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Westlake Legal Group > kim jong un

Trump and Iran. What’s the plan?

On this site last November, our columnist Garvan Walshe wrote about the Iran-wide protests against the country’s ruling regime.  They were different from those of 2009, he said, because they were wider – and deeper.

Whereas those were largely confined to the middle class, these represented a “crisis of legitimacy” for Iran’s government, because “they take place, not against a hardline president whose agenda aligns with the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guards, but against a moderate, Hassan Rouhani, who has been unable to deliver the economic improvements he promised”.

The prescient Garvan also mentioned an under-reported figure within the regime – by way of describing a Shia militia, the al-Hashd al-Sha’bi, which operates in Iraq but are controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which operates under “their commander, Qasem Soleimani”.

Much of the domestic reaction to Soleimani’s assassination begins with the man who ordered it, Donald Trump.  But America may be the wrong place and its President the wrong person with which to begin considering it.  Intensified sanctions against Iran are biting hard.  Dissatisfaction with the ruling cliques – and the corruption in which Soleimani had a hand – is rife among the population.  Trump has abandoned Barack Obama’s nuclear deal.

A case can therefore be made for the killing of Soleimani as part of a coherent strategic plan.  This would be to cause chaos at the top of Iran’s ruling structure, the workings of which are deeply obscure, in the hope that the resulting confusion will further western strategic goals and help to collapse Iran’s terror-promoting regime.

As this re-election year begins in America, it is clear, looking back on the bulk of this President’s term, that much of the criticism of him is wide of the mark.  The bulk of the evidence suggests that he has a strategic foreign policy aim, namely to keep the United States out of wars abroad, or at least conflicts in which ground troops are committed.  Abroad, he acts through proxies, as against ISIS, or through massive displays of air power.

This combines with a deeply personal tendency to engage with what he sees as other strong leaders in pursuit of “the art of the deal”. His abandonment of the Kurds and engagement with Recep Tayyip Erdogan is an example.  The classic instance is his talks with Kim Jong-il of North Korea.

He engages when he judges that the United States has a sufficient interest in diplomacy.  Although he has not been gung-ho about confrontation with Iran – last June, he backed off an airstrike against Iran as “not proportionate”, and has said that he has “good feelings” about a successor deal to Obama’s – he seems to have concluded that there is no such or not sufficient negotiating interest in this case.

In sum, his take on Iran seems to be: hit it hard if absolutely necessary.  And his judgement was that it was necessary to strike at a regime that, very recently, has seized vessels in the Persian Gulf, attacked Saudi oil refineries, fired mortar against US forces in Iraq and assailed the country’s embassy in Baghad.

The President argues that Soleimani, a mass murderer, was planning further anti-American terror.  He would – because that covers the necessary legal base.  But the truth is that we do not know why the strike against Soleimani took place now.  Cynics claim that it is nicely timed for America’s electoral cycle and to distract attention from the impeachment imbroglio.  But it isn’t obvious that the killing will win supporters who don’t back the President already.

All this suggests that Trump did not act order to help collapse the Iranian regime – but, rather, to assert American power against a government with which he thinks he cannot strike a deal.  His critics will rage, but it is not clear that his impulsive approach has been less effective overall than George W.Bush’s activism or Obama’s passivity.

Nor can he fairly be accused of starting a conflict with Iran: that is raging already.  But the question is whether his caution last June was more or less sensible than his commitment now.  Iran has a long record of what the wonks like to call asymmetric response.  In other words: proxy actions, suicide bombs, IEDs, kidnappings, assasinations, attacks on embassies, civilians and military personnel.

The Middle East is rich with American targets.  Or Iran may look to the United States itself.  Then there are that country’s allies to consider – including the “Little Satan”, Britain itself.  What is Trump’s plan if Iran hits back?  Or if Soleimani’s killing solidifies rather than dissipates support for the regime? What happens in Iraq?

On Tuesday, Parliament resumes, and it will fall to Dominic Raab (presumably) to state the Government’s view at length.  Jeremy Corbyn will do all but openly support Iran, which will be par for the course.  Labour’s leadership contenders will be up and about doing much the same, in order to drum up support among the membership for the coming leadership election.

To date, the Foreign Secretary has not said all that much.  “We have always recognised the aggressive threat posed by the Iranian Quds force led by Qasem Soleimani. Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is in none of our interests,” he tweeted on Friday.

We may be leaving the EU at the end of January, but British solidarity with its position on Iran continues.  How does Boris Johnson plan to deal with Trump if the conflict between America and Iran intensifies – particularly if Britain is dragged into it?  The regime will not have forgotten the business of the Prime Minister’s blunder over Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

He will want to stick to his diplomatic position on Iran while not fouling up any trade deal with America.  So far, the President seems to have taken Johnson’s alignment with France and Germany well.  It may be that he won’t mind having the Prime Minister as a “candid friend”.

But if Johnson decides that his best course for now is to say as little as possible and seek to change the subject, that will be understandable.  As we write, Downing Street might well be sifting through the bodies of a few dead cats to sling on the Cabinet table – and out to the media.  Time perhaps for another incendiary blog from Dominic Cummings.  Trump has decided to hit Iran very hard and no-one knows what will happen next.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Trump Bet He Could Isolate Iran and Charm North Korea. It’s Not That Easy.

Westlake Legal Group 01dc-ASSESS-2-facebookJumbo Trump Bet He Could Isolate Iran and Charm North Korea. It’s Not That Easy. United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Rouhani, Hassan Nuclear Weapons North Korea Kim Jong-un Iran Diplomatic Service, Embassies and Consulates Arms Control and Limitation and Disarmament

President Trump entered the new year facing flare-ups of long-burning crises with two old adversaries — Iran and North Korea — which are directly challenging his claim to have reasserted American power around the world.

While the Iranian-backed attack on the United States Embassy in Baghdad seemed to be under control, it played to Mr. Trump’s longtime worry that American diplomats and troops in the Middle East are easy targets — and his longtime stance that the United States must pull back from the region.

In North Korea, Kim Jong-un’s declaration on Wednesday that the world would “witness a new strategic weapon” seemed to be the end of an 18-month experiment in which Mr. Trump believed his force of personality — and vague promises of economic development — would wipe away a problem that plagued the last twelve of his predecessors.

The timing of these new challenges is critical: Both the Iranians and the North Koreans seem to sense the vulnerability of a president under impeachment and facing re-election, even if they are often clumsy as they try to play those events to their advantage.

The protests in Iraq calmed on Wednesday, at least for now, and Mr. Kim has not yet lit off his latest “strategic weapon.” But the events of recent days have underscored how much bluster was behind Mr. Trump’s boast a year ago that Iran was “a very different nation” since he had broken its economy, and belied his famous tweet: “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”

Today the most generous thing one could say about those statements is that they were wildly premature. Many foreign policy experts say he fundamentally misjudged the reactions of two major American adversaries. And neither seem to fear him — precisely the critique he leveled at Barack Obama back in the days when Mr. Trump declared America’s toughest national security challenges could be solved as soon as a president the world respected was in office.

