US Foreign Policy: Misjudging Kim Jong-un

March 16, 2018

US Foreign Policy: Misjudging Kim Jong-un

by John C Hulsman*

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If US President Donald Trump and his advisers continue to assume that traditional deterrence does not apply to North Korea, they are likely to lose the latest geopolitical chess match. History shows that those who mistake their political or military adversaries for lunatics are usually disastrously wrong.

MILAN – Throughout history, political observers have found decision-makers who are deemed “crazy” the most difficult to assess. In fact, the problem is rarely one of psychopathology. Usually, the label merely indicates behavior that is different from what conventional analysts were expecting.

This was surely true of the twelfth-century Syrian religious leader Rashid al-Din Sinan. During the Third Crusade, the supposedly mad “Old Man of the Mountain,” as he was known, succeeded in disrupting a Crusader advance on Jerusalem by directing his followers to carry out targeted assassinations. After carrying out their orders, the assassins often stayed put and awaited capture in full view of the local populace, to ensure that their leader received proper credit for the act.

At the time, such actions were incomprehensible to the Western mind. Westerners took to calling the Old Man’s followers hashashin, or users of hashish, because they regarded intoxication as the only possible explanation for such “senseless” disregard for one’s own physical wellbeing. But the hashashin were not drug users on the whole. And, more to the point, they were successful: their eventual assassination of Conrad of Montferrat led directly to the political collapse of the Crusader coalition and the defeat of Richard the Lionheart of England. As Polonius says of Hamlet, there was method to the Old Man’s madness.

Today, the problem of analyzing supposedly lunatic leaders has reappeared with the North Korean nuclear crisis. Whether North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is mad is not merely an academic question; it is the heart of the matter.

US President Donald Trump’s administration has stated unequivocally that it will not tolerate a North Korean capability to threaten the mainland United States with nuclear weapons. According to Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, the administration’s position reflects its belief that Kim is crazy, and that “classical deterrence theory” thus does not apply.

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White House Chief of Staff John Kelly

During the Cold War, US President Dwight Eisenhower reasoned that even if Stalin (and later Mao) was homicidal, he was also rational, and did not wish to perish in a US counter-strike. The logic of “mutually assured destruction” that underlay nuclear deterrence worked.

If, however, the leader of a nuclear-armed state is a lunatic who is indifferent to his physical safety and that of those around him, the entire deterrence strategy falls apart. If Kim is insane, the only option is to take him out before his suicidal regime can kill millions of people.

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“Kim Jong-un’s dramatic overture to hold a summit with Trump by May hardly seems to fit the “madman” narrative. In fact, it looks like the act of someone who knows exactly what he is doing.”–John C Hulsman

But is Kim truly crazy, or does he simply have a worldview that discomfits Western analysts? His dramatic overture to hold a summit with Trump by May hardly seems to fit the “madman” narrative. In fact, it looks like the act of someone who knows exactly what he is doing.

Consider three strategic considerations that Kim could be weighing. First, his regime might be planning to offer concessions that it has no intention of fulfilling. After all, an earlier nuclear deal that the US brokered with his father, Kim Jong-il, was derailed by duplicity. In 2002, the US discovered that the regime was secretly enriching weapons-grade uranium in direct violation of its earlier pledge.

In fact, North Korea has demonstrated time and again that it doesn’t play by the rules. It enters into negotiations to extract concessions such as food aid, and then returns to its objectionable activities, thus starting the entire Sisyphean cycle again. There is no reason to think that this time will be different. But the regime’s deviousness should not be mistaken for irrationality or madness. Simply by expressing his openness to talks, Kim has already won some of the political legitimacy he craves.

Second, rather than being a lunatic, Kim seems mindful of recent history. Whereas Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya paid the ultimate price for giving up their nuclear programs, Kim has advanced his regime’s nuclear capabilities and is now publicly treated as a near-equal by the most powerful man on the planet. The Kim regime has always sought such vindication above everything else.

