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Trump Decertifies Iranian Compliance With Nuclear Weapons Agreement

Iran Nuclear Deal Congress

As expected, President Trump announced this afternoon that he was declining to certify Iranian compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA), the deal reached in 2015 after years of sanctions and negotiations that reduced some sanctions against Iran in exchange for the Iranians taking concrete steps to pull back from their nuclear weapons research program:

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Friday made good on a long-running threat to disavow the Iran nuclear deal that was negotiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama. But he stopped short of unraveling the accord or even rewriting it, as the deal’s defenders had once feared.

In a speech that mixed searing criticism of Iran with more measured action, Mr. Trump declared his intention not to certify Iran’s compliance with the agreement. Doing so essentially kicks to Congress a decision about whether to reimpose sanctions on Iran, which would blow up the agreement.

“We will not continue down a path whose inevitable result is more violence, more chaos and Iran’s nuclear breakout,” Mr. Trump declared at the White House, as he laid out a broader strategy for confronting Iran.

The president derided the deal as “one of the worst and most one-sided transaction the United States has ever entered into.” But he added, “What’s done is done, and that’s why we are where we are.”

Mr. Trump said he would ask Congress to establish “trigger points,” which could prompt the United States to reimpose sanctions on Iran if it crosses thresholds set by Congress.

Just to be clear, this move does not mean that Trump is walking away from the deal entirely, although it does put the deal in peril and could potentially end up

“In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated,” Mr. Trump said.

Those could include continued ballistic missile launches by Iran, a refusal to extend the duration of constraints on its nuclear fuel production, or a conclusion by the United States’ intelligence agencies that Iran could produce a nuclear weapon in less than a year.

Mr. Trump delivered a fire-breathing denunciation of the Iranian government, saying it financed terrorist groups, imprisoned Americans, plotted attacks on troops, and fomented civil wars in Iraq, Yemen and Syria. “Given the regime’s murderous past and present,” he said, “we should not take lightly its sinister vision for the future.”

Enacting new legislation on the agreement would require 60 votes in the Senate, meaning Republicans would need to pick up some Democratic support.

Mr. Trump argues his strategy is far tougher on Iran than the Obama administration was. The policy “focuses on neutralizing the government of Iran’s destabilizing influence and constraining its aggression, particularly its support for terrorism and militants,” the White House said in a summary issued Thursday evening.

The nuclear deal is the latest international agreement that Mr. Trump has tried to exit, amend or water down, including the Paris climate accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The closest analogy to this deal may be Nafta, the trade agreement that Mr. Trump once threatened to rip up and is now undergoing a painstaking renegotiation.

In this case, however, Iran has said that it will not take part in any renegotiation of an accord it also hammered out with three European countries, as well as with Russia and China. Persuading the Europeans — Britain, France and Germany — to reopen the negotiations could prove almost as difficult.

Even getting Congress, which is deeply divided on the Iran deal, to agree on additional legislation could prove difficult. While some Republicans are eager to undermine the deal, Democrats are equally determined to preserve what they view as another legacy of the Obama administration that Mr. Trump is trying to dismantle.

On Thursday evening, Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, released a potential blueprint toward imposing an automatic return of sanctions if Iran was believed able of producing a nuclear weapon within a year, or if it violated other restrictions.

Mr. Corker worked on the proposal with administration officials and Senator Tom Cotton, the Arkansas Republican who is a hard-liner on Iran policy, and predicted it could earn bipartisan support. It suggests that Mr. Corker’s bitter personal feud with Mr. Trump will not obstruct their cooperation on this issue.

Mr. Trump’s decision came after a fierce debate inside the administration, according to a senior official familiar with the discussions and who agreed to describe them on condition of anonymity.

In addition to Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis argued that it was in the national security interests of the United States to keep the deal’s constraints on Iran. The two men succeeded, over time, in persuading Mr. Trump not to immediately scrap an accord that he had said during last year’s presidential campaign was a “disaster” and the “worst deal ever.”

