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The Iran Crisis Presents a Bigger Danger to Peace Than North Korea
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As a journalist, I have always dreaded reporting on meetings between world leaders billed as “historic” or “momentous” or just plain “significant”. Such pretensions are usually phoney or, even if something of interest really does happen, its importance is exaggerated or oversimplified.

But plus ca change is not always a safe slogan for the cautious reporter, because real change does occasionally take place and professional cynics are caught on the hop.

Watching the “historic” meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea at the Panmunjom border crossing today – and listening to reporters bubbling over with excitement – it was difficult not to be captured by the enthusiastic mood.

But I recall similar meetings that were once billed as transforming the world for the better and are now largely forgotten. How many people remember the Reykjavik summit between Reagan and Gorbachev in 1986, which once seemed so important? Then there was the famous handshake on the lawn of the White House between Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat confirming a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993 that, whatever else happened, did not produce peace.

Rabin was assassinated two years later by a religious fanatic and Arafat died with his hopes for Palestinian self-determination in ruins. Sceptics who had argued that disparity in political and military strength between Israel and the Palestinians was too great for a real accord turned out to be right.

The meeting in Panmunjom feels as if it has got more substance, primarily because the balance of power between the two sides is more even: Kim has nuclear weapons and claims to have a ballistic missile which could reach the US. Their range and reliability may be exaggerated but nobody wants to find out the hard way. It is these intercontinental ballistic missiles which make Washington and the rest of the world take North Korea seriously as a state, though otherwise it is an insignificant, economically primitive, family dictatorship. Despite Kim’s pledge that he is seeking a denuclearised Korean peninsula, this is the last thing that is going to happen because he would be foolish to give up his only serious negotiating card. North Korea has a long track record of dangling nuclear concessions in front of its enemies only to snatch them back later.

This does not mean that serious things are not happening. Relations between North and South Korea are being normalised symbolically and, to a degree yet to be seen, in practice. There is to be a formal end to the Korean War replacing the 1953 armistice, an end to “hostile activities” between the two states, family reunification, road and rail links and joint sporting activities. Ritualistic propaganda broadcasts across the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) are to cease, though it would be interesting to know if they are also going to remove the minefields in the DMZ.

President Trump is claiming that it was his bellicose tweeting and harsh sanctions that forced Kim to negotiate. Maybe they had some impact, but there are limits to what sanctions can achieve against a dictator firmly in power (witness UN sanctions on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq between 1990 and 2003). Trump’s threats of “fire and fury” may or may not frighten the North Korean leader, but they certainly make US allies nervous and less willing to let their fate be unilaterally determined by an unpredictable and dysfunctional administration in Washington.

Compare the de-escalating crisis over North Korea’s nuclear weapons with the escalating one over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal from which Trump is likely to withdraw the US on 12 May. This brings us to the second international meeting this week, this time between Trump and French president Emmanuel Macron in Washington, which had plenty of artificial-sounding bonhomie, but not much else.

It was the worst type of state visit in which governments and the media are complicit in pretending that there is real amity and agreement. Kisses and handshakes were exchanged, and pictures of Trump removing a speck of dandruff from Macron’s jacket were beamed across the planet, as if they signified anything. Once commentators would use the sugary phrase “personal chemistry” to describe a non-existent warmth between leaders, though this is being replaced by “personal rapport” which is a little less offensive.

Strong emotional bonds between Trump and other human beings seem unlikely to me, given his manic self-obsession. He resembles an eighteenth century monarch presiding over a court in which there is an ever-changing array of courtiers, who are powerful one day only to be abruptly dismissed the next.

Some US commentators have found reasons why the two men should get along. I particularly like a tweet by “The Discourse Lover”, who writes sarcastically: “I actually bet Trump and Macron get along great – Trump is the exact type of vulgar, acquisitive simpleton that French people assume all Americans are, Macron is the exact type of preening, arrogant creep that Americans assume all French people are.”

Macron did not have any illusions that his “personal rapport” was getting him anywhere when it came to Iran. He confirmed that Trump will most likely kill the Iran nuclear deal “for domestic reasons” and will impose “very tough sanctions” on Iran. Angela Merkel is in Washington today and will see Trump, but is equally unlikely to change his position on Iran or anything else.