A third and final consideration is that North Korea is playing for time. Though it has agreed to halt nuclear and missile tests in the run-up to the summit, it could be using the intervening months to develop related technologies. For example, it still needs to perfect an atmospheric re-entry mechanism to make its intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the US mainland reliably and accurately. Moreover, as long as the summit is in play, North Korea need not fear a US military strike. That is a perfectly rational and sensible prize for Kim to pursue.

All told, North Korea’s “opening” will most likely amount to much less than meets the eye. But one can still glean valuable strategic insights from Kim’s diplomatic gambit. North Korean thinking reflects cunning, to be sure; but it also betrays the regime’s will to survive, and its desire to master the current situation. This suggests that Kim is not “crazy” after all, and that conventional deterrence will still work, as it has since 1945.

That is good news for everyone, but particularly for the Trump administration, given that it will almost certainly fail to secure any meaningful concessions from North Korea in the upcoming talks.

*John C. Hulsman is President and Co-Founder of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a global political risk consulting firm, and the author of To Dare More Boldly (Princeton University Press, 2018).

The Economics of Dirty Old Men by Paul Krugman

January 26, 2018

The Economics of Dirty Old Men by Paul Krugman

As a candidate, Donald Trump talked incessantly about international trade and how he was going to make America great again by renegotiating trade agreements, forcing foreigners to stop taking away our jobs. But during his first year in office, he did almost nothing on that front — possibly because corporate America managed to inform him that it has invested a lot of money based on the assumption that we would continue to honor Nafta and other trade agreements, and would lose bigly if he broke them.

This week, however, Trump finally did impose tariffs on washing machines and solar panels. The former tariff was, I think, more about looking tough than about any kind of strategic objective. The latter, however, fits in with an important part of this administration’s general vision. For this is very much an administration of dirty old men.

About washing machines: The legal basis of the new tariff is a finding by the United States International Trade Commission that the industry has been injured by rising imports. The definition of “injury” is a bit peculiar: The commission admitted that the domestic industry “did not suffer a significant idling of productive facilities,” and that “there has been no significant unemployment or underemployment.” Nonetheless, the commission argued that production and employment should have expanded more than it did given the economy’s growth between 2012 and 2016 (you know, the Obama-era boom Trump insisted was fake).

If this seems like a flimsy justification for an action that will significantly raise consumer prices, that’s because it is. But Trump decided to do it anyway.

The solar panel tariff is more interesting, and more disturbing, because it will surely destroy many more jobs than it will create.

The fact is that the U.S. is largely out of the solar panel-producing business, and whatever the reasons for that absence, this policy won’t change it. Like the washing-machine tariff, the solar-panel tariff was imposed using what’s known in trade policy circles as the “escape clause” — rules that allow temporary protection of industries suffering sudden disruption. The operative word here is “temporary”; since we’re not talking about sustained protection, this tariff won’t induce any long-term investments, and therefore won’t bring the U.S. solar panel industry back.

What it will do, however, is put a crimp in one of the U.S. economy’s big success stories, the rapid growth of renewable energy. And here’s the thing: Everything we know about the Trump administration suggests that hurting renewables is actually a good thing from its point of view. As I said, this is an administration of dirty old men.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan

Over the past decade or so there has been a remarkable technological revolution in energy production. Part of that revolution has involved the rise of fracking, which has made natural gas cheap and abundant. But there have also been stunning reductions in the cost of solar and wind power.

Some people still think of these alternative energy sources as hippy-dippy stuff that can’t survive without big government subsidies, but the reality is that they’ve become cost-competitive with conventional energy, and their cost is still falling fast. And they also employ a lot of people: Over all, there are around five times as many people working, in one way or another, for the solar energy sector as there are coal miners.

But solar gets no love from Trump officials, who desperately want the country to stay with dirty old power sources, especially coal. (Wait — when I called them dirty old men, did you think I was talking about payoffs to porn stars? Shame on you.) They’ve even rewritten Energy Department reports in an attempt to make renewable energy look bad.