In this case, however, Iran has said that it will not take part in any renegotiation of an accord it also hammered out with three European countries, as well as with Russia and China. Persuading the Europeans — Britain, France and Germany — to reopen the negotiations could prove almost as difficult.

Even getting Congress, which is deeply divided on the Iran deal, to agree on additional legislation could prove difficult. While some Republicans are eager to undermine the deal, Democrats are equally determined to preserve what they view as another legacy of the Obama administration that Mr. Trump is trying to dismantle.

On Thursday evening, Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, released a potential blueprint toward imposing an automatic return of sanctions if Iran was believed able of producing a nuclear weapon within a year, or if it violated other restrictions.

Mr. Corker worked on the proposal with administration officials and Senator Tom Cotton, the Arkansas Republican who is a hard-liner on Iran policy, and predicted it could earn bipartisan support. It suggests that Mr. Corker’s bitter personal feud with Mr. Trump will not obstruct their cooperation on this issue.

Mr. Trump’s decision came after a fierce debate inside the administration, according to a senior official familiar with the discussions and who agreed to describe them on condition of anonymity.

In addition to Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis argued that it was in the national security interests of the United States to keep the deal’s constraints on Iran. The two men succeeded, over time, in persuading Mr. Trump not to immediately scrap an accord that he had said during last year’s presidential campaign was a “disaster” and the “worst deal ever.”

For its part, Iran has rejected both reopening the existing agreement and negotiating a successor agreement that would extend the restrictions on producing nuclear fuel beyond the 15 years in the original accord.

Asked last month about the possibility of new negotiations to extend the duration of restrictions on Iran, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said in an interview, “Are you prepared to return to us 10 tons of enriched uranium?”

That relinquished stockpile — one of Iran’s biggest concessions — was about 98 percent of the nuclear fuel holdings in the country’s possession and was the key assurance that Tehran could not rapidly produce a nuclear weapon.

Mr. Tillerson said new legislation could address what the administration views as one of the major weaknesses of the agreement: its “sunset” provisions, under which the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities expire in stages, starting in less than a decade. “We have a countdown clock to when Iran can a resume its nuclear program,” Mr. Tillerson said.

But it is a clock that will tick for quite a while. The most critical restriction in the deal — one limiting how much nuclear fuel Iran can produce — expires in 2031, years after Mr. Trump leaves office. And after that, Iran would still be prohibited from producing a nuclear weapon, and would be subject to highly intrusive inspections.

It’s worth noting that Trump’s announcement stops short of withdrawing the United States completely from the deal, which is what he had been threatening to do throughout the campaign for President. Instead, it essentially throws the issue over to Congress which now has sixty days within which it could decide to either impose new sanctions against Iran, taking steps to get the U.S. out of the deal, or taking no action at all. After that period expires, the next step would be within the President’s discretion and the options available to him include essentially doing nothing, meaning that the deal would continue forward or he could formally withdraw from the deal and call for renegotiation of the agreement notwithstanding the fact that both Iran and the other nations that were involved in the negotiations, including U.S. allies such as France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, that they would not agree with such a step and that there would be no additional or expanded negotiations. In other words, while Trump’s announcement today doesn’t mean the immediate end of the deal, it does place the deal in jeopardy and calls into question just how much the Trump Administration can or will be trusted when it comes to making international agreements of any kind.

Trump’s announcement is notable in several respects, not the least of them being that he cited absolutely no evidence that Iran had violated the deal, a revelation that might arguably justify a decision to withdraw from it in the future. In fact, members of Trump’s own foreign policy team, including most notably Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have both gone on the record as saying that Iran is in compliance with the agreement and that staying in the JCPOA is in the national interest of the United States. Additionally, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the agency charged with running the inspections called for under the agreement has said that Iran is complying with the agreement in its most recent report on the agreement. Instead, Trump said that Iran is violating the “spirit” of the agreement without specifying what that means and went on to cite things that were not even covered by the terms of the agreement, such as Iran’s missile program, the foreign policy positions it has taken that are often adverse to those of the United States, and actions that took place in the past such as terrorist that took place as long as twenty years or more in the past.

