North Korea Should NOT Trust US

Illustration by Jeffrey Henson Scales, photographs by Getty Images and Doug Mills/The New York Times

On most issues Donald Trump is inconstant, persuadable, bored and eager to move on. But on a few questions there is real consistency across his years as a public eminence. One is his belief, which may give us new steel tariffs, that America is a big loser from the international trade system. Another, which may give us a Trumpian tête-à-tête with Kim Jong-un, is his belief that he alone can solve the problem of nuclear proliferation.

In 1984, near the peak of Reagan-era nuclear fears, he told The Washington Post that he should lead nuclear deal-making with the Soviets. Six years later, he warned Playboy that “the greatest of all stupidities is people’s believing [nuclear war] will never happen.” In 1999, flirting with a presidential bid, he promised to “negotiate like crazy” to prevent North Korea from going nuclear.

Now he gets the chance to actually follow through on these boasts (though the chances of a Kim-Trump summit actually coming off are perhaps still somewhat modest). And as with many problems to which Trump is getting the chance to turn his hand, one can doubt his competence and judgment while also doubting the perfect wisdom of the approaches that preceded him.

The dilemma facing American policymakers since the Cold War is that you can have a denuclearizing world or you can have a world where liberal values are always on the march — but you can’t necessarily have both. We have failed to strike a lasting deal with the North Koreans because they are duplicitous and wicked, certainly. But we also have no clear example to offer Pyongyang of a denuclearization that worked out for the authoritarian regime that accepted it.

Where denuclearization has happened successfully, it has generally followed a transition from dictatorship to democracy (as in Brazil and Argentina), been part of such a transition (Ukraine) or been a prelude to regime change (as in South Africa).

These are happy stories for the world, but the fate of the Afrikaner government is not likely to sell Pyongyang on the virtues of giving up the bomb. Nor is the current position of Ukraine, which gave up its nuclear weapons in return for guarantees from Russia and the United States, only to find that guarantee a dead letter in an age of Putinist aggression — which was itself encouraged by the American belief that a stable post-Cold War settlement with Moscow was less important than the expansion of liberal values ever further to the east.

Then there is the case of Iraq. Saddam Hussein failed to achieve nuclear capability, lost a war to the United States that left him partially disarmed, and then despite his weakness was subsequently toppled on charges of possessing W.M.D. that mostly did not exist. Any authoritarian regime observing that history might reasonably conclude that nuclear weapons should be sought and never be given up

… Especially since our next president decided to tacitly confirm that lesson, by pursing regime change in Libya after the Libyan dictator had agreed to close down his own W.M.D. program. The spectacle of Qaddafi getting murdered by a Libyan mob, however roughly just, was also an object lesson in the downsides of believing that the Americans will care about a W.M.D. deal if the opportunity arises to remove you afterward.

Despite our official commitment to nonproliferation, then, the revealed preference of our foreign policy elite is often for other priorities — NATO expansion, humanitarian intervention, regime change. And even the exceptional case, the Obama White House nuclear deal with Iran, had to be forged despite bipartisan skepticism, in conflict with what President Obama’s aides famously called the D.C. foreign policy “blob.”

Now in fairness to the blob, there are often reasons to prefer other objectives to nonproliferation. The stupidity of the Iraq and Libya interventions doesn’t automatically make the Iran deal a good idea, since it has encouraged both Iran and Saudi Arabia to escalate their non-nuclear struggle for regional power. Similarly, the deal that Kim dearly wants to extract from us — a limited denuclearization in return for our withdrawal from the Korean Peninsula — would probably have disastrous effects for regional security and the larger Pax Americana.

But still, any lasting deal with the paranoid kingdom north of the 38th parallel would have to persuade Pyongyang that we might attack if they keep raising the nuclear ante and that we really don’t care about toppling them otherwise. So it is potentially helpful to our negotiations that Trump combines a temperamental bellicosity with a deep skepticism about the democracy-promoting objectives of U.S. foreign policy over the last 20 years.