They’ve tried to turn their preference for dirty energy into concrete policy, too. Last fall, Rick Perry, the energy secretary, tried to impose a rule that would in effect have forced electricity grids to subsidize coal and nuclear plants. The rule was shot down, but it showed what these guys want. From their point of view, destroying solar jobs is probably a good thing.

Why do Trump and company love dirty energy? Partly it’s about the money: what’s good for the Koch brothers may not be good for America (or the world), but it’s good for G.O.P. campaign finance. Partly it’s about blue-collar voters, who still imagine that Trump can bring back coal jobs. (In 2017 the coal industry added 500, that’s right, 500 jobs. That’s 0.0003 percent of total U.S. employment.)

It’s also partly about cultural nostalgia: Trump and others recall the heyday of fossil fuels as a golden age, forgetting how ghastly air and water pollution used to be. But I suspect that it’s also about a kind of machismo, a sense that real men don’t soak up solar energy; they burn stuff instead.

Whatever the specific motivations, the administration’s first significant trade policy move is stunningly boneheaded. You shouldn’t even call it protectionism, since its direct effect will be to destroy far more jobs than it creates. Plus it’s bad for the environment. So much winning!

Image result for The Economics of Dirty Old MenNobel Laureate in Economics–Paul Krugman


A version of this op-ed appears in print on January 26, 2018, on Page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: The Economics Of Dirty Old Men.

Trump’s Asia Trip–Of No Significance to ASEAN

October 31, 2017

Trump’s Asia Trip–Of No Significance to ASEAN

Despite a foray into Southeast Asia, his concerns are North Korea, Japan and China

by Asia Sentinel Correspondent

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The Mueller Indictment  Captures Global Attention

Is there any Asian government looking forward to President Trump’s visit to Asia? With friends (if any) and foes alike baffled and worried about his next tweet or outburst, his friends seem to be a trifecta of deplorables: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who badly needs to take minds off his extrajudicial killing spree and squeeze the US with insinuations of ever closer ties with China, its invasion of Scarborough (Panatag) shoal notwithstanding. They includes junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha, who in 2015 ended Thailand’s most recent elected government, and Najib Razak, the subject of the biggest kleptocracy investigation ever undertaken by the US department of Justice. Both visited the President in the White House. Duterte has yet to make the trip. Quite a crowd!

Such is Trump’s attention deficit disorder that it is understood that he won’t bother to stay around in Manila for the East Asia Summit, an event which grew out of the Association of South East Asian nations (ASEAN). This body, this year celebrating its 50th anniversary, was as much the creation of the US during the Cold War and the Vietnam war, as driven by the then-fragile common identity of its original five members: Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore. Only with the end of those wars could Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar join.

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 ASEAN of Lesser Importance to Donald Trump

ASEAN today may be in disarray politically, divided by China between those with and without conflicting maritime claims. Yet Trump’s absence during a symbolic anniversary is almost as much a demonstration of his isolationist mood as his earlier cancellation of America’s last major Asian initiative, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Nor have Secretary of State Tillerson’s Asian visits done much to fill the gap in Trump’s knowledge and interest. His concerns in Asia, such as they are, have been dominated by North Korea and China, with some nod to India but scant interest in Southeast Asia despite it being such a focus of Chinese military expansion. Tillerson anyway evidently has limited influence over the President and has been as much preoccupied with trying to cut costs at the State Department as with diplomacy. He spouts management consultant jargon urging on his department “an evidence-based and data-driven process to enhance policy formulation and execution as well as optimize and realign our global footprint.”


