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Why Iran Won’t Talk to Trump

Contrary to Trump's thuggish approach to international relations, sending out "genocidal tweets" is not the way to gain respect and cooperation from other governments.
donald trump javad zarif iran

The president’s unhinged threat against Iran earlier this week recalls similar reckless rhetoric against North Korea in 2017. Just as we came dangerously close to an avoidable conflict then, the U.S. and Iran run the same risk now. If Trump thinks that this is why North Korea wanted to negotiate and that the same thing will happen with Iran, he is in for a rude awakening:

“Claiming a win on North Korea when the outcome has been anything but that is dangerous on two fronts: With North Korea because Kim is likely going to keep gradually escalating behavior that the US finds provocative, and with Iran because Trump seems to have internalized his own fact-free narrative about the magic he worked with North Korea,” Jackson said.

The failure of Trump’s North Korea policy is contributing to the failure of his Iran policy in part because he mistakenly believes that “maximum pressure” and threats brought North Korea to the table. Because he wrongly assumes that North Korea agreed to talk in response to pressure, he may also wrongly think this will force Iran to do likewise. In both cases, the administration won’t get what it wants because it is demanding things from these states that they aren’t ever going to give up. North Korea may go through the motions of talking about it, but Iran won’t even bother with that. The problem is not just that Trump and his advisers don’t understand why these governments behave as they do, but that they are seeking concessions from them that no government would ever grant. Talks with North Korea have predictably stalled for this reason, and that is why there will be no talks with Iran.

As Negar Mortazavi points out in a new report, the Iranian government is not seeking a summit with an American president as North Korean leaders have been doing for decades:

The North Korea blueprint will not work with Iran. Iranian leaders are very different from Kim Jung-un. They are not looking for public approval from the President of the United States and are not after photo-ops on the world stage.

Trump was pushing on an open door with a North Korean government that already wanted to talk once they had finished developing their nuclear arsenal. The door to talks with Iran is firmly shut and locked, and it is Trump’s own actions that have made sure that it will stay closed for as long as he is president. Threatening the entire country with destruction just confirms the Iranian government in their determination to wait Trump out. The other obvious difference is that North Korea is a nuclear weapons state (whether we want to admit it or not) and Iran traded away the bulk of their leverage when they implemented and adhered to the nuclear deal. North Korea’s leaders felt confident in negotiating with the U.S. because they believed they were doing so from a position of strength. Iran’s government has not only been burned by the experience of negotiating with the U.S., but they also gave up what they had to trade in an attempt to get the sanctions relief that they were then denied. By ripping the Iranians off, Trump proved himself to be untrustworthy, and Iran’s government no longer had anything they were willing to offer in exchange anyway.

The only way for the U.S. and Iran to get back to a point where our governments could start negotiations on other issues would be if a future president reentered the JCPOA and tried to make amends for the last few years of relentless hostility. Contrary to Trump’s thuggish approach to international relations, sending out “genocidal tweets” is not the way to gain respect and cooperation from other governments. Most other people understand that, but unfortunately this is what the president thinks diplomacy is.



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