By J.V. Lakshmana Rao
Besides vexed North Korea and Iran nuclear pacts, Trump is pushing for new arms control agreements with Russia and China. It is highly unpredictable whether he and his counterparts in North Korea, Iran, Russia, and China would reach their desired agreements on nuclear arms control issues. If the effort drags on beyond his current term, it could become a poll plank for him to seek a second term.
US President Donald Trump, who has about a year and half to complete his current term in office, is overly busy with issues like nuclear arms control, trade and tariff. He has recently had talks with leaders of world countries like Russia, China, and North Korea, and now heading to Japan and South Korea for talks. With Iran threatening to enrich more uranium against sanctions, the Gulf is once again becoming a sensitive area in Middle East.
While for former US President George W. Bush Iraq was an obsession, for Trump, Iran and North Korea seems to be becoming pre-poll presidential international issues. For Trump these issues, whether they find solutions or remain unresolved, they are likely to be main 2020 presidential election planks.
In the recent past, besides tackling his own domestic issues, and the country’s economy has been showing healthy trend, Trump has been keeping busy with meetings with world leaders, and soon he is likely to meet some more in Japan where G-20 is scheduled to hold its summit.
Among the issues on hand, it seems the nuclear weapon control is weighing high in Trump’s mind. Besides vexed North Korea and Iran nuclear pacts, Trump in his latest move, is pushing for new nuclear arms-control agreements with Russia and China. The move is in a nascent stage but it is a vital and serious one in his view.
Reports say that Trump has asked his aides to prepare new arms-control agreements with Russia and China. The aim is to bring the unregulated Russian treaty under new limits and goad China to join an arms-control agreement that seeks verifying its capabilities. The US is in favor of separate agreements with Russia and China rather than having a trilateral nuclear arms control pact. Trump desires to hold talks with Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping for a “meaningful” halt to what he terms as the uncontrollable arms race.
Perhaps as a first step towards his avowed objectives, Trump is scheduled to make a stopover in South Korea on his way to Japan for G-20 summit next month. In Japan Trump will meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The two leaders are expected to discuss North Korea, “including its nuclear issues.”They will also find ways to a free and open Indo-Pacific region and strengthen bilateral trade and investment relationship.
Trump, during his stopover in South Korea, will meet its President Moon Jae-in. Trump and Moon would discuss issues of importance to their two nations and continue their close coordination on efforts to achieve the final and fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.
Trump-Abe talks are taking place after a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Russian Pacific island port city of Vladivostok on April 25. Without eliciting any tangible result, the summit ended with Putin assuring Kim that he would share with Trump whatever the two discussed. But Putin made it clear that Moscow and Washington want North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons.
The Putin-Kim summit was held following the stalemated second summit between Kim and Trump in Hanoi on February 28 when Trump dropped the talks abruptly as he made it clear that no progress would be made in the relief of sanctions unless Kim completes the denuclearization of North Korea, open nuclear facilities for inspection and surrender of all nuclear arsenal.
Interestingly, the much dodged and delayed first Trump-Kim summit was held in Singapore on June 12, 2018 in a cordial atmosphere with a great fanfare, at the initiative of Trump with a hope that they would find a solution to the issue. Though since then some progress was made in give-and-take effort between the US and North Korea, the nuclear peace issue still remained unresolved that led to the second summit.
The US, after the first summit, expected North Korea to act with some speed in the demolition of nuclear installations, but North Korea, it is stated, while demolishing some old ones was developing new ones. North Korea also did not feel that the US was doing enough towards lifting of the sanctions. Thus mutual trust lacked between Trump and Kim, which had led to the holding of the second summit. As the second summit ended abruptly with Trump walking away from it, a disillusioned and desperate Kim while seeking a summit meet with Putin, understandably and evidently resumed nuclear activity, including test-firing of short-range missiles, which had become an issue for Japan, because of its geographical proximity with North Korea.
North Korea is stated to have fired two short-range missiles on May 9, following launching of an earlier drill on May 4, being the first in 18 months. It is stated that North Korea had not launched any missiles since November 2017, shortly before once-isolated Kim began diplomatic efforts with an amiable Trump at his initiative.
While reacting to Kim’s action of seemingly resuming nuclear activity, Trump has shown some sensibility by saying, “I don’t consider that (Kim’s action) is a breach of trust at all. And, at some point I may. But at this point no.”
This understanding indicates that Trump is still hopeful of a Korean Peninsula peace even though the talks at the second summit ended in stalemate.
Meanwhile Iran, which is also affected by the US sanctions, on May 7 threatened to enrich its uranium stockpile closer to weapons-grade in 60 days if world powers fail to negotiate new terms for its 2015 nuclear deal, raising regional tension as the US aircraft carrier and bombers headed to the Middle East to confront Tehran.
While Iranian President Hassan Rouhani seeks new nuclear deal, the Trump administration has been on high alert in response to what military and intelligence officials have deemed specific and credible threats from Iran against US personnel in the Middle East.
Differing with his advisers, Trump feels that there is no urgency for the US to go for a military confrontation with Iran against his long-standing pledge to withdraw from costly foreign wars. He says he prefers a diplomatic approach to resolving tensions and wants to speak directly with Iranian leaders. He has denied a report that the administration has a plan to send 120,000 troops.
Trump is stated to have spoken to National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, denouncing warlike planning that is getting ahead of his own thinking.
This warlike moves have sparked alarm in the Congress on May 15 as Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned the President to keep away from war with Iran as lawmakers of both the parties demanded more information from him. Speaking on behalf of lawmakers, Senator Bob Menendez, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said: “Congress has not authorized war with Iran, and the administration must come to Congress to seek approval.”
It is highly unpredictable whether Trump and his counterparts in Iran, North Korea, Russia, and China would reach their desired agreements on nuclear arms control issue before Trump’s current term or it drags on beyond that. If it drags on beyond, it could become a poll plank for Trump, who is planning to seek a second term in office to enable him to complete the task.
(J.V. Lakshmana Rao is former National News Coordinator of Express News Service, New Delhi, and former Chief Editor of US-based India Tribune. He frequently travels between India and the US).