UNITED NATIONS -Contrary to last year’s General Assembly, the looming threat of a possible nuclear war with North Korea did not dominate the sessions. Rather Secretary-General Antonio Guterres cautiously praised the ongoing process in defusing in tensions on the Korean pen-insula where both the U.S. and South Korean governments have striven for a diplomatic solution over North Korea’s nuclear proliferation.
What a difference a year makes!
President Donald Trump’s measured but firm address to the Assembly stressed the narrative of Standing up for America in the world while “pursuing security without apology.”
Last September, amid rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula over Pyongyang’s nuclear proliferation and missile firings, President Trump firmly confronted the threats with blunt rhetorical deterrence. He famously called the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un “Little Rocket Man” and warned that nuclear threats to American territory or that of our Asian allies would not be tolerated.
The world held its breath; many expected war between the U.S. and North Korea. Fortunately diplomacy prevailed.
Decisively the Trump Administration played a diplomatic card, and with the support of South Korea, held the Singapore Summit.
As the President stated, “The missiles and rockets are no longer flying in every direction. Nuclear testing has stopped,” significantly adding, “though much work remains to be done. The sanctions will stay in place until denuclearization occurs.”
Donald Trump did not solve the problem, but stopped the ticking nuclear clock. Now comes a harder part, keeping up the diplomatic momentum with South Korea and China to help convince North Korea to follow through.
This year the President saved his toughest words for the Islamic Republic of Iran, “Iran’s leaders sow chaos, death, and destruction. They do not respect their neighbors or borders, or the sovereign rights of nations.”
The President stressed that the multilateral Iran “deal” over curbing Tehran’s nuclear research and development was a notable mistake. “The Iran deal was a windfall for Iran’s leaders. In the years since the deal was reached, Iran’s military budget grew nearly 40 percent. The dictatorship used the funds to build nuclear-capable missiles, increase internal repression, finance terrorism, and fund havoc and slaughter in Syria and Yemen.”
He justified pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, reached by the previous U.S. Administration, adding that tough economic sanctions would be re-imposed on Tehran’s rulers; “We cannot allow the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism to possess the planet’s most dangerous weapons.”
The European Union’s Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini differs, “Iran has continued to fully and effectively implement its nuclear-related commitments.”
Significantly the geopolitical pendulum has shifted from Pyongyang to Tehran. U.S. political and economic pressures on Iran have produced an almost sullen pushback from the Europeans. Contrary to North Korea, petroleum rich Iran offers commercial and trade opportunities and thus achieving consensus becomes far more difficult.
Washington’s renewed focus on Iran’s nonproliferation and military aggression in Syria and Yemen poses a dilemma for many European countries whose lucrative contracts are in the wind. The world nervously watches the new showdown.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China.