Even though Trump hasn’t thrown the entire JCPOA in the trash can, at least not yet, it’s arguably the case that he has done serious damage to American credibility around the world and made it much more difficult for Secretary Tillerson and other diplomats to do their job both with respect to America’s allies and its adversaries. As I noted when I wrote about the prospect of decertification earlier this month, the JCPOA was more than just an agreement between the United States and Iran, it was the result of years of coordinated effort on sanctions by the United States, several of its most important allies, and well as adverse powers such as China and Russia to force Iran to the negotiating table with regard to its nuclear weapons research program. That process led to sanctions that ultimately brought Iran to the table in Switzerland and set in motion the process that eventually resulted in the JCPOA. In the wake of Trump’s entry into the White House, all of these parties have made it clear that they would not participate in efforts to reopen the negotiations and, absent evidence of noncompliance, would not go along with a decision to back out of the deal and reimpose sanctions. This leaves the prospect of the United States essentially standing alone in the world.

Backing out of the deal now even though everyone is in agreement that Iran is actually in compliance with the agreement has the potential to do real damage to American credibility in other parts of the world, as I noted in my post last week:

Most ominously, of course, a move like this would impact the international efforts to deal with the North Korean nuclear program and Pyongyang’s aggressive rhetoric against the United States, South Korea, Japan, and other nations in the region. For both the North Koreans and the Chinese, as well as our allies in South Korea, Japan and elsewhere in the region. As it is the North Koreans are clearly paranoid when it comes to the United States and the west. A move like this would likely lead them to wonder, with some justification, whether the United States can or should be trusted to live up to its agreements. These conclusions would be even more justified if Congress ends up reimposing sanctions even though there doesn’t appear to be a legitimate basis to do so. The consequences of this unwise, ill-advised move cannot be understated.

 

Where we go from here depends on what happens next. If Congress tries to reimpose sanctions, then it’s likely that the entire deal could fall apart and that, prompted by the urging of hardliners in Tehran who will point to this as evidence that they were right all along, Iran will seek to restart its nuclear weapons development program. Even if that doesn’t happen, though, the damage done to American credibility when comes to other agreements will have been done and the consequences of that could be quite dangerous indeed.

 

 

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. inhumans99 says:

    Good luck with the GOP getting Iran, Russia and China back to the table, and also finding someone who is as rational and pragmatic as John Kerry was in dealing with all the parties at the negotiating table.

    I wonder how long it will take some of the more grounded folks in the GOP to realize just how amazing and jaw droppingly difficult and exhausting it was for Kerry to get Russia and China to agree with the U.S. to drag Iran to the negotiating table, it was like capturing lighting in a bottle. The knee jerk reaction is for Russia and especially China to oppose any action the U.S. tries to undertake in the name of making the world a safer place, maybe as the GOP learns more about the deal from folks who were there they will realize how crazy it is that John Kerry went against the law of physics and pulled off the impossible.

    Kerry got our enemy to the table, and President Trump is still a million miles from being any closer to making that happen again, to reiterate, I genuinely wish him and the GOP good luck if they feels that today’s actions will get them one step closer to accomplishing their goals with regards to Iran.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 35 Thumb down 0

  2. Hal_10000 says:

    Trump has made a nuclear Iran more likely with this decision. Plain and simple. And the only reason is to spite Obama.

    One thing to keep in mind: Trump’s idea of “great deals” are the deals he made as a businessman in which he makes money while everyone else gets hosed. The casinos, the Trump steaks, Trump shuttle — he thinks he was a great deal-maker because he walked away with millions while those enterprises crashed and burned. A truly great deal would have made them successes and made him even more money.

