Is President Trump succeeding on N. Korea and failing on Iran? Analyst Paulo Casaca says while Trump’s policies for the two countries are quite similar, Middle Eastern and Northeast Asian geopolitics are very different.
DW: Some US officials claim that President Donald Trump’s aggressive North Korea policy has forced the communist country to engage in talks. But Trump’s policy for Iran – another state allegedly aspiring to be a nuclear power – has not yielded results. What makes it difficult for the Trump administration to deal with Iran?
Paulo Casaca: In 2016, I presented a policy brief “The PINK triangle threat; Nuclear terror proliferation: an assessment,” in Washington DC. In the paper I identified Pakistan, Iran and North Korea (PINK) as three vertices of the same [nuclear] triangle that need to be dealt with in a concerted way. My recommendations broadly go in line with what the Trump administration has been doing.
President Trump has increased pressure on these countries and imposed more sanctions related to their nuclear proliferation activities. Most recently, his administration targeted Pakistan. On this issue, Trump is showing resolve that no US president has demonstrated in decades.
Are his policies for these countries coherent?
I think the situations vary for each country and results cannot be achieved at the same time. It is definitely too early to speak of any success regarding North Korea, as we have seen many times in the past that success claims can be elusive. But the fact that sanctions on North Korea were imposed in a much more consistent way has forced the Northeast Asian country’s authorities to seek a compromise.
The Iran situation is also evolving favorably. We must keep in mind that international sanctions against Iran are not comparable with the ones on North Korea, therefore the result has not been the same.
On the other hand, public dissatisfaction with the regime in Iran is much stronger than in North Korea, so the internal pressure is higher in Iran.
As it was true in the case of the former Soviet Union, it is easier to analyze the objective weaknesses of Iran’s regime than to guess the exact timing and circumstances of its possible collapse.
In 2015, Iran signed a nuclear deal with global powers, including the US. Trump’s opposition to the landmark agreement is not a secret. So contrary to his North Korea strategy, it appears that in Iran’s case the US president is trying to move away from the negotiating table. Do you agree?
I think that if and when Iranian authorities agree to negotiations without conditions, President Trump would react the same way he did with North Korea. I do not see any difference in the US president’s approaches for the two countries other than his perception that the collapse of the North Korean regime due to an internal pressure is not as likely as in the case of Iran.
The reality is that France is getting closer to the US position [on the Iran nuclear deal] and forcing other Western countries, including Germany, to change their stance and understand that either there is a change of policy that really contains Iran’s threats or the nuclear deal will collapse.
The idea that the Iran deal could survive without the US is not realistic.
So you’re saying that the US adopts different nuclear approaches for different countries and different regions in accordance with its interests?
We must not equate nuclear powers like France and the UK with countries like North Korea and Iran that want to possess atomic bombs. At the same time we must keep in mind the global objective of eliminating nuclear weapons everywhere in the world.
The US has signed huge weapons deals with Iran’s rival states in the Middle East as well as North Korea’s opponents in Northeast Asia. Do you think the military-industrial complex has an interest in fanning hostilities in the two regions?
The Western policy – in particular the US policy – regarding the Middle East lacks coherence, vision and credibility. The enormous sales of aircraft fighters to Qatar by the US, the UK, and France are an example of this.
Qatar has been a major promoter of jihadism in the Middle East and is protected by Iran. It has clearly aligned against US interests [in the Middle East], but Western powers seem to be more interested in arms sales than working to change Qatar’s policies.
Elsewhere, it also appears that the West is incapable of resisting the pressure of the military-industrial complex. The recent US arms sales for Saudi Arabia will hardly be the most efficient way to help the kingdom resist Iranian-backed fighters in the region.
Paulo Casaca is founder and executive director of the Brussels-based South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF). He was a Portuguese member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2009. Casaca is an expert on Iranian politics and the author of several books and reports on economics and international politics.
The interview was conducted by Shamil Shams.