This won’t prevent him from bungling things; it shouldn’t make anyone rest easy. It just means that if we are to hope for any progress in these negotiations, we have to place some of that hope in Trump’s most Trumpish qualities, and from his rejection of bipartisan tendencies that have not saved us from this brink.

The Antichrist Fights for Iraq (Revelation 13)

Baghdad (AFP) – Supporters of a black-turbaned Shiite cleric are seeing red in the runup to Iraq’s May elections thanks to an unprecedented alliance with the once-powerful communist party.

Populist preacher Moqtada Sadr has defied his clerical rivals and opted to campaign for the May 12 poll alongside former enemies, Marxists who demand a secular state.

“This alliance is a first in Iraq,” said Ibrahim al-Jaberi, a Sadrist official.

“It’s a revolution by Iraqis who want reforms — both secularists, like the communists, and by moderate Islamists.”

Jaberi, a 34-year-old cleric who sports a red beard along with his black turban and gown, heads every Friday to central Baghdad’s Tahrir Square to address hundreds of anti-government protesters.

“This alliance is no surprise because for more than two years we’ve been fighting together in every province against sectarianism,” he said.

Civil society activists launched the protest movement in July 2015, demanding reforms, better public services and an end to corruption.

They were later joined by followers of Sadr, the populist scion of a dynasty of religious elders.

“The demands weren’t at all sectarian — they were for the rule of law and for a civil state for the citizen,” said Raed Fahmi, secretary of the Iraqi Communist Party and an ex-science and technology minister.

“The important thing is that it allowed people from the Islamist movement and secularists to work together,” he said.

– ‘Open to all’ –

Communists dominated Iraqi politics in the 1950s, but were crushed and marginalised under dictator Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. Today, the party has just one member of parliament.

Shiite religious parties have come to play a greater role in the years since the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam.

Fahmi said the protest movement had given rise to cooperation “between people who, in principle, have nothing in common ideologically”.

“That then evolved into a political alliance,” he said.

His office was adorned with a red flag bearing the hammer and sickle alongside the Iraqi flag with the inscription: “God is Greatest”.

The alliance, dubbed “Marching towards Reform”, is made up of six mostly non-Islamist groups, including the communists, and a Sadr-backed technocratic party called Istiqama (“Integrity”).

Sadr has withdrawn his Ahrar bloc from parliament and urged its 33 MPs not to stand in the May poll, in order to make way for the joint list.

On Tahrir Square, women in black chador smiled but didn’t talk to their unveiled counterparts.

Nadia Nasser, a 43-year-old teacher in chador, said their goal was “to change the horrible leaders that have governed us for 14 years”.

“I’m sick of corruption. I’m in favour of this alliance because I want to see new faces,” she said.

Qassem Mozan, a 42-year-old day labourer, said the alliance was natural.

“The Sadrist movement is open to all parties and confessions,” he said “For me, we’re one people with a single flag.”

Yet 44-year-old populist Moqtada Sadr was not so ecumenical during the years following the 2003 invasion.

His militia, the Mahdi Army, was accused of setting up death squads targeting Sunni Muslims. Sadr himself was accused of ordering the 2003 murder of rival Abdelmajid al-Khoei.

Sadrist militiamen also attacked bars and beat homosexuals until he ordered them to stop in 2016.

– ‘Sick of corruption’ –

Jassem al-Hilfi, a smiling, greying 58-year-old communist who helps organise the protests, said he remembered his first meeting with Sadr, in 2015 in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

“We presented him with our plans to fight corruption and create a civilian state through the ballot box. He listened to us and said he was willing and ready to cooperate,” he said.

Hilfi and Sadr have met every two weeks since.

Jaberi said some say “it’s impossible” for secularists and the religious to work together.

But “it’s not an ideological alliance”, he said. “Everyone has their convictions.”

That hasn’t shielded the coalition from heavy criticism by other powerful Shiite religious parties.

“They launched a war against our list and attack us on their TV channels,” Jaberi said, smiling. “That shows how weak the corrupt are and how strong we are.”

