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Trump’s Unrealistic Ultimatums for Iran and North Korea

Robert Litwak urges [1] the Trump administration to give up on its maximalist demands for Iran and North Korea and settle for more limited, transactional agreements:

Diplomacy is an optimizing, not a maximizing, function. Neither North Korea nor Iran will accept a transformational U.S. negotiating position that they regard as tantamount to regime suicide. Transactional diplomacy offers a plausible pathway for constraining, not eliminating, these states’ threatening capabilities. Moreover, a discrete focus based on countering behavior that violates established international norm will garner broader international support to amplify U.S. pressure on the Pyongyang and Tehran regimes. In short, transactional diplomacy makes the best of a bad situation. The open question is whether the current impasse will lead the Trump administration to navigate this transition from the transformational to the transactional.

Litwak is right about what the administration should do, but we have seen no signs that they understand that they need to give up on their unrealistic goals. Even though “maximum pressure” has failed to extract any significant concessions from either government, the administration still insists on North Korean disarmament that won’t happen and repeats the 12 preposterous demands that Iran will never accept. On Iran, the administration has moved beyond making unreasonable demands and has been promoting outright lies that Iran still harbors “nuclear ambitions.” In the other case, the U.S. and North Korea have held talks, but both sides continue to talk past one another with their competing and mutually exclusive definitions of key terms. The administration’s approach to both states has amounted to issuing ultimatums that require the other side to surrender in exchange for little or nothing up front, and then they wonder why they haven’t made more progress.

One could be forgiven for assuming that the demands that the U.S. is making are so extreme and far-reaching that they are designed to be rejected in order to give our hard-liners a pretext for escalation. If regime change is what administration officials truly seek (and there is no question that it is in the case of Iran), they could be making impossible demands so that they can declare diplomacy a dead end and provide them with an excuse for military action that some of them have been craving for years. If they can’t get the desired “transformation” through negotiations (and they can’t), they are more likely to abandon diplomacy before they give up on the transformational goals they have set. The source of the trouble is that the president, the Secretary of State, and the National Security Advisor despise making the compromises that any successful diplomatic engagement requires, and that means that they won’t switch to transactional dealings with these states.

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2 Comments To "Trump’s Unrealistic Ultimatums for Iran and North Korea"

#1 Comment By Third Tour’s The Charm On January 29, 2019 @ 12:26 pm

“One could be forgiven for assuming that the demands that the U.S. is making are so extreme and far-reaching that they are designed to be rejected in order to give our hard-liners a pretext for escalation. “

In general, one is not forgiven for assuming the patently obvious when those doing the patently obvious are dead set on browbeating one into accepting that the patently obvious is something other than what it is.

However, in this case they regard all the talk as so much diplomatic flummery, and they don’t really care that every knows what they’re really doing. So you’re forgiven.

#2 Comment By John Scott On January 29, 2019 @ 5:25 pm

Akin to the Austro-Hungarian demands on Serbia that were impossible for any sovereign nation to accept, and which led to WW1, and in time to fascism and Stalinism. We know how that panned out, and post-Iraq we have a pretty good idea how a US war on Iran would pan out; the irresponsibles peddling war won’t be paying a personal price for this, any more than Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz did; after the inevitable and completely avoidable fiasco, Bolton and his fellow ghouls will be absorbed into the perverted world of think-tankery and academic prostitution.Bourbon Bolton; learns nothing, forgets nothing.