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The New Game in Asia–Xi, Trump  and Abe– Overshadowed by Trump’s Domestic Problems


The Trump visit is all about China and Japan, but mainly China. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, recently strengthened by his election victory, will make all the right noises about the North Korea threat but his main aim must be to head off US protectionism and also to warn about China’s maritime ambitions. But the Tokyo visit is overshadowed by that with the newly-crowned Xi Jinping. Whether Trump’s extravagantly phrased congratulations to Xi will help on trade or nuclear issues seems unlikely. China’s agenda is not easily swayed by such trifles. Indeed they may make Beijing, still trying to figure out what to make of Trump, more wary.

They do know however that Trump is more concerned with appearance than substance. The Chinese also know that Trump admires strong leaders, however they got there and whatever they do. He thus wants to be pals with Xi and Duterte regardless of bigger issues. As for results, China hopes to buy time using Trump’s need for a trophy to bring home. Thus lashings of Chinese money will be directed to worthy infrastructure projects in politically important areas of the US. China can easily wear a few more anti-dumping imposts by the US such as just applied to aluminium products, and noises about protecting US technology firms from takeover by Chinese, provided radical anti-trade measures are avoided. Beijing will also point to Xi’s Party Congress speech as evidence of continuing economic reform and in particular the promise of national treatment for foreign enterprises. They are supposed to get that already and the remark means little in practice. But the show must go on.

The Chinese, like much of the rest of Asia, have good reason to be worried if the US effort continues to tear up the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), from which sprang other regional deals. So far Canada and Mexico have stood together and brushed off Trump’s provocations. But whether China and Japan can present a common front on trade is another matter when strategic rivalries are so clear.


Abe will make a big deal of standing together against North Korea and the need for intensifying military preparedness. But avoiding trade conflict must be his primary aim. As it is, the North Korean “threat” can be seen both to justify his proposed amendment of Japan’s constitution and to draw more US forces into the region. This is a major discomfort for China but Beijjing has itself largely to blame. It will also go well in most of Southeast Asia, which has been feeling exposed by Trump’s isolationist rhetoric. Even Duterte’s anti-US emotions are being blunted by the realities both of domestic sentiment and military and elite interests.

The US military and Defense Secretary Mattis are natural opponents of isolation and Pyongyang has given them cause to argue that “making America great again” doesn’t mean abandoning fifty years of using open trade as a carrot for other nations, with the military stick reserved for recalcitrants.

In short, the Asian trip could be a defining moment in determining whether or not Trump the would-be isolationist is brought back into line with mainstream foreign and defense policy makers. More likely, however, it will be an anti-climax, with a jet-lagged Trump on his best behaviour and not upsetting a well- choreographed series of photo opportunities and platitudes before hastening home to the comfort of his own golf course.

There is a way out on North Korea

October 1, 2017

By Dr. Fareed Zakaria

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The confrontation between the United States and North Korea is in a more dangerous zone than at any point in decades. Each side has announced tough positions, issued threats and underscored that its positions are nonnegotiable. Each side is now boxed in, with little room to maneuver. How to get off this perilous path?

The Trump administration has made a huge mistake in ramping up its rhetoric without any solid strategy to back it up. It remains unclear as to why it has done this. Partly, it seems this White House wants to reverse every Obama-era policy. Partly, it is the undisciplined approach that characterizes so many of this administration’s policies, with top people freelancing and showboating. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, for example, appears to take a hard line in order to outflank Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, effectively auditioning for his job.

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But perhaps most fundamental is that President Trump likes to be the tough guy. Previous presidents reacted with sobriety to the bellicose statements of leaders such as Nikita Khrushchev and Mao Zedong. The United States was always disciplined and cautious; it was the other guys who did the crazy talk. But Trump seems determined to have the last insult.

We need to tone down the rhetoric and formulate a strategy. North Korea has one — indeed, it has had one for decades. It has determined that given how isolated and threatened it is, it needs a nuclear deterrent. And Pyongyang has made astonishing strides in getting there. Nuclear weapons are all that is keeping Kim Jong Un from suffering the fate of Saddam Hussein or Moammar Gaddafi. The regime will not give up this insurance policy. If you were in Kim’s position, would you?