    With that point of reference, he thinks of any deal that isn’t completely one-sided — NAFATA, TPP, Iran — as bad. It’s a dangerous sentiment in a President. He will almost certainly never broker a deal with anyone while he’s in the White House.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 33 Thumb down 0

  3. gVOR08 says:

    @Hal_10000: It’s time to make Trump an offer he can’t refuse. Congress will vote him a tax free payment of one billion dollars if he’ll simply resign, effectively immediately. He’d accept because he’s always wanted to really be, personally, a billionaire. Start at 900 million and let him negotiate a billion. Make it clear if he doesn’t take it, he and his idiot kids and son-in-law go to jail. Best for him, best for us.

    Mike Pence is dumber than dirt and a religious fruitloop to boot, but I think he’s less likely to blow up the world. Pence might even be just bright enough to make a few small fixes to Obamacare, relabel it Pence Care, and get on with life.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  4. Moosebreath says:

    @Hal_10000:

    “Trump has made a nuclear Iran more likely with this decision. Plain and simple.”

    Trump has also made reaching a deal with North Korea far less likely with this decision, as we are now perceived as lying through our teeth in order to justify re-opening a deal whenever we want to.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 1

  5. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I can not decide between *face / palm* and *head / desk.*

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  6. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    calls into question just how much the Trump Administration can or will be trusted when it comes to making international agreements of any kind.

    At the risk of being redundant–and with apologies to Hal–30 years of evidence about Trump’s negotiations with subcontractors and as a marketer of his name as a putative “standard of excellence” wasn’t enough data to show how much he can be trusted? Really?

    Pence might even be just bright enough to make a few small fixes to Obamacare, relabel it Pence Care, and get on with life.

    As nice as it would be for this to be true, I’m not all that amenable to believing in Pence as an honest dealer, either. It’s too early to throw Trump under the bus–the GOP hasn’t learned nuthin’ yet! Come back with suggestions about trusting Pence when the House and Senate stop trying to fork the country over with Obamacare repeals and one-sided “tax reform” proposals.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  7. Scott says:

    I don’t know how these things work but apparently Trump believes his decertification doesn’t have any facts or truth. Can Congress (not that they would) just reject his decertification? I guess by just leaving it be. Or they could hold real hearings. But I won’t hold my breath.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  8. al-Alameda says:

    It must be a pleasure to do important international business with the United States of America: we honor our agreements, and respect our partner nations and allies.

    Remember, Trump is doing this – executing a Soviet-style purge of all evidence of the Obama Administration – to get even with that uppity man who occupied the White House from January 2009 to January 2017. This is about 5 parts ideology and 95 parts race.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  9. mike shupp says:

    Okay, this goes to Congress. And Congress will do nothing in 90 days because …. Congress. And then the thing goes back to Trump, who will do nothing and maybe in another 90 days he’ll let it be known that he isn’t going to change anything.

    So we will all have had the pleasure of knowing again just how important Donald Trump is and that his decisions cannot be foretold and that keeping him content is terribly important.

    Golly, don’t you wish FDR had run things this way back in the 1940’s?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  10. MBunge says:

    As I said before, this seems like a bad move by Trump but it would be a lot easier to argue against it if all the people now supporting the Iran deal weren’t all the same people who’ve been handling North Korea the last quarter-century.

    Mike

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  11. michael reynolds says:

    @MBunge:
    Why don’t you tell us your brilliant plan for how and when we could have somehow handled North Korea better over the last 25 years? Eh? Let’s hear it.

    And WTF does that have to do with whether this Iran matter is a smart idea or sheer lunacy?

    Explain how we impose sanctions on Iran when the rest of the signatories are ready to ignore us. Can you do that? No?

    Can you explain just how in the hell we’re going to get anyone, anywhere to make any sort of deal with us when our idiot president is demonstrating daily that we cannot be trusted to keep our word, and he’s sh!tting on allies daily? No?

    Let’s summarize your foreign policy views: You know nothing but you’re pretty sure someone other than Trump is to blame for the things you only dimly understand. And from this pedestal of utter ignorance and credulous cult fervor, you think it’s your job to correct and criticize people who actually do understand something of the situation.

