What Does the North Korea-Trump ‘Best Friends’ Summit Portend for Iran?

Alastair Crooke, Strategic Culture Foundation, 19 June 2018

What an odd outcome: After all the threatened ‘fire and fury’, all the earlier bluster about complete, irreversible, verified, denuclearisation, and all the neocon bravura about Kim Jong Un having to transfer his nukes to the US, and having to undertake irreversible steps to strip himself nuclear-naked, as it were, prior to Trump lifting his little finger – all this melted away, like snow, into a show of BFFE (best friends for ever).

“The Singapore summit was long on theatre and largely devoid of substance”, writes Professor Steven Walt, “save for a typical Trumpian giveaway.  This time Donald Trump impulsively offered to suspend military exercises with South Korea (without notifying Seoul in advance) in exchange for a North Korean pledge to do – well, nothing.  If the self-proclaimed master negotiator keeps making deals like this, there will be a Kim Jong Un Hilton in Honolulu, before there is a Trump Tower in Pyongyang.  The most significant development in Singapore was to complete the transformation of Kim … into a serious and engaged world leader, of some stature.”

Was this just an example of creative, Trump unorthodoxy (face-to-face meeting in advance of substantive agreement) – i.e. the voiding of a blockage?  Or, was it because the outlines to Kim Jong Un’s policy objectives have been clear since at least 2013, but the tilt point in turning it from something latent into substantive form, was the metamorphos in South Korea which gave Moon the clear mandate to seek the reunification of the Peninsular (something the North Korean leadership had long sought)?

Let us be clear: Russia, China and the South had already seized, and have been running hard, with this ‘ball’ (the critical shift in sentiment in the South).  The US was not leading the process, despite all its hullabaloo — it was reacting.  Was ‘Singapore’ simply about Washington sensing that it was in danger of missing the ‘group-of-four’s boat?  Maybe. Perhaps too, it was becoming plain to all in Team Trump, that a wholly front-loaded denuclearisation, in return for wholly incomplete and reversible US post-hoc‘assurances’, simply was not doable.

Will it work? Will it result in complete denuclearisation? That really is not the point – what we have is a process parked ad interim.  And North Korea’s threat to deliver a 9/11 type event to the US homeland is relieved.

But, perhaps Trump’s sudden ‘twist’ reflects something else, too?  Iran, perchance, and Trump’s only substantive foreign policy objective: a Middle East regional settlement that secures Israel?

The main difference between North Korea (NK) and Iran, of course, is that the former presented a direct threat to the US homeland.  Iran however, posed, and poses, no threat to the US mainland.  It cannot weapons de-nuclearise, since it does have any – unlike NK.

Another difference is that NK’s neighbours are taking forward an economic-led, ‘political’ process (and pulling along the US in its wake).  And they intend to continue to put economic ‘facts on the ground’ (ahead of the US negotiations).  Whereas in the Iran instance, matters are just the opposite: Iran’s neighbours are committed to no detente, at almost any cost – and to initiating ‘regime change’: i.e. Iran’s neighbours represent an active negative political process – unlike NK’s ‘group of four’ which acts positivelyfor a political outcome.

Again – no question – President Trump committed substantial political capital, and accepted domestic risk, with the NK summit, whereas with Iran, again, just the opposite: the US and Israel actively are blocking any European or any other political capital being committed to a political solution with respect to Iran’s non-possession of nuclear weapons.

Similarly, just as Trump parades NK’s agreement to ‘complete de-nuclearisation of the Peninsular’ as a huge ‘win’, in the case of Iran, just such a declaration has been made impossible (though Iran has long advocated a Middle East free of nuclear weapons). Netanyahu’s ‘show’ of Iranian documents, allegedly purloined from Tehran, precisely was designed to undercut any similar de-nuclearisation statement by Iran, by making it meaningless:  “They lied. Any Iranian commitments are worthless”, the Israeli PM suggested.  Netanyahu thereby effectively has blocked any mirroring of the North Korea summit.