The denuclearization of North Korea right now is a fantasy. It will not happen unless the United States is willing to wage a war on the Korean Peninsula. Everyone knows this, but no official in Washington is willing to publicly admit it. So the United States has adopted a zombie policy, one that has no chance of success but staggers along nonetheless. It means that we cannot make any progress on what is in fact an achievable and desirable goal — to freeze the North Korean arsenal, end further tests, and place the weapons under inspection.

A way out of this paralysis would be to reframe the issue and broaden its scope. Joshua Cooper Ramo, co-chief executive of Henry Kissinger’s consulting firm, has devised and shared with me a plan — one that has been circulating among officials in Washington — to convene an international conference on nuclear proliferation. All existing nuclear weapons states would agree not to test or expand their arsenals for some period of time — say, 36 months. Inspectors would verify that these limits are adhered to. All other nations would affirm that they do not intend to acquire nuclear weapons. Crucially, North Korea would be invited to sign onto this agreement as a nuclear weapons state, with the idea of freezing progress for now and aiming to later denuclearize the country.

Ramo says that the advantages of this approach are that it lodges the North Korean problem in the broader context of global proliferation, giving everyone an exit ramp so previous nonnegotiable statements don’t apply. It creates a global coalition that could be marshaled to sanction North Korea if it were to renege or cheat on its commitments, giving cover to China to truly clamp down on its ally. The plan also deals with Beijing’s core security concerns: preventing the collapse of North Korea and keeping South Korea and Japan from acquiring nuclear weapons. (Ramo, who has a deep knowledge of China, believes that this broader approach would allow the Chinese government to change its position.)

The specifics of such a plan could be adjusted. Perhaps the conference could be an effort to update and expand the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty itself, which is somewhat dated. (The treaty, crafted in 1968, assumed a clear line between peaceful nuclear energy and weapons, but that distinction is much harder to detect these days.) Perhaps it could be done as a regional forum, emphasizing the participation of Japan and South Korea, so that their commitment not to acquire nuclear weapons is seen as key — as is the implicit threat that if there were to be no agreement, they would in fact be free to move in that direction.

There is no good — let alone perfect — policy for the North Korean problem. But the Trump administration needs to stop the insults, get serious and try to find some way to stabilize the situation. Otherwise, we are on a road that will force Washington to either go to war or tacitly admit defeat to the Little Rocket Man.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group


North Korea’s Nuclear Brinkmanship: When will it end?

September 26, 2017

North Korea’s Nuclear Brinkmanship: When will it end?

Vinod Saighal, New Delhi
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Analysts across the world have begun to justify North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s brinkmanship on the grounds that he is securing the longevity of his regime against any action that the United States (and its allies) might take. As long as Kim knows that China will not join hands with the United States in taking him out, he will keep upping the ante — thumbing his nose, so to say, at the United States.


US President Donald Trump may threaten fire and fury and an unimaginable scale of destruction, but he knows that the United States is on the horns of a dilemma. And now Russia too has come out in opposition to unilateral US action, insisting that dialogue is the only way out.

By the looks of it, Kim is not likely to stop his brinkmanship. But provoking the United States beyond a certain point is likely to invite pre-emptive action. Whatever the nature of a pre-emptive strike by the United States and its two major allies in the region — South Korea and Japan — the destruction that would ensue would, to use President Trump’s words, be unimaginable.

The scale referred to by the US president needs to be spelled out. Ira Helfand, co-President of International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War, published a paper in 2013 on the consequences of a limited nuclear exchange in South Asia. His findings: Chinese winter wheat production would fall 50 per cent in the first year and, averaged over the entire decade after the war, would be 31 per cent below baseline. More than a billion people in China would face severe food insecurity and the total number of people threatened by nuclear-war induced famine would be well over two billion.