Why Nuclear War with North Korea Will Be Averted

By Christine Kim and Steve Holland

SEOUL/WASHINGTON, March 9 (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said he was prepared to meet North Korea’sKim Jong Un in what would be the first face-to-face encounter between the two countries’ leaders and potentially mark a major breakthrough in nuclear tensions with Pyongyang.

Kim has “committed to denuclearisation” and to suspending nuclear and missile tests, South Korea’s National Security Office head Chung Eui-yong told reporters at the White House on Thursday after briefing Trump on a meeting South Korean officials held with Kim earlier this week.

Chung said Trump had agreed to meet by May in response to Kim’s invitation. A senior U.S. official said later it could happen “in a matter of a couple of months, with the exact timing and place still to be determined”.

South Korean President Moon Jae-In, who led the pursuit of detente with North Korea during his country’s hosting of the Winter Olympics last month, said the summit would set a course for denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula, according to a presidential spokesman. Trump had agreed to meet Kim without any preconditions, another South Korean official said.

Asian stock markets rose on the news, with Japan’s Nikkei up 0.5 percent and South Korean stocks up more than 1 percent. The dollar also rose against the safe-haven Japanese yen.

“It’s good news, no doubt,” said Hong Chun-Uk, chief economist at Kiwoom Securities in Seoul. “But this will likely prove to be only a short-lived factor unless more and stronger actions follow.”

Trump had previously said he was willing to meet Kim under the right circumstances but had indicated the time was not right for such talks. He mocked U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in October for “wasting his time” trying to talk to North Korea.

Tillerson said earlier on Thursday during a visit to Africa that, although “talks about talks” might be possible with Pyongyang, denuclearisation negotiations were likely a long way off.


“Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze,” Trump said on Twitter on Thursday night. “Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time. Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached.”

A meeting between Kim and Trump, who have exchanged insults that had raised fear of war, would be a major turnaround after a year in which North Korea has carried out a battery of tests aimed at developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

Trump’s aides have been wary of North Korea’s diplomatic overtures because of its history of reneging on international commitments and the failure of efforts on disarmament by previous U.S. administrations.

South Koreans responded positively to the news, with online comments congratulating Moon for laying the groundwork for the Trump-Kim talks. Some even suggested Moon should receive the Nobel Peace prize, although scepticism over previous failed talks remained.

North and South Korea are technically still at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a ceasefire, not a truce.


Daniel Russel, until last April the assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, the most senior U.S. diplomatic position for Asia, said he wanted to see detail and hear from North Korea on the plans.

“Also remember that (North Korea) has for many years proposed that the president of the United States personally engage with North Korea’s leaders as an equal – one nuclear power to another,” he said. “What is new isn’t the proposal, it’s the response.”

A senior administration official told Reuters Trump had agreed to the meeting because it “made sense to accept an invitation to meet with the one person who can actually make decisions instead of repeating the sort of long slog of the past”.

“President Trump has made his reputation on making deals,” the official said.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Trump’s firm stance on North Korea gave the best hope in decades to resolve the threat peacefully.

“A word of warning to North Korean President Kim Jong Un – the worst possible thing you can do is meet with President Trump in person and try to play him,” Graham said on Twitter. “If you do that, it will be the end of you – and your regime.”

Some U.S. officials and experts worry North Korea could buy time to build up and refine its nuclear arsenal if it drags out talks with Washington.


In what would be a key North Korean concession, Chung said Kim understood that “routine” joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States must continue.

Pyongyang had previously demanded that such joint drills be suspended in order for any U.S. talks to go forward.

Trump has derided the North Korean leader as a “maniac”, referred to him as “little rocket man”, and threatened in a speech to the United Nations last year to “totally destroy” Kim’s country of 26 million people if it attacked the United States or one of its allies.

Kim responded by calling the U.S. president a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard”.

Tensions over North Korea rose to their highest in years in 2017 and the Trump administration warned that all options were on the table, including military ones, in dealing with Pyongyang, which has pursued its weapons programmes in defiance of ever tougher U.N. sanctions.