    In short, you’re the guy from the old Holiday Inn Express advertisements: you know f–k all, but you had some free toast, so you’re ready to be Secretary of State.

    You add nothing to any conversation, Mike. You’re not just out of your depth, you’re cringe-inducing. I really hope you’re a Russian troll. I hate to think you’d do this for free.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 1

  12. Barry says:

    @MBunge: “As I said before, this seems like a bad move by Trump but it would be a lot easier to argue against it if all the people now supporting the Iran deal weren’t all the same people who’ve been handling North Korea the last quarter-century.”

    That’s sorta odd, because many of the ‘same people who’ve been handling North Korea the last quarter-century’, in case you didn’t notice, were right-wingers who oppose the Iran deal.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  13. JohnMcC says:

    @MBunge: Twenty five years! You’re being a piker! C’mon, now, you know that that ‘research reactor’ … the one in YongByong … the one they built back in the ’80’s that produced plutonium … during the term of the sainted Pres Reagan, ya know ….

    If you really really try I bet you can show us how the Democrats are to blame for the whole thing.

    C’mon! North Korea refused to sign the frigging TEST BAN TREATY back in the ’60’s. They could see a future with nukes even back then. And we count on you, Mike, to show us how it’s Hillary’s fault.

    You can do it, boy! C’mon!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  14. Franklin says:

    OK, so he’s messed up this deal, and probably any other deal during his administration. But the byline of this post on the main page says the move “seriously damages American credibility around the world.”

    Is that completely true? Or have the other big players kind of realized by now that a small fraction of the U.S. population accidentally managed to elect an ignoramus?

    (By small fraction, I’m taking into account how few people actually vote. Only about 19.5% of the people in this country actually voted and selected Trump.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  15. michael reynolds says:

    @Franklin:
    I’m in the UK at the moment and the tendency I find is to be embarrassed for us. Like seeing a friend so drunk he’s wet himself. They’re somewhat limited in their contempt since their own government is a wreck, but I could pretty much guarantee that if we were assembling a ‘coalition of the willing’, the Brits would just laugh.

    My limited reading of foreign presses is that we’re seen as a fallen giant. We’ve fallen and we may never get up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  16. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds: I was in Germany a couple months ago and the loss of credibility is huge.

    I have either lived in or regularly visited Germany for over 30 years and in all that time I have never seen such a lack of respect for an American President.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  17. Teve tory says:

    That electoral college bullshit has now bitten us in the ass twice in 17 years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  18. Daryl's other brother Daryll says:

    Comb-over Donnies announcement was so divorced from reality that its scary.
    He talks about America First…but he’s planting us firmly in the back-seat.
    The biggest question now, is how long it will take us to recover from the mindless damage he’s doing…both internationally and domestically.
    The second biggest question is if his followers will be smart enough to figure out how badly he’s hurting them…or, like Bunge, just continue to rim him???

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  19. Davebo says:

    We had serious damage to American credibility around the world back in January.

    And the read more thingy is annoying as hell.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  20. Slugger says:

    What I don’t get is the larger long-term plan here. I thought that Trump wanted to get America out of the endless wars in the Middle East, and it appeared to me that domestic fracking, natural gas, and electric cars causing a drop in the value of petroleum would give us a golden opportunity to get out. Instead Trump went to Saudi Arabia and got his picture taken with that glowing orb, and he has followed this up with committing more troops to Afghanistan and now stirring up the Ayatollahs.
    Mr. President, I respectfully suggest that you put that part of the world behind us. It is a land of unending war, and there is no victory to be won there. Iran, Iraq, ISIS. If it has four letters beginning with I, it is best avoided. Do not touch the tar baby, Brer Don.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  21. JKB says:

    Skipping over the fact that Ambassador Haley asked permission to make an argument for decertification, actually visited the IAEA and asked hard questions. She apparently then made a good argument that prompted the President’s actions.

    But don’t let the person who did the leg work ruin the narrative.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 13

  22. al-Ameda says:

    @JKB:

    She apparently then made a good argument that prompted the President’s actions.