The Iran crisis is truly dangerous in a way that was never quite true of the North Korea crisis. In Korea, we are talking of a peace agreement that would replace the Panmunjom Armistice of 1953, but there has been no war going on there for 65 years, though there have been a few sporadic clashes. Compare this with the position of Iran which is a rival for influence with the US in a ferocious war in Syria and one that in Iraq that is currently receding, but could easily blaze up again.


The crisis in relations between the US and Iran has been going on so long – essentially since the fall of the Shah in 1979 – that people may be self-immunised against reacting to its latest and most dangerous phase. Trump will be withdrawing from an agreement with which all signatories – US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China – agree that Iran is in compliance. The US will reimpose sanctions, which will be damaging to Iran, but not be as painful as those imposed before the 2015 deal, because this time round they will have much less international support.

Iran will inevitably resume all or part of the nuclear programme halted by the 2015 agreement since it will no longer receive any benefit from it. Trump may want a tougher deal but his own arbitrary actions have reduced the US diplomatic and economic leverage which he would need to obtain one. The Iranian leadership may respond cautiously to Trump’s demarche in order to isolate the US and draw out a crisis that weakens the Americans more than it does the Iranians.

Short of diplomatic options, the White House might view military action against Iran as an increasingly attractive approach. The Iran and North Korea crises are very different but in both cases Trump is behaving as if the US is turning into a stronger power when, thanks to his leadership, it is becoming a weaker one.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Donald Trump, Iran, North Korea 
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  1. Miro23 says:

    Short of diplomatic options, the White House might view military action against Iran as an increasingly attractive approach.

    That’s very generous to Trump, Bolton, Pompeo and their Jewish/MIC handlers.

    The military action is decided first and then the diplomacy/public mood is made to fit with the usual media barrage, False Flag event etc.

    • Replies: @El Dato
  2. Dr. Doom says:

    I hear Israel is going to try to fight Iran directly. Gee Trump’s Reagan act must not be getting any recruits. Its hard to have patriotism without nationalism I guess.

    This global hegemony thing must be tougher than the neocons in the henhouse thought.

    • Replies: @paraglider
  3. Realist says:

    The Iran and North Korea crises are very different but in both cases Trump is behaving as if the US is turning into a stronger power when, thanks to his leadership, it is becoming a weaker one.

    The Iran and North Korea crises are very different but in both cases Trump is behaving as if the US is turning into a stronger power when, thanks to his lack of leadership, it is becoming a weaker one.


    Chump is not in control. He is a shallow weak little man of low intelligence.

    • Replies: @longfisher
  4. @Dr. Doom

    israel, fighting iran? surely you’re kidding. the idf is a blowhard military force used successfully in killing unarmed civilians. the only idf component that has some teeth still is the air force now being gelded in syria.

    israel at the end of the day is 99 and 44/100’s % bluster and bluff.

    against a peer like syria or iran they will have their head handed to them.

    in fact in a mano a mano conventional land battle absent use of air planes but not missiles hezzbollah would clean their plow.

  5. Randal says:

    Gosh, Cockburn, a whole article on the fact of the US confrontation of Iran being far more likely to erupt in disastrous war than the US confrontation of North Korea, and no mention of Israel’s influence or of the Israel lobby that has always driven US confrontationalism towards Iran and its murderous belligerence in the ME in general.

    Well done! Managed to negotiate the dangerous ground safely, that time, at the cost merely of a little self-respect and all relevance.

  6. El Dato says:

    Sh! You are waking up the Cockburn.

    This is gonna be gud.

    The permanent bullshit and constructed panic (if need be, by using “smoking laptops” sourced from “our maoist terrorists”) about the Iranian nuclear program that been dished out by MSM/neocons since the late 90s has been rather memorable (I think the Economist had at least one scare title story per quarter). Will it come to the US bombing Russian pressurized water reactors in Iran because they feel like it while Nikky immodestly moans from pleasure in the UN assembly?

    FWIW, Madame Merkel seems onboard with the tough goy for the Israeli guy spiel:

    Existing Iran deal ‘not sufficient’ to curb nuclear program – Merkel

    Merkel stated that the Iranian issue is way more important for Germany than it is for the US, since the country is “right on our doorstep.”