The core problem may have been Mr. Trump’s conviction that economic incentives alone — choking off oil revenues in Tehran and the prospect of investment and glorious beach-front hotels in North Korea — would overcome all other national interests. He dismissed the depth of the Iran’s determination to re-establish itself as the most powerful force in the region, and Mr. Kim’s conviction that its nuclear arsenal is its only insurance policy to buoy one of the last family-controlled Stalinist regimes.

“After three years of no international crises,” Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on Tuesday, Mr. Trump is “facing one with Iran because he has rejected diplomacy and another with North Korea because he has asked too much of diplomacy.”

“In neither case has Trump embraced traditional diplomacy, putting forward a partial or interim pact in which a degree of restraint would be met with a degree of sanctions relief.”

Mr. Trump does not engage with such arguments, simply repeating his mantra that Iran will never be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons and that North Korea — which already has fuel for upward of 40, much of it produced on Mr. Trump’s watch — has committed to full denuclearization, even though that overstates Mr. Kim’s position.

His top national security officials, starting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, offer a somewhat more nuanced view, saying that over time Iran will realize it has no choice but to change its ways, and expressing optimism that “Chairman Kim will make the right decision and he’ll choose peace and prosperity over conflict and war.”

Increasingly, though, such lines sound like a hope, not a strategy. And that is Mr. Trump’s fundamental problem as he enters 2020: His diplomacy has not produced a comprehensive plan to gather the nation’s estranged allies into a concerted course of action.

The absence of a common approach is hurting the most in Iran. When Mr. Trump abandoned the 2015 nuclear deal — declaring it a “terrible” piece of Obama-era diplomacy because it did not create permanent restraints on Iran’s ability to produce nuclear fuel — his aides sounded confident that the Europeans, China and Russia would follow suit. They did not.

Europe has flailed in its efforts to counteract American sanctions against Iran, but has insisted that the deal remains in place, even though both Washington and Tehran are violating key aspects of it. Russia and China have taken the next step: Last week they opened joint naval exercises with Iran in the Gulf of Oman. The exercises were not militarily significant, and the three nations have plenty of differences. But to the Iranians, they symbolized having two nuclear-armed superpowers on their side.

Vice Admiral Gholamreza Tahani, a deputy commander for the Iranian navy, was quoted in the Financial Times declaring that “The most important achievement of these drills” was the message “that the Islamic Republic of Iran cannot be isolated.”

It is possible the Trump administration’s strategy will still bear fruit: Mr. Pompeo was doing everything he could in recent weeks to express support for Iranians who were mounting protests inside their own country. But the history of past protests — most notably in 2009 — offer little hope that they can threaten the government. Hundreds of protesters appear to have been killed by internal security forces this time.

Meanwhile, the Iranians have a fine sense that “maximum pressure” campaigns work in both directions. They are vulnerable to cutoffs in oil flows. But the United States is vulnerable to highly public attacks on troops and tankers. And the attack on the outer walls of the American embassy in Baghdad, even if short-lived, was clearly designed to send a shiver down the spine of Mr. Trump’s political aides, who remember well that a hostage crisis led to President Jimmy Carter’s re-election defeat forty years ago.

Mounting a strike and pulling back is a familiar technique from Iran in recent months, including its attacks on oil tankers, an American drone and Saudi oil facilities.

The Iranians have made clear what Mr. Trump needs to do to reopen negotiations: Essentially, return to the deal struck with Mr. Obama, largely by lifting sanctions Mr. Trump imposed starting in May 2018. There are signs Mr. Trump is eager to resume talks, including his effort to lure President Hassan Rouhani to the phone when the Iranian leader was in New York in September for United Nations meetings.

That diplomatic initiative will doubtless continue in secret. But the Iranians have found new leverage: the ability to turn anti-Iran protests in Iraq into protests against American troops there, complete with Iran’s signature “Death to America” street chants.

Mr. Trump returned to a well-known stance on Tuesday, emphasizing that he did not want a war but also warning Iran that if it started one, any conflict “wouldn’t last very long.”

North Korea is a harder problem because there Mr. Trump had a diplomatic process underway, one that was both bold and imaginative. By breaking the mold and agreeing to meet the North Korean leader face to face, the first for an American president since the end of the Korean War, he had the makings of a breakthrough.

But he made key mistakes. He failed to get a nuclear freeze agreement from the North in return for the meeting, meaning that the country’s nuclear and missile production churned along while the two old adversaries returned to their old stances.

And Mr. Trump’s team, internally divided, could not back itself out of the corner the president initially put them with his vow for no serious sanctions relief until the arsenal was disbanded. Mr. Trump did cancel joint military exercises with South Korea — over Pentagon objections — but that was not enough for Mr. Kim.

But perhaps Mr. Trump’s biggest miscalculation was over-relying on the personal rapport he built with Mr. Kim, and overinterpreting the commitments he received from the young, wily North Korean leader.

That continues. On his way to a New Year’s party at his Mar-a-Lago club on Tuesday night, the president focused on their relationship, as if Mr. Kim’s declaration that he was no longer bound by any commitment to cease missile and nuclear testing didn’t exist. “He likes me, I like him, we get along,” Mr. Trump said. “He’s representing his country, I’m representing my country. We have to do what we have to do.”

Then he misrepresented the agreement in Singapore, describing it as if it were a real-estate deal. “But he did sign a contract,” he said of the vague declaration of principles reached in Singapore in June 2018. In fact, it was not a contract, it had no binding force, and it referred to the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” That phrase means something very different in Pyongyang than it does in Washington: It means the North expects the United States to pull back its own nuclear-backed forces, including submarines and ships that can deliver such weapons to the peninsula.

So now Mr. Trump finds himself in roughly the same place his predecessors did: Awaiting a new missile test. It may be a solid-fuel, intercontinental missile, according to some experts like Vipin Narang, a nuclear expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to show that the North has finally mastered a weapon that can be rolled out and launched with little warning. And it may carry some kind of payload to demonstrate that the country now knows how to make a warhead that can withstand re-entry into the atmosphere, a difficult technology.

But buried in Mr. Kim’s New Years statement was a suggestion of what he really had in mind: talks with the United States about the “scope and depth” of the North’s nuclear force. That means he really isn’t interested in denuclearization at all. He’s interested in arms-control talks, like the United States conducted for decades with the Soviet Union, and then Russia. And arms control, of course, would achieve what Mr. Kim, his father and his grandfather all sought: that insurance policy for the family.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

What Kim Jong-un’s Latest Threats Say About His Trump Strategy

Westlake Legal Group 01northkorea1-facebookJumbo What Kim Jong-un’s Latest Threats Say About His Trump Strategy United States International Relations United Nations Trump, Donald J Politics and Government Nuclear Weapons Nuclear Tests North Korea Kim Jong-un Embargoes and Sanctions

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has long threatened to “find a new way” if the United States persists with sanctions. And when North Korea announced his “revolutionary” new way on Wednesday, the strategy revealed both a defiance and a deep caution in confronting President Trump.