Signs of a thaw emerged this year, with North and South Korea resuming talks and North Korea attending the Winter Olympics. During the Pyongyang talks this week, the two Koreas agreed on a summit in late April, their first since 2007.

Japan, however, remained cautious.

“Japan and the United States will not waver in its firm stance that they will continue to put maximum pressure until North Korea takes concrete action towards the complete, verifiable and irreversible end to nuclear missile development,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters in Tokyo.

South Korea’s Moon has said sanctions should not be eased for the sake of talks and nothing less than denuclearisation of North Korea should be the final goal for talks.

China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, called on the United States and North Korea to hold talks as soon as possible, warning at a news briefing in Beijing on Thursday that things “will not be smooth sailing”.

Additional reporting by Eric Beech, Mohammad Zargham and Susan Cornwell in WASHINGTON and Kaori Kaneko in TOKYO

Writing by Lincoln Feast

Saudis Push For Influence in Iraq

Report: Saudi soft power tactic paying dividends in Iraq

Middle East Monitor

Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia [Hzt Tipu Sultan Shaheed/Facebook]

March 9, 2018 at 3:33 pm

Iraq is the centre of a tug of war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, claims a report in the Economist. The two main rivals in the Middle East are locking horns for control of the region but Riyadh is said to be gaining ground against its adversary in Tehran.

Through the combination of aid and investment, Saudi has achieved what would have seemed impossible since Baghdad moved into the orbit of Iran following the fall of Saddam Hussain, Iraq’s former president. In Basra, where the soft power strategy has been the most effective, the future is looking so bright for the Saudis that they are now putting the finishing touches on a consulate in the town’s Sheraton Hotel.

Relations between the two countries had improved significantly, the report pointed out, citing the resumption of air links between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Confidence has also grown to levels where state-owned businesses are now said to be registering offices in Baghdad. The level of Saudi commitment to improve relations with Iraq was also on display last month at a conference in Kuwait where the Saudi foreign minister, Adel Al-Jubeir, pledged $1 billion in loans and $500 million in export credit to support Iraq’s reconstruction.

Iraqi diplomats are said to have noted the disparity in help offered by Saudi Arabia and Iran, which according to the report pledged nothing at the conference in Kuwait. “Having failed to outfight Iran, the Saudis now want to outspend it,” an Iraqi official was quoted as saying.

The report explained that “Muhammad Bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, is shaking the Kingdom from its sectarian logic. In 2015 he was central to restoring diplomatic relations and last year reopened the Kingdom’s borders with Iraq. He has shifted money from Sunni politicians to more effective Shia ones. He has even hosted Muqtada Al-Sadr, a Shia cleric, and Qasim Al-Araji, Iraq’s interior minister who is close to Iran.”

Accusing Iran of seeking influence by “stoking sectarianism and gaining the allegiance of Shias,” the report says that Saudi Arabia has adopted a different non-sectarian tactic and “wants to win them [Iraq] back by reviving the country’s Arab identity, and setting Iraqis against Persian Iran.”

Basra, which is Iraq’s richest province, is at the centre of Saudi soft power initiative. A number of projects have been earmarked by the Saudis including reopening a moribund petrochemical plant, which, the authors say, “could help wean Iraq off Iranian products”. Saudis have also set their eyes on a strip of land along the border. The Kingdom wants to turn it into fertile fields by tapping underground aquifers.

It’s not all smooth sailing for the Saudis, the report points out, as Iranian-backed factions in Iraq are alleged to be attempting to sabotage the rapprochement with Saudi Arabia. Their politicians cite the 3,000 or so Saudis who joined Daesh. “How can we welcome our killers?” they protested.

But overall, concludes the report, the Saudi charm offensive has proven popular. “For all their sectarian bonds with Iranian Shias, the people of Basra fought on the front lines of Iraq’s brutal war with Iran. Many view Iranian engagement as colonisation,” the report pointed out.