The Sunday Magazine

Trump killed the Iran nuclear deal. So how's he going to get one with North Korea?

Jessica Mathews says when it comes to trying to contain the nuclear ambitions of rogue states like Iran and North Korea, diplomacy is the only option. Ms. Mathews is a distinguished fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 08, 2018: U.S. President Donald Trump reinstates sanctions on Iran after announcing his decision to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

There's a certain irony to U.S. President Donald Trump's upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Tuesday. 

North Korea is one of the almost-nuclear regimes that represent threats to the peace of the world. The other threat is Iran. 

The summit with North Korea is scheduled to take place only one month after Trump announced he was abandoning the Iran nuclear deal. Trump has referred to the deal with Iran as "the dumbest deal in the history of deal-making."

It's all very worrying to American peace advocate Jessica Mathews. She has watched developments in Iranian-U.S. relations for decades and now she's concerned about the upcoming North Korea negotiations.

According to Mathews, Trump said the Iran nuclear deal was bad so many times during the campaign that she's certain that he believes it. "He's never read it and doesn't know what the agreement requires," said Mathews.

Many experts have pointed out that if Trump were to reach a deal with North Korea that somewhat resembles the former Iran deal, it would be a diplomatic success.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi holds up a book of statements of support for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal on May 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. Pelosi and House Democratic leaders were critical of Trump's decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was spearheaded by former U.S. President Barack Obama. The intention of the deal was to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions and to normalize relations with America's longtime adversary.

The deal lifted sanctions that had crippled Iran's economy. In return, Iran agreed to largely dismantle its nuclear capabilities and to allow international inspections teams to ensure Iran was in compliance. 

The Iran nuclear deal was "an extraordinarily strong negotiated agreement... badly portrayed by the president, by many of its critics in the U.S. Congress," said Jessica Mathews.

Some members of Trump's own administration, including Secretary of Defence James Mattis, said the deal was in America's national security interest.

President Trump cancelled it anyway.

When it comes to North Korea, there's no doubt that President Trump is deeply invested in striking a deal at the upcoming summit on June 12, 2018.

"If the president could negotiate a deal that is half as tight — and constraining — with North Korea as the deal he just threw away with Iran, it would be judged a gigantic success," said Jessica Mathews.

Mathews was the long-time president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where she is now a distinguished fellow. She held senior positions at the Council on Foreign Relations, the World Resources Institute and the National Security Council, among other institutions.

Click 'listen' at the top of the page to hear Michael Enright's conversation with Jessica Mathews.