Mr. Kim vowed, in a lengthy policy statement, to expand his country’s nuclear force, making vague threats to show off a “new strategic weapon” in the near future​ and “shift to a shocking actual action.” He warned that North Korea would not be bound by a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range ballistic missile tests.

But he also moderated those threats by leaving out the specifics. Mr. Kim did not explicitly say that he was formally lifting the test moratorium or that he was terminating diplomacy. Instead, he said his efforts to expand his nuclear weapons capabilities could be adjusted “depending on the U.S. future attitude.”

It’s a wait-and-see approach that leaves room for more negotiations.

Analysts say that Mr. Kim is making a calculation against the backdrop of the political uncertainty in the United States, where Mr. Trump faces both a Senate impeachment trial and an election. The North Korean leader, they said, doesn’t necessarily want to rush to strike a deal that could be overturned if Mr. Trump does not win a second term.

“Kim Jong-un continues to hedge his bets,” said Jean H. Lee, a North Korea expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. “I think we’ll see Kim continue to find ways to provoke Washington as a way to gain the upper hand in future nuclear negotiations without directly challenging President Trump.​”

As he waits, Mr. Kim can continue to play the role of tough guy, increasing the stakes in his nuclear brinkmanship. North Korea can expand its nuclear arsenal, produce more bomb fuel, build more nuclear warheads and improve its missile capabilities.

Less predictable is whether or when Mr. Kim might deliver an infuriating message to Mr. Trump by testing a nuclear weapon or intercontinental ballistic missile.

Such a test could precipitate another “fire and fury” response from Mr. Trump. When Mr. Kim last conducted such tests, in 2017, Mr. Trump threatened to “totally destroy North Korea,” inciting fears of possible war.

Tensions eased after North Korea declared a test moratorium in April 2018. And after Mr. Trump met with Mr. Kim in Singapore later that year, the president said the two “fell in love.”

That moratorium remains the best outcome Mr. Trump can cite from his on-and-off diplomacy with Mr. Kim — one that the North Korean leader may be wary of yanking away too soon.

By treading carefully, Pyongyang also avoids more economic pain. Launching a long-range missile would set off another round of United Nations sanctions, and such tests could also provoke China and Russia at a time when Mr. Kim strongly needs their help to blunt the pain of current internationals measures.

Those sanctions required China, Russia and other countries to send North Korean workers home by late last month, depriving Mr. Kim’s government of a key source of hard currency. North Korea also increasingly depends on Chinese tourists as an alternative source of income, and Mr. Kim has recently built a number of tourist zones to attract them.

In his policy report this week, Mr. Kim acknowledged that his country’s efforts at economic reform faced “grave problems” and were “not making visible progress,” according to the state news media. He also reported “evil practices and stagnation” in key industries and criticized his economic officials for “merely shouting the slogan of self-reliance” while lacking leadership and “responsibility” to revamp the economy.

(The North’s state-run news agency watered down Mr. Kim’s criticism in its English version of the report, indicating that it was mostly for domestic consumption.)

Mr. Kim also indicated that he was preparing for a “protracted” standoff with Washington, exhorting North Koreans to accept it as “a fait accompli that we have to live under the sanctions.” After 18 months of faltering diplomacy, he said he was convinced that his country should stick to “self-reliance” rather than embracing the “brilliant transformation” of its economy that Mr. Trump promised if Pyongyang abandoned its nuclear weapons.

Mr. Kim also called on his people “never to barter the security and dignity” that the North’s nuclear deterrent provided, “even though we tighten our belts.”

With that, he was essentially admitting that his previous approach with Washington has failed.

In 2012, in his first public speech as the country’s leader, Mr. Kim had promised that North Koreans would “never have to tighten their belts again.” When he convened the party’s Central Committee the following year, he declared the parallel pursuit of economic growth and a nuclear arsenal. And in an April 2018 committee meeting, Mr. Kim said that he had completed his nuclear force and could therefore now halt nuclear and ICBM tests and focus entirely on economic growth.

Mr. Kim met Mr. Trump in Singapore two months later. But talks between the two broke down last February in Vietnam, and the two leaders failed to reach a denuclearization deal. Mr. Kim returned home empty-handed, without the sanctions relief that his country badly needed to achieve economic growth.

That stasis led to the deadline set by Mr. Kim, who warned that the United States had until the end of 2019 to offer concessions. Pyongyang promised a “Christmas gift” if Washington didn’t make progress on lifting sanctions, making an implicit threat that North Korea might return to its old ways and end the self-imposed moratorium.

But the deadline also showed how desperately Mr. Kim wanted economic relief. By shifting to a harder line, Mr. Kim was juggling an increasingly tricky balancing act.

“​Kim’s long buildup to his New Year message has inadvertently made North Korea look constrained,” said Prof. Leif-Eric Easley at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. “He tries to use China and Russia for financial benefit, but doesn’t want to appear dependent or beholden. He pushes his military engineers to develop more sophisticated weapons, but has to consider the risks of tests failing. He wants to increase diplomatic pressure on South Korea and the United States, but knows a major provocation is likely to bring more sanctions upon his regime.”

On New Year’s Day, Mr. Kim did not face his people with a nationally televised speech as he had done in previous years. Instead, the state news media carried his policy statement, which came after a four-day meeting of the Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, North Korea’s highest decision-making body.

Mr. Kim’s new guidelines meant that “North Korea will give up denuclearization talks with the United States, accept a prolonged standoff and sanctions as reality, and strengthen its self-empowerment, including its nuclear and missile capabilities,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst at South Korea’s Sejong Institute.

And Mr. Kim does appear to be giving the hard-line military a more prominent role in his government, even if it is unclear when and whether he will test an ICBM.

North Korea’s state news media recently reported that he was expediting the development of new weapons technologies, such as solid-fuel missiles that are harder to intercept and a new submarine-launched ballistic missile.

“We should expect that elements of the regime favor tests of several new systems, which likely include new solid-fuel and intercontinental-range missiles, as well as new warhead designs,” said Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington.

“As talks stalled,” Mr. Mount said, “these elements will have steadily gained in influence.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

North Korea Is No Longer Bound by Nuclear Test Moratorium, Kim Says

Westlake Legal Group 00nkorea-icbm-hfo-facebookJumbo North Korea Is No Longer Bound by Nuclear Test Moratorium, Kim Says United States International Relations United States Trump, Donald J Nuclear Weapons Nuclear Tests North Korea Missiles and Missile Defense Systems Kim Jong-un Embargoes and Sanctions Arms Control and Limitation and Disarmament

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, ​said his country no longer felt bound by its self-imposed moratorium on testing nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles, its official media reported on Wednesday, the strongest indication yet that the country could soon resume such tests.

Mr. Kim also said the world would witness a new strategic weapon “in the near future,” according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, though no details were provided.

North Korea has not conducted a long-range missile test or a nuclear test in more than two years. Mr. Kim had announced his moratorium at a time when he hoped negotiations with the United States — and his budding personal relationship with President Trump — would prompt the United States to begin lifting crippling sanctions.

Mr. Trump, who has met Mr. Kim three times, has often cited the North’s restraint as a major diplomatic achievement.

