It is premature to conclude that the upcoming summit between the U.S. and North Korea will produce any long-lasting breakthroughs to eliminate its nuclear arsenal. After all, the North has promised to do so before and then broken its commitments, all the while continuing its offensive nuclear capability.
But let’s assume for a moment that a miracle does happen and Kim Jong Un finally comes to his senses and decides to “denuclearize.” Given Donald Trump’s previous hard line — and the serious skepticism of his national security team lead by Mike Pompeo and John Bolton — there’s only one way such an agreement should be acceptable to the U.S.: It would have to impose ironclad enforcement and verification requirements, including stringent international inspections to guarantee that all nuclear weapons and long range missiles are destroyed, and no new ones are built in their place.
That’s a tall order indeed, and one that may well elude the Trump administration. Yet should a viable denuclearization agreement with North Korea come to pass — and particularly if it leads to a peace treaty finally and formally ending the Korean War 50 years after it ended in bitter stalemate — it would represent an enormous diplomatic success. That might open the door to other denuclearization agreements that could follow the implementation template it lays down.
Let’s start with Iran. Iran too pledged to suspend its nuclear program in exchange for relief from punishing international sanctions, much as North Korea repeatedly promised and failed to do. And like North Korea, Iran’s previous actions offer little credible evidence that it will keep any commitment to actually give up its nuclear capability. In fact, the current Iran nuclear deal is so full of holes and blind spots that President Trump is right to insist that unless the agreement is strengthened with real enforcement and inspection mechanisms, it will be scuttled by the U.S.
The recent intelligence trove of Iranian nuclear documents captured and released by the Israeli government confirm this hard reality. The Iranians have cheated on nuclear arms issues before and can be expected to be cheating now — and cheat again in the future — without constant international monitoring and oversight.
There’s precious little time to correct the deep flaws in the current Iran nuclear agreement before the president must recertify continued U.S. participation in this deeply flawed deal next week. But suppose the U.S. firmly relays to Iran’s Ayatollahs what Trump essentially said to Kim Jong Un: “give up your nuclear ambitions, stop threatening your neighbors with nuclear holocaust, cease exporting terror, or you too will face the ‘fire and fury’ of a determined America. Change your ways, or the U.S. will lead a punishing quarantine of Iran re-imposing harsh sanctions, including squeezing off revenue from Iranian oil.”
If our western allies are serious about containing Iranian nuclear capability and terrorist activity, a successful North Korea nuclear agreement could produce major leverage for the West to finally bring Iran to heel. Such a deal with Kim Jong Un would send a powerful signal to Iran to rethink its own nuclear ambitions.
And that brings us to Russia, which has cast its lot with Iranian and Syrian aggression, and also threatens to restart a hugely expensive and expansive nuclear arms race with the U.S. A successful denuclearization summit with North Korea, followed by a meaningfully strengthened international nuclear agreement with Iran, should signal Russia that sparring with the U.S. over nuclear weapons supremacy is a losing proposition. Just like the old Soviet Union finally recognized the futility of a nuclear arms race with the U.S., Vladimir Putin’s regime would be well advised to avoid one today.
Yet if North Korea and Iran can ultimately be made to see the light on nuclear proliferation, why not offer an opening to Russia to do likewise? It is unfortunate that the endless Russia probe in the U.S. stymies any moves towards reopening arms reductions negotiations between our two countries. Current estimate peg the cost of updating the U.S. nuclear force at over $1 trillion. And if the U.S. and Russia make good on plans to build new nuclear forces to counter each other, the cost could run to billions more. That’s money that Russia could use to build up its own shaky economy, and the U.S. could use to rebuild crumbling infrastructure here.
So yes, a Korean-Iranian-Russian nuclear arms trifecta may be a long shot, but it’s worth the bet.
This column was originally published in the Long Island Herald Community Newspapers.
Former Senator D’Amato served a distinguished 18-year career in the U.S. Senate, where he chaired the Senate Banking Committee and was a member of the Senate Appropriations and Finance Committees. While in the Senate, Mr. D’Amato also Chaired of the U.S. Commission on Cooperation and Security in Europe (CSCE), and served on the Senate Intelligence Committee. The former Senator is considered an expert in the legislative and political process, who maintains close relationships with Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. He is regularly called upon for his advice and counsel, and is recognized for his incisive analysis of national and international political affairs. The former Senator will share insights gained from his years in Washington “with a clear-eyed view of the political forces that shape the world we live in today.” To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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