Saturday 2 June, 2018 Brief Update: US-North Korea Summit Back On

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The summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un is on once again. Trump informed reporters of the reversal this afternoon at the White House. The date and location will remain unchanged: 12 June, 2018 in Singapore. Last week the president announced the cancelation of the highly anticipated summit after a number of openly hostile statements were made by North Korean government officials. Trump also cited the failure of Pyongyang to send a delegation to meet with US officials in Singapore to discuss logistical issues, and other pre-summit items as a reason for pulling the plug on the summit.

Almost immediately, a flurry of diplomatic activity broke out from Seoul to Washington. Diplomats, and leaders from around the world moved with startling speed to salvage the summit if at all possible. Not surprisingly, South Korea spearheaded the efforts. A planned meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae In and Kim Jong Un which had been cancelled previously, was held at the DMZ. China was also active, pressuring Pyongyang behind the scenes for a solution that would make the summit a reality. This week, the diplomatic focus shifted to the United States. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with a North Korean delegation in New York City on Thursday. This morning a personal letter from Kim was delivered to the White House and a few hours later, President Trump informed the world that the summit is back on.

If the summit plans remain unchanged from this point on, it will be time to start talking about what the chances are for a US-North Korea deal to be struck, and what a possible deal could look like.

I will post about those subjects next week. Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday 24 May, 2018 Update: Trump Cancels US-North Korea Summit Meeting

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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.

Sunday 20 May, 2018 Update: Iran, Sanctions, & Saving the Nuclear Deal

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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.

Wednesday 16 May, 2018 Update: North Korea Threatens to Back Out of June Summit

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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.

Tuesday 8 May, 2018 Update: Trump Pulls US Out of Iran Nuclear Deal

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President Trump announced earlier this afternoon that the United States intends to withdraw from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal. The move has been widely anticipated at home and abroad. Trump’s opposition to the plan is well known, and he is not the only current or former US politician who believes the Obama administration’s approval of the plan was a mistake. The president spent an inordinate amount of time listening to the arguments and opinions of the plan’s supporters and opponents before rendering his decision.

Trump views the 2015 deal as greatly favoring Iran. It places insubstantial limits on Iranian nuclear activity, and opens the door for Tehran to pursue a nuclear weapons program once key sections of the deal lapse. The deal also lifted the most stringent economic sanctions that had been previously imposed on Iran. Now that the US is withdrawing from the deal, some, or all of those sanctions can be imposed on Tehran again.

International reaction to Trump’s announcement came almost instantly and included no real surprises. Israel, predictably, is elated. France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have released statements voicing their regret on the US decision. Iran is livid, which hardly comes as a shock. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in a televised broadcast shortly after the US announcement, stated that he’s instructing Iran’s foreign minister to begin negotiations with the nations remaining in the deal. He also said the time remaining to negotiate is limited and Iran could begin “enriching uranium more than before.”