The North had set a Dec. 31 deadline for the United States to make at least some concessions, complaining that its 18 months of diplomacy with Mr. Trump had yielded limited results. And for weeks, American officials feared Mr. Kim might test an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, to make his point.

During the party meeting on Tuesday, Mr. Kim said his country “will shift to a shocking actual action to make” the United States “pay for the pains sustained by our people,” the North Korean news agency said.

Mr. Kim was expected to make his annual New Year’s address within hours, and it remained unclear if a test was imminent. It is possible that Mr. Kim’s announcement on Wednesday is, by itself, the warning shot he wants to send to prod Mr. Trump, on the eve of a presidential election year, to begin lifting sanctions.

Mr. Kim, who had hoped to shift his focus to finally reviving his country’s economy, has been growing frustrated in recent months as his negotiations on denuclearization with the Trump administration have stalled.

He made the latest remarks about the moratorium on Tuesday, the last day of a four-day meeting of the Workers’ Party Central Committee, the North’s highest decision-making body. The remarks threatened a major shift in North Korean policy.

He stressed that North Korea “should more actively push forward the project for developing strategic weapons​” now that Washington’s “gangster-like acts” have stymied economic growth.

The unprecedented rapprochement between the United States and North Korea began nearly two years ago, after months of nuclear and ICBM tests and threats from both sides. Two months after Mr. Kim announced his moratorium — saying he had now completed his nuclear force — the two leaders met in Singapore in June 2018 in the first summit meeting between the two countries.

The summit ended with a commitment to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” but the pledge was never understood the same way by the two sides. The administration insisted that meant Mr. Kim would give up his nuclear weapons, his stockpile of fissile material and his missiles, but the North argued that it also meant the United States would withdraw troops and offshore ships and submarines that could launch nuclear weapons.

Subsequent negotiations have failed to close the gap.

On Tuesday, Mr. Kim addressed denuclearization saying, “If the U.S. persists in its hostile policy toward the D.P.R.K., there will never be denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula,” using the initials for the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “The scope and depth of bolstering our deterrent will be properly coordinated depending on the U.S. future attitude to the D.P.R.K.”

That remark, and Mr. Kim’s reluctance to clarify when North Korea would officially resume testing, indicated that he might still be open to further negotiations with Washington.

While the North has demonstrated that its fleet of missiles could likely reach parts of the United States, the country still has not shown it could design a nuclear warhead that would survive the heat and huge forces that come with re-entry of a warhead into the atmosphere.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday night that the Trump administration continued to hope that Mr. Kim would “take a different course.”

“President Trump came into office with the threat of war from North Korea real, and a true concern for the American people. He took a tack — we said we can deliver a better outcome for the people of North Korea,” Mr. Pompeo said in an interview with Fox News.

“We’re hopeful that Chairman Kim will make the right decision, and he’ll choose peace and prosperity over conflict and war,” he added.

Washington had dismissed the Dec. 31 deadline imposed by the North as “artificial,” urging Pyongyang to maintain a dialogue and not revert to the provocations that had raised fears of war on the Korean Peninsula two years ago.

Since taking over his country following the death of his father and predecessor, Kim Jong-il, in 2011, Mr. Kim has accelerated his country’s nuclear weapons and missile programs. North Korea has conducted the last four of its six underground nuclear tests under Mr. Kim. It flight-tested three intercontinental ballistic missile tests in 2017.

As his diplomacy with Mr. Trump has failed to bring about the benefits he had sought, especially the lifting or easing of sanctions, Mr. Kim has sounded increasingly impatient. North Korea broke an 18-month hiatus in weapons tests in May, launching 27 mostly short-range ballistic missiles and rocket since then and warning of more provocative tests to come. In December, it conducted two ground tests at its missile-engine test site to bolster what it called its “nuclear deterrent.”

At the same time, Mr. Kim has exhorted his people not to expect any immediate easing of sanctions and to brace for a prolonged struggle against the Americans by building a “self-reliant” economy.

David E. Sanger contributed reporting.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Trump Complains About Impeachment After Christmas Eve Message to Troops

Westlake Legal Group 24dc-trump-sub-facebookJumbo Trump Complains About Impeachment After Christmas Eve Message to Troops Xi Jinping Trump, Melania Trump, Donald J Schumer, Charles E Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates McConnell, Mitch Kim Jong-un impeachment

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Trump spent Christmas Eve morning complaining that Democrats had treated him unfairly during the impeachment inquiry and insisting that Republican leaders in the Senate should run a trial however they see fit.

“It’s up to Mitch McConnell, and we have the majority and now they want McConnell to do wonderful things for them,” Mr. Trump said of Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, during remarks to reporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate. “I mean he’s going to do what he wants to do.”

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are locked in a dispute over the procedures that will govern a Senate impeachment trial, with Democrats insisting that it must include testimony from witnesses, a decision that Mr. McConnell and other Republicans say is premature.

Mr. Trump has said in the past that he is eager for Republicans to mount a robust defense of his actions during a trial that would include witnesses. But his Republican allies in the Senate have expressed misgivings about creating a circuslike trial. In his remarks on Tuesday, Mr. Trump appeared willing to accept whatever Mr. McConnell decided.

“He’s very smart guy, a very good guy, a very fair guy,” Mr. Trump said. He criticized Democrats for trying to influence the Senate process, saying that “they treated us very unfairly, and now they want fairness in the Senate.”

Mr. Trump lashed out at Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying that she “hates all of the people who voted for me and the Republican Party.” And he attacked Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who ran the impeachment investigation, as “a sick, corrupt politician.”

A spokesman for Ms. Pelosi called the president’s comments “projection.” The speaker said Monday on Twitter that the House could not take the final steps to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate until senators decided how the trial would be conducted, including a decision about whether witnesses would be called.

“President Trump blocked his own witnesses and documents from the House, and from the American people, on phony complaints about the House process,” Ms. Pelosi tweeted. “What is his excuse now?”

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said on Monday: “We say to President Trump, if you are so confident that you did nothing wrong, then why won’t you let your men testify? If you did nothing wrong, Mr. President, why do you seem so eager to avoid the truth, to hide the truth?”

Mr. Schumer also demanded more internal administration documents ahead of an impeachment trial, calling newly released emails showing that military aid to Ukraine was suspended 90 minutes after Mr. Trump demanded “a favor” from Ukraine’s president “explosive.”

The president’s comments to reporters on Tuesday morning came after praising troops during a video call to five military units deployed at bases around the world. He wished them a Merry Christmas and said that he hoped that “every member of our military will feel the overwhelming gratitude of our nation.”

One soldier asked the president about the cameo appearance he made in the movie “Home Alone 2.” Mr. Trump called it “a big Christmas hit — one of the biggest.”

“It’s an honor to be involved in something like that,” he added.

Another soldier asked him what present he had gotten his wife, Melania Trump, for Christmas — a question that seemed to stump the president for a moment.

“That’s a tough question. I got her a beautiful card,” Mr. Trump said. “A lot of love. We love our family, and we love each other. We’ve had a great relationship, hopefully like you do with your spouses. I’m still working on a Christmas present. There’s a little time left. Not much, but a little time left.”