    Actually, she made an argument that NOT coincidentally agreed with what the president wanted to do all along,

    She was used as very thinly veiled cover for the president – you know, the “high level administration officials expressed doubts to the president” thing. Ambassador Haley had nothing to do with the president’s decision.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  23. MarkedMan says:

    @inhumans99: With all due respect, No. Republicans are not going to understand just how hard it was to get this deal, or how good it is. The Republicans who could understand such a thing have left office long ago.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  24. Scott O says:

    @Franklin: “a small fraction of the U.S. population accidentally managed to elect an ignoramus?”

    I wish I had your optimism. I wish it was accidental. Look at the runners up, Cruz and Rubio. Would they have done differently re Iran, aside from being a bit less immature about it? At this point if someone from the future told me that our next president would be Roy Moore I wouldn’t be shocked, and that scares me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  25. grumpy realist says:

    I suspect that the main result from this will be China, Russia, and the EU saying to us “thanks, but we have a different opinion” and just ignoring anything the US says vis-a-vis Iran in the future.

    We can rant and rave and insist on sanctions as much as we want–it doesn’t mean the rest of the world is going to go along with it. Germany is already eyeing Iran as the untapped market to jump into while the U.K. is doing their own shoot-themselves-in-the-foot-called-Brexit.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  26. Matt Bernius says:

    @Franklin:

    But the byline of this post on the main page says the move “seriously damages American credibility around the world.”

    Is that completely true? Or have the other big players kind of realized by now that a small fraction of the U.S. population accidentally managed to elect an ignoramus?

    No, this has/will hurt our standing in the world because it shows how easily a shift in government can overturn existing agreements.

    Even if the next president is more interested in engaging in active diplomacy and multilateral talks, everyone now understands that within 4 years any progress and agreements could be quickly washed away. Who would want to negotiate with that.

    Obviously this would be different if it was a treaty, but the reality is that the current state of Congress all but guarantees that no significant treaty (at least not one with a hint of controversy associated with it) will be ratified in the foreseeable future.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  27. CET says:

    @Slugger:

    What I don’t get is the larger long-term plan here.

    This is really a reply to every comment that boils down to ‘WTF are Trump/Cotton/etc doing?’

    The obvious answer is: They are trying to get Iran to escalate so that they can start a ‘defensive’ war that ends with the invasion and occupation of Iran.

    I have no idea why they want that. As far as I can tell, a war with Iran would be expensive, would fracture our existing alliances, would lead to either another 10+ year failed occupation (like Iraq) or a free for all bloodbath (like Libya or Syria), and would benefit no one except Saudi Arabia, and maybe Turkey and/or Israel. I feel like I must be missing something here though – the drumbeat for war with Iran has been going on for so long that it some faction in American politics must stand to benefit from it….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  28. sherparick says:

    @JohnMcC: The actual turning point of the North Korean crisis was when G.W. Bush’s administration basically torpedoed the Clinton’s administration agreement with North Korea to end its plutonium program (but not a uranium enrichment program) in 2001. Then with the invasion of Iraq pending, North Korea formally pulled out of the NNT. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/jan/10/northkorea1 The obnoxious hawkishness of John Bolton and the rest of the Bush administration led to N.K. detonating its first device in 2006 and becoming essentially immune from preventative war by any sane administration. We Americans have elected an insane person as President, leading an insane party, with the help of some insane Russians. So now preemptive war is possible by both sides (if NK feels that it is about to be attack and lose its deterrent, it may decide to launch to cripple U.S. forces, South Korea, and Japan and then turn to China and Russia for protection from retaliation).

    On Iran, I note that the Village elite regards Iran’s actions to develop ballistic missile technology and to protect its Shia and religious minorities allies in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, are considered “illegal” and “aggressive” actions, although Iran is present in all three countries at the invitation of the internationally recognized governments of those countries and no treaty exists that prevents Iran from developing conventional arms. Read Dan Larison in the American Conservative for probably the best take on the super-hawks desire for war with Iran.

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