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The prospect of a decade of widespread hunger and intense social and economic instability in the world’s largest country has immense implications for the entire global community. These figures — which remain unchallenged — do not take into account the tens of millions of casualties in the countries where the exchange would take place.

If this is the scale of destruction resulting from a limited nuclear exchange, it is not difficult to imagine the scale in a situation where the United States hits North Korea as hard as it can.

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An estimate can also be made of the effects of retaliatory action by North Korea against South Korea and Japan. Suffice to say that the casualties could be in the tens of millions in the first 24 hours and an order of magnitude of that figure, if not several orders of magnitude, over a longer period.

At the time of writing, the principal players remain the United States, North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan and now Russia. What about the remaining nations of the world? There does not seem to be any emergency planning for the survival of countries in the region that would surely be affected by the fallout and those beyond who would be affected over a longer period.

In short, practically nobody gets away unscathed. The situation described has to be taken as possible Armageddon, in worst case scenarios. Hence the ineluctable need for the major players to meet at the UN and find an immediate solution to this grave threat to humanity.

A possible way out would be for the United States, China and Russia to issue a joint ultimatum to the North Korean leader to come to the negotiating table and force him to put a cap on his country’s missile and nuclear production. This would be followed by complete dismantlement over a given period, with verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency and designated neutral country experts.

This would need to be preceded by the three big powers working out the compromises that need to take place between the US and North Korea. The broad outlines of concessions demanded from the United States before the ultimatum to the North Korean leader would include the complete withdrawal of all US forces from South Korea in stages and abrogation of the mutual defence pact with South Korea. Neutrality of the Korean peninsula would need to be guaranteed by China, Russia and the United States and endorsed at a special session of the UN Security Council. The United States would need to pledge to abjure military action against North Korea. Finally, the United States, China, South Korea and Japan would need to pledge a substantial sum, say US$50 billion, for the economic revival of North Korea. No attempt at regime change would be made by the United States or its allies.

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Kim is unlikely to agree to this even if two of his supporters were to join with the United States. Here is where compellance comes in. After authorisation by the UN Security Council, China, Russia and the United States carry out a full-scale blockade of North Korea by land, sea and air. Simultaneously, leaflets would be regularly dropped over North Korea by China and Russia (not the United States) urging the population to force their leader to come to the negotiating table, failing which the army and the people would be urged to topple the leader before complete starvation sets in.

The blockade would be lifted only when neutral observers are allowed to come into Pyongyang to monitor the agreement, and the three powers feel assured that there is no possibility of the North Korean leader reneging on the deal.

As a final step towards peace in the region, the proposal — which is amenable to sensible tweaking — for the demilitarisation of both Koreas would commence, with guarantees of military protection from the major powers.

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President Trump lashed back Friday at North Korea’s leader, calling Kim Jong Un a “madman” whose regime will be “tested like never before” amid new U. S-imposed financial sanctions.

A satisfactory outcome in North Korea would send a salutary message to any country aspiring to take the North Korean route. But the biggest take-away would be the coming-together of the leading powers to ward off the direct threats to humanity.

General Vinod Saighal is the Executive Director of Eco Monitors Society, a non-governmental organisation concerned with demography and ecology.

A version of this article was first published here on The Statesman.

Trump’s tough talk and sophomoric antics wins friends for erudite Hassan Rouhani and Iran

September 22, 2017

Trump’s tough talk and sophomoric antics win friends for Erudite Hassan Rouhani and Islamic Republic of Iran

by Robin

Image result for hassan rouhani quote at ungaIran’s Hassan Rouhani won friends with his Speech at the United Nations General Assembly

“Let me underline one thing that must be self-evident to all in the world,” she (European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini) said. “In this moment, having a nuclear-non-proliferation agreement that is delivering is quite a strategic instrument in the hands of the international community. It’s not an irrelevant part of global security.” She added, “We already have one potential nuclear crisis. We definitely do not need to go into a second one. This is an agreement that prevented a nuclear program. And potentially prevented a military intervention. Let’s not forget that.”–Robin Wright