But the president clearly had other things on his mind on the day before Christmas.

He spent the morning retweeting Fox News commentary about the impeachment. He quoted one as saying that Democrats were “in real doubt about the evidence” for impeachment. And he quoted another as saying that Ms. Pelosi supported the new trade deal with Mexico and Canada only because she needed to do something productive while pursuing impeachment against Mr. Trump.

“The Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats have gone CRAZY,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “They want to make it as hard as possible for me to properly run our Country!”

On other issues, the president said he was not worried about a threatened “Christmas gift” from North Korea. American officials have been on high alert for the possibility that Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, might resume testing of ballistic missiles. But Mr. Trump said he was not concerned by the threat.

“That’s O.K. We’ll find out what the surprise is and we’ll deal with it,” he said, adding: “Maybe it’s a present where he sends me a beautiful vase as opposed to a missile test. I may get a vase. I may get a nice present from him. You don’t know. You never know.”

The president was asked whether he planned to pardon Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime informal adviser who was convicted in federal court of seven felonies for obstructing the congressional inquiry, lying to investigators under oath and trying to block the testimony of a witness whose account would have exposed his lies.

Mr. Trump said he had not thought about a pardon for Mr. Stone, but expressed sympathy for him and for Michael T. Flynn, the retired lieutenant general who served as Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser and pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“He got hit very hard,” Mr. Trump said about Mr. Stone, “as did General Flynn and a lot of other people. And now they are finding out it was all a hoax.”

The president also said he planned to hold a ceremony with President Xi Jinping of China to sign the first phase of a trade deal that was announced this month, though he offered no details about where or when such a signing ceremony might be held.

“We will be having a signing ceremony, yes,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “We will ultimately, yes, when we get together. And we’ll be having a quicker signing because we want to get it done. The deal is done, it’s just being translated right now.”

Emily Cochrane contributed reporting from Washington.

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U.S. Braces for Major North Korean Weapons Test as Trump’s Diplomacy Fizzles

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WASHINGTON — American military and intelligence officials tracking North Korea’s actions by the hour say they are bracing for an imminent test of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching American shores, but appear resigned to the fact that President Trump has no good options to stop it.

If the North goes ahead with the test in the coming days — Pyongyang promised a “Christmas gift” if no progress had been made on lifting sanctions — it would be a glaring setback for Mr. Trump’s boldest foreign policy initiative, even as he faces an impeachment trial at home.

American officials are playing down the missile threat, though similar tests two years ago prompted Mr. Trump to suggest that “fire and fury,” and perhaps a war, could result.

Mr. Trump often cites the suspension of long-range missile and underground nuclear tests for the past two years as evidence that his leader-to-leader diplomacy with the North was working — and that such negotiating skills would persuade the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, to give up his arsenal.

The administration’s argument has now changed. Should Mr. Kim resume tests, American officials say, it will be a sign that he truly feels jammed, and has concluded Washington will not lift crushing sanctions on his impoverished nation anytime soon.

Left unaddressed, however, is the challenge that a new missile test would represent, and what that would mean for the sanctions strategy. Over the past week, Stephen E. Biegun, the North Korea envoy who was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday as the next deputy secretary of state, has traveled across East Asia to also try to stem new efforts by Russia and China to weaken those sanctions.

Military officials say there are no plans to try to destroy a missile on the launchpad, or intercept it in the atmosphere — steps both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama considered, and rejected. It is unclear if the military’s Cyber Command is still trying to sabotage the launches from afar, as it did under the Obama administration, with mixed results.

Instead, officials say, if the North resumes its missile tests, the Trump administration will turn to allies and again lobby the United Nations Security Council for tightened sanctions — a strategy that has been tried for two decades.

Beneath the recent threats is the onset of a cold reality: In the 18 months after Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim first met in Singapore, with declarations of warmth not seen since the suspension of the Korean War in 1953, the North has bolstered its arsenal of missiles and its stockpile of bomb-ready nuclear material.

New estimates from a leading authority suggest that Mr. Kim has expanded his arsenal substantially since Mr. Trump announced on Twitter after Singapore that “there is No Longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”

Siegfried S. Hecker, the former head of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and one of the few Westerners who has seen the North’s uranium production facilities, says he believes the country has fuel for about 38 warheads — well beyond an earlier low-end estimate that he and other scientists and intelligence analysts had issued.

In recent weeks, the North has conducted ground tests of what appear to be new missile engines that Pyongyang said would bolster its “nuclear deterrent,” suggesting that it has little intention of giving up its ability.

“I think part of this may be bluff on their part,” John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, said to NPR on Thursday. “They think the president’s desperate for a deal, and if they put an artificial time constraint on it, they may think they’re going to get a better deal. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

“But,” he noted, “this is all part of the North Korean playbook.”

A new element of the playbook could be that Mr. Kim is calculating that impeachment has weakened Mr. Trump, making him more desperate for a policy victory.

Senior foreign policy officials and military commanders are bracing for perhaps the most serious cycle of crisis yet.

“What I would expect is some kind of long-range ballistic missile would be the ‘gift,’ ” Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., the commander of Pacific Air Forces, said Tuesday. “Does it come on Christmas Eve? Does it come on Christmas Day? Does it come after the new year? One of my responsibilities is to pay attention to that.”

With no diplomatic progress between Washington and Pyongyang since the implosion of the last summit in February between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim in Hanoi, Vietnam, administration officials are loath to see Mr. Trump leap into another face-to-face negotiation. While Mr. Trump’s initial diplomatic outreach to Mr. Kim raised hopes and generated positive headlines, the president accepted vague language calling for the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” as an ironclad commitment by the North to rid itself of its own weapons.

The expected North Korean escalation will leave Mr. Trump with an unpalatable choice. He could reprise his alarming threats of military action from late 2017, infusing the 2020 election year with a sense of crisis, which could cost him votes — and risk real conflict.

Or he could endure the new provocation and double down, betting that greater sanctions could somehow force the North to abandon its decades-long course toward a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the continental United States.

When Mr. Trump emerged from his daylong Singapore meeting with Mr. Kim, the first time the leaders had ever met, he sounded certain that progress would be swift.

“I think he will do these things,’’ Mr. Trump said. “I may be wrong. I may stand before you in six months and say, hey, I was wrong.”

Roadblocks appeared almost immediately. The North refused to turn over an inventory of its weapons and delivery systems. However, there were signs Mr. Kim wanted to open up his nation’s economy, analysts said.

After exchanging warm letters, the leaders met again in Hanoi, with Mr. Trump offering a grand bargain — an end to all sanctions for full disarmament. The president even offered to help build hotels along North Korea’s east coast.

Mr. Kim said he would agree to dismantle the main nuclear site at Yongbyon, the heart of the North’s nuclear program, in return for relief from the most onerous sanctions, which Mr. Obama began in 2016 and Mr. Trump accelerated. Mr. Trump was tempted to accept, former aides said, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Mr. Bolton stopped him, arguing that important uranium enrichment sites of the North’s were outside the walls of the facility. The talks ended in failure.

