Trump’s Two Nuke Deals: Soft on North Korea, But Tough on Iran

Trump has signed a deal with North Korea that is far less comprehensive & far less reassuring than the Iran deal.

5 min read
US President Donald Trump signed the very vague North Korean nuclear deal, but tore up the Iran nuclear deal, which is far more comprehensive and reassuring.

President Trump’s much-proclaimed nuclear deal with North Korea on 12 June has left many in South Korea and Japan wondering whether there is any light at the end of the tunnel.

The obvious question is, if this is the best deal he could come up with for America and its allies, then what was wrong with the other nuclear deal with Iran that he tore up?

A study of the two Joint statements reveals a striking contrast in promises delivered, concessions offered and the steps put in place to ensure success of the deal. Here’s how they compare:

What North Korea Got from America

Firstly, there is a general and vague statement for “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula” in return for US security guarantees and lifting of sanctions.

The key formulation: ‘Complete, verifiable and irreversible de-nuclearisation’ that was the mantra before the meeting is conspicuously absent from the statement.

This suggests that Kim Jong Un has outsmarted President Trump by restricting his side of the bargain, while managing to get America to immediately halt its joint exercises with South Korea, which North Korea has always been considered ‘provocative’.

President Trump also spoke at length on the withdrawal of American troops from the Panmunjom line – this must have sounded like music to North Korean and Chinese leaders’ ears, who have desired this for several decades.

Secondly, the North Korean missile program does not find a mention in the Joint Statement, which was apparently the tipping point in the Iran nuclear deal. Responding to a question on this subject, President Trump said there was no time to go into it. In North Korea’s case, it seems like the missile program was only a minor detail.

Thirdly, no independent agency such as the IAEA (the only authorised agency under the UN) has been nominated to inspect and verify the denuclearisation promised by North Korea, as they were in the Iran nuclear deal.

There are reportedly about 140 nuclear and missile sites in North Korea. As per media reports, Pyongyang possesses around 60 nuclear warheads, dozens of ballistic missiles and a widely dispersed infrastructure that produces enough fissile material for about six bombs every year.

Fourthly, a step-by-step process of denuclearisation seems to have been agreed to, with sops and incentives to be offered by the US at every step. If the sops are not considered commensurate by the North Korean regime, the deal may yet unravel.

Some analysts opine that ‘complete denuclearisation’ may take almost 10 years, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that substantial denuclearisation would take place before the end President Trump’s first term. 

Fifthly, no time frame for the talks to ensure ‘complete denuclearisation’ has been envisaged.

Secretary Pompeo, who expressed irritation at some pertinent questioning by the press, said that the talks might start as early as next week. Kim Jong Un is yet to appoint a suitable interlocutor for these talks.

Points of Difference Between North Korea & Iran

On the other hand, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed with Iran by the P5+1 countries under the leadership of President Obama had some very clear, precise and specific points agreed upon by all sides.

Firstly, it must be noted that Iran is not yet a nuclear weapon state.

Secondly, unlike North Korea, Iran does not have an intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM) program.

Thirdly, it was not a bilateral agreement between the US and Iran and it was actively supported and guided by the United Nation’s main monitoring agency, the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).


What America Got From North Korea

Under the agreement, Iran had agreed to:

  • Stop all enrichment activity above 5%
  • Dilute or neutralise the stock of 20% enriched uranium
  • Halt the production of centrifuges
  • Not to fuel or commission its research reactor in Arak
  • Accept more intrusive inspections by the IAEA, including daily visits at some places such as the Fordow plant
  • Open up its Parachin missile testing site

Iran also agreed to eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, cut its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98% and reduce by about two-thirds the number of its gas centrifuges for 10 years. For the next 15 years under the deal, Iran would only enrich uranium up to 3.67%.

Iran also agreed not to build any new heavy water facilities for the same period of time. Uranium-enrichment activities would be limited to a single facility using first-generation centrifuges for 10 years. Other facilities would be converted to avoid proliferation risks.

To monitor and verify Iran's compliance with the agreement, the International Atomic Energy Agency would have regular access to all Iranian nuclear facilities. The agreement provided that in return for verifiably abiding by its commitments, Iran would receive relief from US, EU and UN sanctions.

The essential purpose of the deal was to push Iran’s ‘break-out capacity’ – the time required to produce enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon, allegedly from weeks (according to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) – to over one year.

President Trump has been ranting against this deal from his campaign days, calling it the “worst deal ever” and “defective at its core” and pulled the US out of the JCPOA in May this year, calling it a “dire necessity” due to the “rotten structure of the current agreement”. And now, he has signed a deal with North Korea that is far less comprehensive and far less reassuring than the JCPOA.


Is Trump Eyeing The Nobel Peace Prize?

It was speculated that President Trump’s hurry to have the meeting with Kim Jong Un was a desperate attempt to position himself for the Nobel peace prize. Hence his hurry in exiting from an unfinished meeting with the G-7 in Canada, where he did not wait to sign the joint communiqué so as to be in Singapore way ahead of schedule.

The hasty and muddled manner in which the summit meeting with Kim was initially fixed for April, cancelled and again rescheduled for 12 June indicated that there was hardly any preparation, either at the technical or at the political level.

True to his style, it was all about Trump and his so-called negotiating skills as a real-estate salesman that were on display, rather than any convincing change of heart in Kim Jong Un. The latter still has all the nuclear weapons and missiles intact, and is carefully weighing his options before abandoning them.

Meanwhile, Trump’s decision to renege on the Iran deal has resulted in Iran deciding to restart its uranium enrichment program on an industrial scale and possibly reopen the Fordow plant and get its locked up centrifuges going again.

Such being the outcomes of Trump’s decision-making, it is hoped that the Nobel Prize Committee will take the North Korean deal as still ‘a work in progress’ and not rush to honour him with the Peace Prize, particularly because he has renuclearised another country in a more volatile region.

(The author served as a diplomat in Maldives. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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