Two prizes are on the table for Trump in North Korea summit


All eyes are on Singapore as the world anxiously awaits the historic summit between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. The president has upended the diplomatic process, putting the principles in a position to open rather than close out negotiations. This leaves us not only with an uncertain outcome but an uncertain agenda. This gives the meeting great potential and great peril. There is the prospect of not one but two major prizes on the table, and both bring the promise of security and stability to the world.

Smart negotiations with Kim could help to rein in North Korea’s nuclear activities and significantly disrupt Iran’s efforts to improve upon its ballistic missile capabilities.

{mosads}The president is well-aware that North Korea and Iran have had a long history of cooperating to advance one another’s ballistic missile technologies. The Congressional Research Service in February 2016 authored a report stating that the two countries for decades have been sharing ballistic missiles and technology. It found that not only had North Korea provided a “qualitative increase” to Iran’s missile capabilities, it ultimately furthered Iran’s self-sufficiency in the production of medium-range ballistic missiles and could “significantly improve” Iran’s ability to create an intercontinental ballistic missile.


With their extensive, seemingly institutionalized missile technology sharing in place, any missile launched in Iran is therefore effectively a missile launched in North Korea, or vice versa. This has already played out in practice. For example, U.S. officials quickly identified a missile launched by Iran in January 2017 as the Hwasong-10, a localized version of the North Korean Musudan.

North Korea and Iran have increased the breakneck pace of testing and improving their missile technologies over the past few years, too. Over the course of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran launched 16 known ballistic missiles. Kim launched 14 missiles in 2017 alone, including a missile that may be capable of striking the continental U.S.

President Trump and his national security team must consider the high probability that the know-how powering Kim’s achievements will at some point be transferred to Iran, if it hasn’t already.

The Washington foreign policy elites have been quick to cast a pessimistic outlook on the upcoming summit, expecting President Trump to fail in his efforts. But if his recent dealings with Iran and his decisive withdrawal from the JCPOA are any indication, he will not be afraid to leave negotiations in Singapore. He knows a bad deal when he sees one. The president will not allow the failings of the Iran deal to repeat in our negotiations with North Korea.

The Obama administration’s desperate efforts to appease Tehran — even going as far as to secretly issue a license to an Omani bank to be able to convert funds through the dollar — provides a cautionary tale. No deal is better than a bad deal.

The United States can and should insist upon a deal that enhances our security globally — in the Asia Pacific, in the Middle East and everywhere that America and her allies face threats from these two regimes.

We can and should do better than the deeply flawed JCPOA, which allowed Iran to pursue its nuclear aspirations with impunity using deeply flawed sunset provisions. Permanent denuclearization should be the goal.

We cannot afford to allow North Korea, despite sanctions, to continue the development of its missile program at unprecedented speeds in the way that Iran was permitted to do so. Using feckless UN resolutions which merely “call upon” rogue regimes to refrain from ballistic missile testing — as UN Resolution 2231 did with Iran — will not suffice. We have the opportunity to learn from our past mistakes.

While the outcome of the summit will ultimately fall on the shoulders of a handful of individuals, the shadow of Iran will be ever present. It serves well as a reminder of what we have achieved, where we have failed and where we need to succeed. President Trump has shown that he has the fortitude to come to an agreement with North Korea and ensure our nation’s security will remain unchallenged. I am optimistic of the outcome of this upcoming summit — a meeting that has the chance to shape international peace and security for decades to come.

Mark S. Kirk, a former U.S. senator from Illinois (R), is a senior adviser at United Against Nuclear Iran.

Tags Donald Trump Foreign policy of the Barack Obama administration foreign relations Foreign relations of Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action North Korea–United States summit Nuclear energy in Iran Nuclear program of Iran

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