- - Sunday, May 13, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Diplomats should not be confused with donkeys, but the carrot and the stick are useful tools to encourage both diplomat and donkey to do the right thing. Though a novice, President Trump has aggressively wielded these implements to deal with rogue regimes in Iran and North Korea. The sight of three Americans freed from North Korean prison returning to American soil is evidence that change, limited but real, is at hand.

North Korea is front and center of crisis time. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo returned from “the hermit kingdom” to a triumphant celebration at Joint Base Andrews in the capital’s Maryland suburbs, with both the president and the vice president on hand to greet the returning hostages at 3 o’clock in the morning. Details of Mr. Pompeo’s conversations with Kim Jong-un are closely held, as they should be, but something interesting is obviously going on.

“We’re starting off on a new footing,” said the president said in remarks on the Andrews tarmac. “I really think we have a very good chance of doing something very meaningful, and if anybody would have said that five years ago, 10 years ago, even a year ago, you would have said, ‘That’s not possible.’ My proudest achievement will be when we denuclearize that entire peninsula.”

In that other cockpit of crisis, Mr. Trump put the cat among the pigeons of the Middle East with the American withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal. No one thinks the deal was a good one but the diplomats of the West have persuaded themselves that there’s nothing anybody can do about it, and everybody should learn to live with it. The Iranian parliament Iran’s Parliament burned the American flag and copies of the nuclear deal. The always available crowds gathered in the streets to chant “Death to America.”

A few Democratic congressmen mounted their own partisan protest, joining Charles Schumer of New York, the leader of the Democratic minority in the Senate, to condemn the agreement that Mr. Schumer himself condemned when Barack Obama introduced it three years ago. Consistency is not always prized in the Congress.

The Iran nuclear deal was a sham from Day One. Mr. Obama treated its signing by the major world powers as the crown jewel of his presidential legacy, but the Iranians never bothered to sign it. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed in his disclosure of seized Iranian documents, the mullahs have been lying for years to hide their quest for nuclear weapons.

Mr. Trump’s critics argue that his rough application of the stick to Iran will persuade the similarly hostile regime in North Korea that the United States can’t be trusted to honor its agreements. The opposite is more likely true. The president has been entirely up-front with Kim Jong-un, backing his warnings to him with repeated displays of military might. Canceling the deal with Iran sends the clear message that there will be no place for guile at the negotiating table. When the two leaders sit down for a summit in Singapore in June, Mr. Kim should understand that Mr. Trump expects all agreements to be kept.

Release of the American hostages is a promising step, but small gestures of good will are just that, small gestures. The North Korean regime’s half-century of brutality and inhumane treatment of its own people will be neither forgiven nor forgotten. Kim Jong-Il made numerous pledges to denuclearize only to persist with nuclear weapons development in secret.

Kim Jong-un is not his father, and if he really wants to negotiate in good faith he must be allowed to do so. “Little Rocket Man,” as Mr. Trump called him only months ago, can shed his juvenile behavior and grow into a statesman worthy of a place at the deal-maker’s table. The president should give him the space to do so.

If Mr. Trump can fashion a constructive relationship with Mr. Kim, he will demonstrate to the mullahs of Iran that hostility doesn’t have to be forever. Neither Iran nor North Korea has improved the quality of life for its people through the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Building dread armaments in secret mountain redoubts simply confirms the collective conclusion of the outside world that the North Korean strategy is death.

President Trump sought to reassure wary skeptics at the end of his very positive diplomatic week that he will not allow his enthusiasm to make peace lead him into temptation. He must work to the gambler’s creed: “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, and know when to run.”

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