By William Tucker
Columnist, In Homeland Security
Given the heated rhetoric between Washington and Tehran, it is difficult to think that the two nations could ever return to the negotiating table. A similar situation between the U.S. and North Korea may be instructive in that regard.
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North Korea is not Iran, although the two nations share some similarities in how they operate within the international community. After the U.S.-North Korea talks failed at the last summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February, a rapprochement of sorts occurred. President Trump made a short journey across the DMZ into North Korea to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Also, Politico reported last month that South Korean President Mon Jae-in announced that “U.S. and North Korean officials are holding backdoor talks to arrange a third meeting” between Kim and Trump.
Just the Fact that US-North Korea Negotiations Are Taking Place at All Is Significant
This does not ensure that the two nations will reach an accord. But, just the fact that negotiations are taking place at all is significant. North Korea needs to negotiate because it must ensure access to food and medical supplies if domestic production comes up short.
Iran, too, needs to negotiate, but its need stems from the current economic disaster the nation is facing. Iran still has the ability to spread influence across the Middle East and to support its proxy militias in areas of interest. However, its domestic economic problems have the potential of coming to a head and undermining the regime.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has called the possibility of negotiations with the U.S. “poison.” Despite the fact that the U.S. and Tehran have traded plenty of barbs, the potential for negotiations remains.
Four years ag, the U.S., UK, France, Germany, China and Russia worked with Iran to ensure that the Middle Eastern nation did not acquire nuclear weapons. In exchange for limits on nuclear activity and accepting international inspectors, Iran would receive relief from the imposed economic sanctions. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the “Iran deal” for short, functioned as advertised, but it had its share of critics.
JCPOA Was Not Comprehensive Because It Allowed Iran to Continue Its Missile program
Critics argued that JCPOA was not comprehensive at all since it allowed Iran to continue its missile program that could be used for a nuclear delivery system in the future. Also, the agreement failed to address Iran’s support of international terrorism. Hardliners in Iran also criticized the agreement, charging that it infringed on Iran’s sovereignty.
When Donald Trump became president in 2017, he refused to certify Iran’s compliance with the agreement and ultimately pulled the United States out of the agreement altogether. The other participating nations have since tried to save the JCPOA, but European nations heavily invested in the U.S. economy find it difficult to skirt the sanctions. The UK, France and Germany have worked diligently to save the agreement.
Potential for Renewed Talks Still Exists
Recent media leaks of diplomatic cables from the now departed British ambassador to the U.S., Kim Darroch, been embarrassed the Foreign Office in London. However, what really grabbed the headlines was Darroch’s assessment that Trump pulled the U.S. out of the JPCOA to “spite Obama.”
It is possible that Trump was motivated by his disdain for his predecessor. Trump has said he wants a better deal with Iran. The rhetoric that emanates from the White House often belies the president’s expressed desire for diplomacy. But as we have seen concerning North Korea, diplomacy has managed to follow the President’s otherwise bellicose behavior.
Iran is in a different position than North Korea. In the years following the Iranian Revolution of 1979, no matter how heated its language, Tehran has often been open to diplomacy. Whether U.S.-Iranian talks will actually happen this time is speculative. However, it is premature to consider bilateral diplomacy dead.