    I sure hope RT is misreporting here otherwise it’s time for the enfeebled horse removal wagon to be called.

    Time to dig out reports: Iran’s Nuclear Program: Status, Congressional Research Service, Paul K. Kerr, Analyst in Nonproliferation, April 27, 2017

  7. Cockburn and the rest of you have missed the point.

    the “nuclear deal” is a mare’s nest.

    Iran, like Iraq and Libya before, has dropped the petrodollar.

    ‘Murka’s debt-floated, dollar-monetized Ponzi’conomy CANNOT SURVIVE

    w/o maintaining international demand for dollars-to-buy-oil.

    So Uncle Schmuel is going to attack Iran with Main Force.

    the only questions are when (likely before the November elections; see: Wag the Dog)

    and how bloody the inductive false flag. In this connection,

    various (((neo-con))) sites have begun publishing fictive essays about a “secret Iranian terror cell” in ‘Murka.

    • Replies: @SolontoCroesus
  8. @Haxo Angmark

    various (((neo-con))) sites have begun publishing fictive essays about a “secret Iranian terror cell” in ‘Murka.

    and 3, 2, 1

    ‘80,000 Iranian fighters’ could launch GROUND INVASION to break up Israel
    A shocking revelation of an alleged secret Iranian base in Syria, on the border with Israel

    by The Duran
    April 29, 2018, 13:32

    (hyperventilating!!! checking blood pressure!! stocking up on Ritz crackers and tuna fish!!!)

  9. Virgile says:

    Trump and Israel will NEVER attack Iran… There is too much at stake. What they will do is cowardly attack the weakest links: Syria and Lebanon.
    Because Syria is ‘protected’ by Russia, the impact will be theatrical but limited. The targets will be any Iran military installation in Syria that are not ‘protected’ by Russia. Israel and the US want Iran out of Syria. Lebanon is in a much more dangerous situation. Militarily it is weak, its only military protector is Hezbollah supported by Iran. The international community is unreliable as we have seen in 2006 when Israel pounded Lebanon for one whole month before it ended. Israel will use any pretext to weaken Lebanon assuming it will cause the end of Hezbollah.
    Lebanon must make a military defense treaty with Russia or Iran as soon as possible. Otherwise it is exposed to destruction. Diplomatie does not work with guys like Bolton or Nikki Haley. A strong and bold action from Lebanon is necessary
    Another easier action is the elimination of the root cause: Trump and Netanyahu. I believe that the Russians are discreetly working on that. Exposing Trump scandal in the USA may create a shock wave that may change the wind of war. Netanyau may be kicked out of the corruption scandal explodes.
    Time is running out until the 12 may..

  10. Svigor says:

    ZOMG Jews “prove” Iran is/was doing what Jews did, except without French/American aid! And Jews didn’t do it in the face of a regional superpower murdering their scientists, but, I digress…

    Who are these filthy Persians, to try to have nice things like Jews have? The nerve!

    • Replies: @El Dato
  11. anon[228] • Disclaimer says:

    In Korean peninsula, it is US interest ( American ammunition fire powers, lobbyist careerists ) dominate the issue and directs the movement of S Korea. These forces face the scrutiny within and by America for American ( limited and immune but still American )

    In ME it is different America does the bidding for Israel Israel has no end of demands and conditions that will ever define its goal The goalpost keeps on moving .

  12. El Dato says:

    Well Nety took a good wank in front of the public.

    Bizarre … they have ALL THESE FILES of QUALITY Fox Mulder could only dream of.

    …and they didn’t even tell the IAEA.

    This is a level of malevolent cynicism unheard of in so-called “cvilized” nations.

    Just joking. This malevolence is par for the course.

  13. Realist says:

    Fox News is putting on a full court press for Netanyahu’s Iran wants nucks story.
    Tucker may be interesting tonight.

  14. @Realist

    “He is a shallow weak little man of low intelligence.”

    You left out “easily persuaded and mismanaged”.

    • Replies: @Realist
  15. Realist says:

    You left out “easily persuaded and mismanaged”.

    Good point, but that goes with week and stupid.

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