In the months that followed, the administration debated whether it should soften its demand that the North dismantle all of its nuclear infrastructure before receiving substantial benefits. There was talk of negotiating an interim “nuclear freeze”; while that would keep the problem from worsening, it ran the risk of enshrining a nuclear arsenal already a third the size of Pakistan’s and India’s.

It took until October for a new North Korean team to assemble and meet with Mr. Biegun. He thought the meeting went well until, at the end of the day, the North’s delegation returned to read a clearly prewritten statement denouncing the United States.

The teams have not met since.

The recent threats from Mr. Kim come as he is preparing for two important political events — a year-end plenary session of the Workers’ Party of Korea and a New Year’s speech. Mr. Kim had declared at the start of 2019 that North Korea would not give up a single weapon until the United States lifts sanctions. He then gave Mr. Trump a year-end deadline.

Now Mr. Kim finds himself empty-handed, unable to stride into the party plenum in triumph or deliver a pronouncement of victory on Jan. 1. Backed into a corner, he is trying once again to use his main leverage — the threat of weapons tests or military action — to coerce Mr. Trump into sanctions relief, analysts say.

“Things have not worked out the way he has anticipated,” said Jean H. Lee, a Korea expert at the Wilson Center. “I suspect that he will keep provoking President Trump to compel him to get back to negotiations, but try to avoid overtly confronting him, because he wants to leave open an opportunity.”

Mr. Kim could choose to launch a satellite rather than an intercontinental ballistic missile on the bet that might push Mr. Trump to loosen sanctions without inciting a violent reaction.

Mr. Kim could also coax China and Russia into further easing sanctions at the United Nations. Both nations are eager to reassert a leadership role on the North Korea issue.

On Thursday, Luo Zhaohui, China’s vice minister of foreign affairs, said at a news conference in Beijing that easing sanctions, as China and Russia had proposed on Wednesday at the United Nations, was the “best solution” to “break the deadlock on the peninsula.”

Analysts say China does not appear to be forcing all North Korean workers to leave its borders, as it is required by a United Nations resolution. China said it complies with the sanctions resolutions. American officials say Beijing also must stop ship-to-ship transfers carried out by North Korea of energy products.

American efforts to maintain a common front against the North may be further complicated next week when President Xi Jinping of China hosts a summit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea. Mr. Trump’s efforts to get the South to cover the full cost of the American troops based there has strained relations between the allies.

Mr. Trump contemplated attacking North Korea early in his administration, when officials floated the idea of a “bloody nose” strategy intended to signal that Washington would never allow the North to reach the point when it could hold American cities hostage with nuclear weapons. “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely,” Mr. Trump tweeted in August 2017.

More recently, Mr. Trump has shown a keen interest in winding down conflicts rather than starting new ones. Mr. Trump has also forced out hawkish senior advisers, including Mr. Bolton, who once argued for a pre-emptive strike on North Korea.

But Mr. Trump’s current approach — gradual diplomacy backed by the “boa constrictor” of sanctions, perhaps toward an interim freeze — is unfolding in the shadow of similar efforts by four presidents who failed to stop the North.

Mr. Trump has essentially shrugged off the 13 short-range missile or rocket tests that North Korea has conducted since May. An intercontinental missile launch would be more difficult to ignore, though, and it is unclear how he might respond, especially if such a test intensifies criticism that Mr. Kim has manipulated him.

Thus far, Mr. Trump is showing little appetite for a return to the “fire and fury” tensions of two years ago.

“I have a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House this month before adding, in what could prove to be wishful thinking, “I think we both want to keep it that way.”

Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting from Beijing.

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Manure Mania: North Koreans are Fighting Over Feces as the Government Demands Every Citizen Produce 200 Pounds of Human Waste

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Think people in America wanna give the government sh**? In North Korea, they’re required to.

Kim Jong-un’s chosen to oppress the crap out of people by burdening them with a poop production mandated minimum.

The poverty-stricken country depends on human waste to nourish its crops, and every household has to cough up the goods. Or, bads.

And it’s a sh**load: Just after the Supreme Leader’s New Year’s address, Radio Free Asia reported that homes were struggling to meet the required 220 pounds per able-bodied citizen.

It’s putting a real strain on everybody.

According to one source, the quota’s intentionally impossible in order to drum up fines and bribes.

Next year’s unreasonably high dung demand has already been set, and in urban areas, people are stealing excrement from each other in the effort to meet the caca collection quotas. Some are even mixing in dirt to enhance their volume.

On October 8th, a resident of Ryanggang province explained the mayhem to RFA:

“The agricultural authorities are forcing residents to produce eight tons of manure for each household to help the local farms. … People in the city are fighting to take over public restrooms. It’s ridiculous.”

There’s a new market for malarkey, but it smells:

“As the absolute amount of manure is nowhere near the quota, there are even now merchants who are selling dried feces. People put all their human feces outside to dry so it’s all over the city. It’s really hard to breathe when you go out on the streets.”

And all those holes left from digging up dirt for doubling the deuce is bad for the environment:

“When it rains, the holes in the dirt become puddles of filth and are the main culprits of environmental destruction.”

The country folk have an even more difficult time in the push for perfection:

“In order to fulfill their quota, people in the countryside have taken all the humus [dark, nutrient-rich soil], to mix with manure, and even rocks from coal mines are being put into the mixture. Since there is not enough soil to mix with the manure, people of all ages are rushing to the coal mines to get the rocks.”

Whether in the city or out, there doesn’t seem to be any commercial assistance — unlike neighboring South Korea, in the DPRK, there’s no Taco Bell.

As relayed by another source, life is hard enough without having to constantly squat in order to pay the Turd Tax:

“The people have no time to take care of themselves. It’s so hard to make a living already but there are so many things they want them to dedicate to the state. People are getting resentful.”

Getting??

So goes existence within a Stalinist totalitarian dictatorship.

Working for the government has its perks, like the freedom to lay off the fiber; but for normal people, life in North Korea really stinks:

“Residents complain that this year, the authorities have been forcing them to do so many of these missions that people can’t even remember everything. Government officials are exempt from these tasks under their authority, but the powerless people are required to carry them out. These powerless people are the only ones made to suffer.”

-ALEX

 

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Game on, again: US, North Korea to restart nuke talks

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Donald Trump wanted another summit with Kim Jong-un. John Bolton wanted to crack down on Pyongyang, while North Korea wanted Bolton out. Looks like two of the three got what they wanted:

North Korea and the United States will resume negotiations Saturday, marking the first official talks between the two sides since President Trump met Kim Jong in June, the North Korean government announced Tuesday.

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui said the two countries “agreed to hold a working-level discussion on October 5th, following a preliminary contact on the 4th,” according to a statement carried by North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency.

“I expect the working-level talks to accelerate positive developments in DPRK-U.S. relations,” Choe said, using the initials of her country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “Our representatives are ready to attend the working-level talks with the United States.”

Is it a coincidence that this sudden warmth follows just three weeks after Bolton got ousted as national security adviser? Couldn’t possibly be a coincidence. Pyongyang complained loud and long about Bolton’s presence in the mix of the diplomatic and security discussions, even more than they have complained about Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State. Trump won’t part with his closest Cabinet official, but Bolton was expendable — a relatively cheap price to get North Korea back to the table.

