- - Wednesday, April 25, 2018


Human events sometimes seem to spill across the globe without rhyme or reason, but occasionally events converge in harmonic fashion, revealing a stunning opportunity. The urgent confrontation with the twin nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea has pushed both threats to the top of President Trump’s agenda. As he ponders his options for correcting the flaws in Barack Obama’s sweetheart pact with the mullahs in Iran, Mr. Trump has an opportunity to set a higher bar in reaching a fair deal with Kim Jong-un in North Korea as well.

The president calls Mr. Obama’s 2015 agreement “probably the worst deal ever negotiated of any kind” because it failed to include a way to verify that the mullahs would actually cease and desist developing a nuclear-weapon arsenal. Tehran wants the economic sanctions lifted, but won’t actually give up anything but words under the agreement Mr. Obama was so eager to sign. President Trump has reluctantly certified Iran’s compliance with terms of “probably the worst deal ever negotiated,” but threatens to withdraw the United States unless the other signatories, which include close allies France, Germany and Great Britain, find a way to win Iran’s compliance with closer international scrutiny of its nuclear facilities. He set a deadline of May 12.

Standing next to French President Emmanuel Macron in Washington on Tuesday, Mr. Trump doubled down on his assessment of Mr. Obama’s pact: “It’s insane, it’s ridiculous, it should have never been made.” M. Macron offered a slightly less harsh assessment. “We have to take it as a part of the broader picture of security in the region.”

He demonstrated the next day in remarks to Congress that he is willing to soften the Donald’s tough talk to cajole his new friend into building a better mousetrap, limiting the Islamic state’s development of ballistic missiles and material support for global terror organizations. Stubborn never-Trumpers could take a lesson from the suave Frenchman and his willingness to butter his arguments with a little flattery in the Oval Office.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel should take note, too, when she talks with the president over the future of the Iran deal when she arrives in Washington Friday on a working visit. M. Macron was an obscure Cabinet minister when France signed on to “the worst deal ever.” Foolish concessions to Iran were crafted on Frau Merkel’s watch, leaving her responsible for some of the blame.

Picking through the details of a flawed nuclear agreement with a brace of world leaders is good practice for Mr. Trump as he readies himself to meet Kim Jong-un sometime in the next months to negotiate denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. After a year of watching U.S. forces cruise the skies and seas surrounding the hermit kingdom bequeathed to him by his father and grandfather, the young dictator has tempered his enthusiasm for vaporizing American cities. It was he who invited the American president to the bargaining table.

President Trump is painfully aware of the critical flaws that cripple his predecessor’s pact with Iran, first the absence of an inspection regimen to ensure the mullahs keep their word to dial down their nuclear ambitions. Scout’s honor doesn’t translate well in Tehran, nor likely will it in Pyongyang. Without robust verification, a promise is as flimsy as a sheet of bond paper. Ronald Reagan was not afraid to walk away from a bad nuclear treaty with the Soviets in 1986, and for his firmness America got a better deal the following year. In securing his Iran nuclear deal, Mr. Obama was more interested in stroking his Nobel Peace Prize, flimsy as that was, than verifying the compliance of the mullahs.

Sen. Robert Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was looking through the wrong end of his telescope when he observed that if he pulls out of Mr. Obama’s deal with Iran Mr. Trump would make signing an agreement with North Korea “more difficult.” But it’s far more likely that allowing the faulty pact to stand would send a message that this president, like certain previous presidents, can be easily rolled.

The point of the upcoming U.S.-North Korean summit is not simply to sign an accord, but to get an agreement that protects American interests. Unlike the current Iran pact, any accord the president reaches with Mr. Kim Jong-un must be the real deal.

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