Ex-Obama Official: Iran Deal Withdrawal Would Not Affect US Talks With North Korea

May 14, 2018 11:23 pm Last Updated: May 15, 2018 11:42 am

WASHINGTON—A former senior U.S. diplomat from the Obama administration said that President Trump’s recent decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal would not adversely affect U.S. negotiations with North Korea, contrary to the opinion of many of Trump’s critics. The regime’s dictator Kim Jong-Un never trusted the United States and is unlikely to follow through with an agreement in any case, the former Obama official said.

Daniel Russel served as the assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific from 2013 to 2017, which means that for four years he was the top U.S. diplomat for Asia under the Obama administration.

Speaking on Monday at a forum at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington D.C. the former Obama official rebuked the commonly heard criticism in recent days that Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran deal would undermine U.S. credibility in the eyes of North Korean regime and make it harder to reach a peace deal.

“I think American credibility with North Korea started at zero. The likelihood is that Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran deal didn’t fundamentally alter Kim Jong-Un’s thinking about U.S. posture,” Russel said. “It certainly doesn’t help, but I don’t think Kim Jong-Un is particularly looking abroad for models or examples [for negotiating with the United States].”

Russel also said that Kim Jong-Un is unlikely to put any trust in U.S. promises in a negotiation in the first place, even before Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran deal.

Russel’s views contrast with the Democratic backlash against Trump’s decision, announced on May 8, to abandon the Iran deal, which is formally known as “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”

The view that a withdraw from the Iran deal would undermine U.S. credibility in future negotiations is commonly-held by Democrats but is more motivated by partisan hostility toward Trump than based on any solid analysis or understanding of the North Korean regime, according to Sung-Yoon Lee, a Korean studies professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University,

“There is not a single international agreement North Korea has signed which it has not blatantly violated and cheated in history, so why are we not questioning North Korea for not following through with its numerous treaty obligations?” Lee asked.

Concurring with Daniel Russel’s statement, Lee also said that the Iran deal has no implications for what Kim Jong-Un would or would not have done, since the North Korean regime has a documented record of using aggression to extort concessions in negotiation with South Korea and the United States, only to renege on its promises and repeat the same playbook again in a few years.

Ever since the Iran nuclear deal was brokered and signed under Obama administration in 2015, some Republicans and foreign policy hardliners have been highly critical of the deal, arguing that it only appeases and empowers the authoritarian Iranian regime while still allowing it to pursue the development of nuclear weapons in one way or another.