Ten days ago, North Korea made its pleasure at the change known, hinting that the change would facilitate a restart:

North Korea’s new envoy to nuclear talks with the United States on Friday welcomed the ouster of President Trump’s former National Security Adviser, John R. Bolton, and the president’s suggestion that Washington would use a “new method” in negotiating with the North.

The envoy, Kim Myong-gil, hailed Mr. Trump’s “wise political decision” to approach North Korea-United States relations “from a more practical point of view” now that “a nasty troublemaker” — an apparent reference to Mr. Bolton — was out.

The decision to seek a new method was “the manifestation of the political perception and disposition peculiar to President Trump, which no preceding U.S. chief executives even wanted to think of nor were able to do,” Mr. Kim said in a statement carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency on Friday.

One could call Bolton’s dismissal a quid pro quo in that sense, certainly diplomatically legitimate but still not necessarily wise. North Korea had apparently decided it wouldn’t negotiate with Bolton still around, in part because of the “Libya option” favored by Bolton, in which Pyongyang would have to totally surrender all its nuclear-weapons components before seeing any sanctions relief. That’s not much of a deal from their perspective, especially seeing how Moammar Qaddafi ended up in relation to US and Western forces. It’s not a coincidence either that Trump publicly belittled Bolton’s “Libya option” after firing him. If quid pro quo is too politically loaded a term these days, call it a prerequisite instead, or perhaps a password for entrée to a new round of talks.

Basically, the range for a deal has improved for North Korea, although not necessarily to any great effect. Yesterday, Bolton made his feelings publicly known about Trump’s diplomatic pas de deux with Kim and the likelihood they will honor any result without a boot on their neck. Bolton insisted that the US had not seen any benefit from Trump’s engagement, and that only a credible military threat would part Kim from his nuclear weapons program. Furthermore, Bolton hinted that Trump had lost the thread of what the talks were supposed to accomplish, although he never directly referenced his former boss:

Without mentioning Mr. Trump by name, Mr. Bolton said he wanted to “speak in unvarnished terms about the threat posed by North Korea,” and made it clear that he thought the president’s outreach to Mr. Kim had benefited only one side. And while Mr. Trump has made a deal with Mr. Kim one of his signature foreign policy goals, Mr. Bolton asserted that there had been no gains with his approach.

“The strategic decision Kim Jong-un is operating through is that he will do whatever he can to keep a deliverable nuclear weapons capability and to develop and enhance it further,” Mr. Bolton said during an appearance at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Under current circumstances, he will never give up the nuclear weapons voluntarily.” …

Stopping nuclear proliferation in the Korean Peninsula is where the United States needs “to focus our attention,” Mr. Bolton said, “not can we get another summit with Kim Jong-un or what the state of staff-level negotiations are to achieve a commitment from North Korea it will never honor.”

Ouch. It’s not easy to dismiss Bolton on this point, too. So far Trump has gotten some photo ops and an end to nuclear tests out of Kim, the latter of which might have been necessitated by the collapse of their testing field at Punggye-Ri early last year anyway. They also have halted their longer range ballistic missile tests, although they have restarted short-range tests and are proceeding to work on ballistic-launch capability from submarines, a frightening game-changer. None of those concessions are significant enough to have increased the safety margins for the US and our allies, and all of them can be nearly instantly reversed, even if North Korea was inclined to honor agreements, which they aren’t.

The gladhanding might be worthwhile as a change in tone, but that’s not the necessity. At some point, all of the cheeriness between Kim and Trump has to pay off in rolling back their nuclear program significantly and permanently. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time. This time around Trump needs results, and now he has a chance to prove Bolton wrong by getting them — or right by failing to do so.

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War and peace – with Iran, Trump-style

For Donald Trump, politics is personal.  Hence his G7 invitation to Vladimir Putin; his meeting with Kim Jong Un; even his take on Boris Johnson, which was as follows: “They’re saying Britain Trump. They call him Britain Trump. People are saying that’s a good thing. They like me over there, that’s what they wanted. That’s what they need.”

Which is not to say that he has no consistent policies at all.  He does: or rather, perhaps, he has attitudes, prejudices, reflexes.  One of these is to keep the United States out of wars abroad, or at least conflicts in which ground troops are committed: America First has succeeded neo-conservatism.

This isn’t to say that Trump won’t take military action abroad – he will.  But it tends to be undertaken either through proxies, as against ISIS, or via ordnance: consider his deployment of a Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb in Afghanistan two years ago.  Theodore Roosevelt summed up his foreign policy as: “Speak softly but carry a big stick”.  Trump’s is: “Do diplomacy via Twitter, and carry the mother of all bombs”.

Iran is being hit hard by sanctions, and will be watching Trump closely.  On the one hand, it has seen him tear up Barack Obama’s nuclear deal and turn the sanctions screw.  On the other, it will have watched him declare that he has “good feelings” about a possible successor deal of his own, and there has been talk of a Jong-On type summit with Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s President.  After all, Trump sees himself as master of the Art of the Deal.

Furthermore, he has recently sacked John Bolton, a veteran of the neo-con years, who the President brought back as his National Security Adviser.  Trump came to distrust Bolton’s martial approach to Iran (and elsewhere).  In June, he backed off an airstrike against Iran as “not proportionate”, having been told that it would leave 150 dead, after declaring that America was “cocked and loaded for action”.

Iran’s asymetric drone attack against oil facilities in Saudi Arabia should be viewed against the context of this background.  Power in the country is peculiarly distributed: it is very for outsiders to work out exactly how much power is held by Rouhani; by Ali Khamenei, the country’s Supreme Leader; by the Majlis, military, clergy or the Revolutionary Guard at any one time.

The consensus at present is that the last is in the driving seat.  The attack may have been intended to help head off an American-Iranian rapprochment, complete with Trump-Rouhani summit; or it may actually have been crafted to help achieve the opposite, by reminding America of the consequences of war in the Gulf – including a destabilising rise in the oil price.  Or the truth may lie in between; there is no way of knowing.

All we can be sure of is that those sanctions are indeed hurting, that America has been turning the screw, and that Iran is striking out – whether through detaining western citizens or seizing British ships.  Trump is stepping back and letting the Saudis decide the scale of response to this latest Iranian ploy, or so it seems.

The President will be damned for whatever he does.  If America intervenes directly, he will be denounced as a warmonger; if he makes diplomatic overtures to Tehran, he will be condemned as an appeaser.  If he pursues his present course, he will be damned as a hands-off President who is prepared to let the region burn.

You may be alarmed by Trump conducting foreign policy by Twitter, deplore the frequency of his Apprentice-style firings, and worry about the intertwining of personal and political.  But there has been a queer core of prudence, even restraint, in the President’s foreign policy to date.  When it comes to his next steps on Iran, almost anything could happen.

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Trump Wants Big Diplomatic Wins. Here Are the Odds.

WASHINGTON — John R. Bolton has left the Situation Room, and President Trump is left at the table with a giant set of chips set on hot spots around the world.

