout the years. The Islamist militant organization controls governance in Gaza, and has a major influence over the Palestinian authority. Hamas is also backed in large part by Iran, making the true motivation behind today’s protest suspect, given what has been happening between Iran and Israel in recent weeks.
Monday’s protest in Gaza was the latest in a series of demonstrations over the last seven weeks to protest Israel’s economic blockade against Gaza. Meanwhile, on the West Bank thousands of protesters came out to demonstrate against today’s formal opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. Relocating the US embassy to Jerusalem has caused a wave of anger from Palestinians, and many Arabs in the region.
Israel responded promptly to the Iranian rocket attacks against Israeli military positions in the Golan Heights with a series of counterstrikes that targeted the Iranian infrastructure inside of Syria. In what was Israel’s largest air operation in Syria since the Yom Kippur War, air and missile strikes were launched against a large number of Iranian targets in Syria. An IDF spokesman claimed 70 military targets were hit including Syrian air defense units after they fired on Israeli fighters.
The Iranian attack on Israeli forces in the Golan was likely launched as a response to Israeli airstrikes against Iranian bases in Syria over the last month. Israel claimed those actions were taken to stave off the growing Iranian military entrenchment there. The Syrian government’s chemical weapons attack in Douma and the resulting Western military response pushed the growing Israel-Iran confrontation into the shadows for a short time. Now the world is again paying close attention.
Russia, France, and Germany have called on Tehran and Tel Aviv to exercise restraint and caution. The United States condemned the Iranian rocket attack and laid the blame on Iran’s shoulders.
The events in Middle East over the past twenty-four hours have demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that Israel and Iran are approaching the brink of full-scale war. There is still time for both nations to take a step back and restore an uneasy peace. However, even they do, Israel and Iran will probably end up embroiled in a major conflict sooner or later.