Mike Pompeo has written an article for Foreign Affairs that is supposed to outline the Trump administration’s bankrupt Iran policy, but as an added bonus he reminds us that their North Korea policy remains hopelessly unrealistic:
When considering a future North Korea deal that is superior to the JCPOA, we have described our objective as “the final, fully verified denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, as agreed to by Chairman Kim Jong Un.” “Final” means that there will be no possibility that North Korea will ever restart its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs—something the JCPOA did not provide for with Iran. “Fully verified” means that there will be stronger verification standards than were required under the JCPOA, which, among other weaknesses, did not require inspections at key Iranian military facilities. The exact contours of a North Korea agreement remain to be negotiated, but “final” and “fully verified” are centerpieces on which we will not compromise [bold mine-DL].
We see here that the Trump administration remains wedded to an unachievable maximalist goal. North Korea is not going to agree to the elimination of its nuclear arsenal, and it certainly isn’t going to agree to a “final” end to their nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. The problem isn’t just that the “exact contours” of such an agreement “remain to be negotiated,” but that North Korea has no intention of agreeing to any of the things that Pompeo keeps falsely claiming that Kim has already agreed to. Pompeo is making it quite clear that the administration “will not compromise” on demands that North Korea will never accept, so he may as well be announcing that the administration’s North Korea policy has already failed on its own terms. If you ask me, that doesn’t seem “superior to the JCPOA.”
The Trump administration’s false and misleading claims about the JCPOA have become a major part of their rhetoric about their North Korea diplomacy. If the JCPOA, the most successful nonproliferation agreement in decades, is a “terrible” deal, that considerably raises the bar for any agreement with North Korea. The Iran hawks in the administration loathe the nuclear deal for other reasons, and so they say that the agreement was inadequate while simply making things up about it. For instance, Pompeo says that the JCPOA “did not provide” for making Iran unable to “restart” a nuclear weapons program, which ignores that the deal makes it practically impossible for Iran to do just that. The JCPOA has the most extensive and intrusive verification measures of any nonproliferation agreement to date, so faulting the nuclear deal for its supposedly weak verification shows that the Trump administration doesn’t understand what the deal does and doesn’t grasp why it is absurd to expect to get North Korea to agree to an even more stringent standard. Pompeo also conveniently fails to acknowledge that North Korea is no longer a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), so it is unlikely to submit to inspections from the IAEA that Iran was willing to permit. Furthermore, if Iran was unwilling to open up every site to inspections for security reasons, we can only imagine how much more resistant North Korea would be to that idea.
The current administration has rejected and reneged on the nuclear deal in spite of consistent Iranian compliance because they insist on Tehran’s total capitulation, and they expect the same capitulation from North Korea. They aren’t going to get it, and continuing to insist on it jeopardizes whatever genuine diplomatic progress the two Koreas have been making on their own. The administration has trapped itself by saying that any deal they make with North Korea will be better than the JCPOA, but there is no chance of that happening. First, North Korea would have to give up far more than Iran did, and the U.S. and its allies have less leverage with North Korea than the P5+1 had with Iran. Second, the administration has already shown with its reneging on the JCPOA that the U.S. can’t be trusted to honor its agreements. Third and most important, North Korea is already a nuclear-weapons state, and it isn’t going to abandon their arsenal when its leaders believe this is essential to their security and the survival of the regime.