On Monday, I sat in One U.N. Plaza, the high-rise hotel across the street from the United Nations, and watched a parade of European diplomats head into meetings with Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani. Boris Johnson, the blond-mopped British Foreign Minister, sauntered through the lobby in deep conversation with his delegation. The new French President, Emmanuel Macron, led by a military officer wearing the distinctive stovepipe kepi, and accompanied by a dozen aides and several photographers, scurried by next. One by one, the Europeans came to confer with the leader of a country that has been ostracized by the outside world, for decades, as a pariah. No longer. The outside world now comes calling on Iran.

During his campaign and since taking office, President Trump has targeted the Islamic Republic with some of his most wrathful language. At his U.N. début, on Tuesday, he called Iran “reckless” and a “corrupt dictatorship” on a “path of poverty, bloodshed, and terror.” He has repeatedly implied that he wants to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal that was negotiated by the world’s six major powers in 2015. As required by Congress, the President must certify every ninety days that Iran is complying with the deal. Trump has certified twice but has indicated that he might change course in mid-October, which would undermine the most significant (whether you like the terms or not) non-proliferation agreement in more than a quarter century.

This week, Trump has taunted the press and tantalized other heads of state with hints about his intentions. On Wednesday, he told reporters (three times), “I have decided.” Asked for details, he said (twice), “I’ll let you know.” Not even the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, could get him to share his decision, the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, told reporters.

Trump’s tough talk and sophomoric antics may have had the opposite effect of what he intended, however. Across the board, the world’s other major powers, most of America’s closest allies, and the vast majority of governments at the United Nations this week made clear that they favor the deal. They are siding with Iran this time.

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Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu working hand and glove to scuttle to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or J.C.P.O.A deal with Iran. As far as Trump is concerned, all Obama deals are useless. He feels he can do better. Really?–Din Merican

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, hosted a meeting of the foreign ministers of Iran and the six signatories to the deal—formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or J.C.P.O.A.—late Wednesday. It was the first time that Tillerson had met his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Afterward, Mogherini was blunt. “The nuclear agreement is working. It’s delivering. It’s functioning,” she told a press conference at the United Nations. Eight reports by the U.N. nuclear watchdog—the most recent of which was released earlier this month—have verified Iran’s full compliance, she said. The consequences of abandoning or scrapping the deal would be costly.

“Let me underline one thing that must be self-evident to all in the world,” she said. “In this moment, having a nuclear-non-proliferation agreement that is delivering is quite a strategic instrument in the hands of the international community. It’s not an irrelevant part of global security.” She added, “We already have one potential nuclear crisis. We definitely do not need to go into a second one. This is an agreement that prevented a nuclear program. And potentially prevented a military intervention. Let’s not forget that.”

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High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini

In an indirect jibe at Trump, Mogherini noted that the agreement, forged after two years of often tortuous diplomacy, “doesn’t belong to one country.” It was endorsed by a Security Council resolution. “As such, all member states of the United Nations are considered to be bound to the implementation,” she said. “It belongs to the international community.”

In his U.N. address, President Macron also rejected Trump’s view of the Iran deal. “Renouncing it would be a grave error, not respecting it would be irresponsible, because it is a good accord that is essential to peace at a time where the risk of a conflagration cannot be excluded,” he said.

Macron also told a group of journalists in New York that he had been “extremely direct” with Trump when they talked, on Tuesday. “You want to kill it because it is an Obama agreement,” Macron said he argued. “But what else do we have? Nothing. We would be put in the North Korea situation.” During her meeting with Trump, Prime Minister May also reaffirmed Britain’s “strong commitment to the deal” as “vitally important for regional security,” according to a British press release.