In Mr. Trump’s view, the clock is ticking: He needs some big victories between now and the election in November 2020. But he also wants to prove that his idiosyncratic approach to foreign policy — as a series of deals rather than a philosophy of how American hard and soft power is deployed — can produce results that have eluded Washington’s foreign policy establishment for a decade or more.

Here’s a look at six issues on the table.

Ask Mr. Trump about his negotiations with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, and he will tell you he is already winning: He was the first American president to meet a North Korean leader — three times now — and the first to step, briefly, into North Korean territory. He has gotten back the remains of American soldiers and won a pause, which has lasted nearly two years, in nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missile tests. It all led Mr. Trump to declare on Twitter, after his first meeting with Mr. Kim in Singapore, that North Korea was “no longer a Nuclear Threat.”

The only problem is that the North’s nuclear ability has increased since that meeting, by some estimates significantly. Intelligence estimates indicate that the North’s stockpile of fuel has swelled, and so has its missile arsenal. Short-range missile tests have improved Mr. Kim’s ability to strike American bases in South Korea and Japan with a new generation of weapons intended to avoid missile defenses. And the North hasn’t turned over a list of its weapons, missiles and facilities, which was supposed to be the first step.

Mr. Trump remains convinced that Mr. Kim will be impressed by the prospect of new hotels on the (heavily mined) beaches of North Korea’s east coast. The whole country, he notes, is a great property, with easy access to China, Russia, South Korea and Japan. The only issue is whether he can persuade his new friend to give up the weapons that, in the North Korean leader’s view, have kept him in office. That may mean settling with partial steps — starting with a nuclear freeze — on the way to a bigger deal that may or may not happen.

Prospects for a win: Next to none, unless Mr. Trump changes the goals. It is more likely he will agree to incremental reductions and call it a victory.


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President Hassan Rouhani of Iran with Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s nuclear technology organization, in April.CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

To the Trump administration, there is no more existential threat than Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sees it as the source of virtually all trouble in the Middle East, and Mr. Trump kept insisting to a series of aides that the only way to get a good deal with Iran was to destroy the 2015 nuclear agreement, which he dismissed as “terrible” and a giveaway because it did not forever ban Iran from making nuclear fuel.

Mr. Bolton, who before joining the administration was an advocate of American-led regime change in Iran, was an enthusiast of the “maximum pressure” campaign. And indeed it has been more successful than most experts expected. Iran’s oil revenues have plunged, its economy is shrinking and some of its elites are beginning to wonder whether it’s time to acknowledge the inevitable, which is to negotiate with a president they can’t stand.

All eyes are on the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in 10 days. Mr. Trump and even Mr. Pompeo have said they are ready to negotiate without preconditions, and could meet with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran.

“I do believe they would like to make a deal,” Mr. Trump said on Wednesday. “If they do, that’s great. If they don’t, that’s great, too.”

He insisted the goal remained the same. “They never will have a nuclear weapon,” he said. “If they are thinking about enrichment, they can forget about it.”

The wild card here is Mr. Rouhani because he is unwilling to meet until sanctions are lifted, or so he says.

Prospects for a win: Not bad. The Iranians have a long history of changing their minds and negotiating when there are no other options. And unlike North Korea, they have no nuclear weapons, so they have less to give up.


Every time Mr. Trump goes to Camp David, he sees pictures of Jimmy Carter, whose cabin-to-cabin diplomacy in 1978 brought peace between Israel and Egypt. Some aides think that inspired Mr. Trump to invite the Taliban — who gave haven to Al Qaeda to plan the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — to the presidential retreat. Mr. Bolton’s argument that this was a crazy idea precipitated this week’s rupture.

But it’s hardly over. The “peace deal” Mr. Trump is touting isn’t the Camp David accords. It would call for a “reduction in violence” and the beginning of a dialogue about power sharing between the Taliban and the American-backed Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani. Few think it will lead to true peace. But it may be enough to give Mr. Trump the chance to significantly reduce the number of American troops in Afghanistan.

Prospects for a win: Fairly high. The only people who want American troops out more than Mr. Trump are the Taliban.


President Xi Jinping of China at the Group of 20 summit this year in Osaka, Japan.CreditErin Schaff/The New York Times

Mr. Trump miscalculated when it came to challenging President Xi Jinping of China: He thought Mr. Xi would fold as tariffs took their toll. So far, Mr. Xi has not folded, and market jitters are a reflection of the fear that the world’s two largest economies could tank simultaneously.

The bigger problem facing the Trump administration is that after nearly 32 months in office, it has no integrated China strategy.

Mr. Pompeo and many in the military establishment view Mr. Xi, the most powerful Chinese leader in decades, as determined to spread the country’s influence through Africa, Latin America and, increasingly, Europe — and to use its technology, led by Huawei-produced networks, to exercise control. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other members of the economics team are convinced that Mr. Xi, in the end, will take the best economic deal he can.

And Mr. Trump, forever seeking flexibility, gyrates between these two posts, sometimes declaring China’s progress on 5G networks, artificial intelligence and quantum computing a national security threat, and at other times suggesting that supplying those efforts is up for negotiation.

Prospects for a win: Poor. Mr. Xi is playing a long game, and Mr. Trump is playing for November 2020.


The president and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have taken two years to study Middle East peace — “the deal of the century,” Mr. Trump called it — and when they revealed the first part of the plan, it was all about getting wealthy Arab states, among others, to invest tens of billions of dollars in the Palestinian territories, as well as in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.

But key decision makers avoided the conference, and with Israel in the midst of its own campaign season, the political side of the plan won’t be released until after the election — if then. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pre-empted the whole proposal this week with his pre-election promise to annex nearly a third of the occupied West Bank — reducing any future Palestinian state to an enclave encircled by Israel.

Prospects for a win: On life support. No evidence supports the idea that Mr. Kushner will succeed where others have failed.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia this month. Mr. Trump pushed for Russia to be allowed back into the Group of 7, despite the country’s annexation of Crimea.CreditMikhail Klimentyev/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Alone among his foreign policy advisers, Mr. Trump believes the key to dealing with Russia is reintegration, letting the country back into the Group of 7, forgiving (or ignoring) its annexation of Crimea and never mentioning its effort to influence the 2016 election, a charge he has dismissed as a “hoax.”

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is gearing up for a fundamental shift in policy in which Russia and China are regarded as “revisionist” states that must be challenged. And the F.B.I., the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency say they are constantly creating plans to counter Russian malign influence in the 2020 election.

Mr. Trump argues “there is no reason for this,” and says that with a little help to the Russian economy, President Vladimir V. Putin would be a lot easier to deal with. With Mr. Bolton gone, Mr. Trump may well try to negotiate an extension to the New START treaty, the last remaining arms control agreement between the United States and Russia.

But when it comes to lifting sanctions, Mr. Trump has run into a brick wall with his own party, whose leaders say they have no intention of reversing decades of hawkish views on containment.

Prospects for a win: Mr. Trump is not playing poker here — he’s playing solitaire. The only possible victory is an arms control treaty extension.

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