It is in this context of the disparity between NK ‘best friends’ summit, and the blocks being erected towards any political solution in respect to Iran’s nuclear programme, that the tweets this week by the well-respected, and credible, Saudi blogger Mujtahiddbecome significant.

Mujtahidd  tweeted  that Kushner had informed Mohamed bin Salman (MBS) of the background to the North Korea summit – (informally translated):

  • Kushner told Mohamed Bin Salman a secret about the Trump-Kim summit, only known to a very closed circle in the White House, probably even unknown to Congress, after Mohamed bin Salman expressed concern that this step may be repeated with Iran with Trump suddenly opening up to Iran with no preconditions, turning his back on bin Salman.
  • Kushner told bin Salman that before any military confrontation with Iran, Trump wants to promote himself as a man of peace and is therefore keen on this achievement. Kim was initially satisfied wit the denuclearization announcement before the summit, but when China noticed Trump’s enthusiasm, it decided to blackmail him into ending the trade war with China in return of having the summit.
  • China then instructed Kim to go back on his approval, which is what happened until Trump secretly promised China to halt the trade war against it. The evidence to this was the lifting of the ban on China’s telecom operator ZTE, accused of technical and commercial spying on the US.
  • When Congress rejected the president’s decision to lift the ban on ZTE, Trump promised the Chinese, according to Kushner, that he would veto the congressional decision. As for the trade war and custom tariffs, everything is being done by Trump and his secretary of trade in coordination with China, putting in place a gradual scenario which Europe [it was believed] would not pay attention to, until it was exposed at the summit in Canada
  • After this was explained to him by Kushner, bin Salman was reassured that confrontation with Iran is progressing. Knowing the secret has given him a lot of pride as he knows things not known to Congress or major US institutions; MbS has expressed his pride about this in closed [Saudi] circles. 

This fits. There is no evidence to support these claims, but Mujtahidd has a long record of being proven correct. The Singapore photo op has given Trump the plausible image of ‘a man of peace’. There will be – there can be – no UNSC resolution supporting US action against Iran, but the Singapore Photo Op can stand in its stead – it represents Trump’s bona fides.  It further suggests Trump has been always open to negotiation (which is not true in the case of Iran – except in the event of the overthrow of the government).  And the ‘Best Friends’ photo-op inoculates him from accusations of being ‘just another neocon’.

The North Korean process is ‘parked’ for now (whilst the lengthy negotiations continue), and Trump is free to pursue heightened attrition against Iran, and without the very real concerns appertaining to North Korea – since Iran  cannot in any way, threaten the US homeland.

Putin, at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting, which President Rouhani attended, explicitly committed to supporting Iran and the JCPOA – and China, at the same event, invited Iran to make use of the Shanghai commodity options market for its energy exports. Russia and China can protect Iran from imploding economically, but neither Russia nor China can run a peace process against an aggressive US-Israeli tide, in full spate.

So, what was afoot at Singapore?  It seems Trump has just added the US neocons to his electoral constituency (in time for the mid-term Congressional elections).  Bolton was present in Singapore, and the US President made a point of introducing Bolton (of all people), the neocon flagship, to Jong Un (there is a long history to North Korea’s strong dislike for Bolton – and with good cause).  Bolton participated, and not a peep was heard from him along the usual lines that NK lies, because deceit is their nature.

Bolton was strangely affable and polite. What then might be the quid pro quo for Bolton’s uncharacteristicly affable assent?  Here, Mujtahidd may have given us the answer (courtesy of Jared Kushner’s desire to keep MbS ‘sweet’): “Before confrontation with Iran, Trump wants to promote himself as a man of peace, and was therefore keen on this achievement [the Singapore Summit]”.

And if confirmation was wanted that some planned major geo-political confrontation and misery lay behind all the sweetness and light of Singapore, then Norway gave it to us.  With all their unerring ability to misjudge things, they echoed the suggestion of Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize. Mujtahidd must be right, then.

Will Iran be besieged into capitulation? Trump’s tightening noose will fail. Maybe then, some in the Israeli leadership will perceive more clearly that the G7 unipolar era is over, and the Russia-China multi-polar world is in the ascendant.

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