Russia and China, which both have strategic, diplomatic, or commercial alliances with Tehran, are two of the signatories, and have long favored making a deal with Iran. The Europeans, who account for all the other major players, are important because they have been in sync with the United States since the Iranian Revolution, in 1979. European nations and the U.S. have been repeatedly burned by Iran in the past, and have similar serious, ongoing issues: Iran’s missile tests, its support for extremists, its human-rights abuses, its detentions of their citizens, and a growing pattern of Iranian intervention in Middle Eastern conflicts, notably in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Yet, for the first time in almost four decades, the Europeans appear willing to break from Washington.

Tillerson said that his first encounter with Iran was “a good opportunity to meet, shake hands.” He added, “There was no yelling. We didn’t throw shoes at one another. It was not an angry tone at all. It was a very, very matter-of-fact exchange of how we see this agreement very, very differently.” Tillerson even offered up a compliment. Iranians, he said, “are a very well-educated, very sophisticated population, so their leaders similarly are well educated, very sophisticated. And Foreign Minister Zarif certainly is in that category.”

Trump’s conflict with Iran boils down to differing interpretations of the second sentence in the preface to the deal—which is to say, it is over eighteen words in a document totaling a hundred and fifty-nine pages. That sentence says that the six major powers and Iran “anticipate that full implementation of this JCPOA will positively contribute to regional and international peace and security.” The Trump Administration charges that Iran has repeatedly violated this sentence in the accord—and, thus, the whole deal.

“Regrettably, since the agreement was confirmed, we have seen anything but a more peaceful, stable region,” Tillerson said, on Wednesday. “The technical aspects” may have been honored by Tehran, he said, “but, in the broader context, the aspiration has not.” That’s the legal framework behind Trump’s “decision of whether we find the JCPOA to continue to serve the security interests of the American people or not.”

The President is also concerned with sunset clauses that allow Iran to eventually resume some activities, ranging from a decade to a quarter century. Mogherini countered that argument, too. She pulled out her copy of the blue-bound text and read the third sentence of the preface, which follows the phrase the U.S. disputes: “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.”

I saw Rouhani twice during his three-day stay. The first time was after the parade of visiting foreign leaders finished and he settled in for a session with former U.S. officials, including a former congressman, U.S. think tanks, and journalists. The second was at a press conference after his own speech to the General Assembly, on Wednesday. At both, he was provided U.S. Secret Service protection as a visiting head of state. It was a striking scene—with the agents in their colorful ties and the Iranian delegation tie-less, a symbol of their rejection of Western influence.

Rouhani, a cleric and political centrist who did his doctorate in Scotland, was recently reëlected, in May, with seventy-three per cent of the vote—more than a million votes more than he won in his first election, in 2013. The current Iranian leadership clearly feels more confident in its dealings with the world, after years of officially shunning both East and West—and being shunned in return.

On the U.N.’s global stage, clothed in the white turban and robes of a cleric, Rouhani threw his own zingers back at Trump. “It will be a great pity if this agreement were to be destroyed by rogue newcomers to the world of politics,” he said. “The ignorant, absurd, and hateful rhetoric, filled with ridiculously baseless allegations, that was uttered before this august body yesterday didn’t befit an organization established to promote peace and respect among nations.” He vowed that Iran would not be the first to breach the nuclear agreement.

In mini-summits among leaders in New York this week, there has been a lot of talk about possible compromises, such as keeping the deal but launching new negotiations to extend the timelines of the sunset clauses. On Wednesday, I asked Rouhani if Iran would be willing to change any of the deal’s terms. “The J.C.P.O.A. has been finalized and there’s going to be no return, renegotiation, or changes vis-a-vis this agreement,” he told me. “Most of the time was taken—days and weeks and months of negotiations and dialogue—was spent on dates. Of course the dates we insisted be the shortest possible, and the other side insisted be as long as possible, but in fact we came up with a rational time frame that was agreed upon by both sides. So this agreement is not something that someone can touch. This is a building from the frame of which, if you take out a single brick, the entire building will collapse.”

Rouhani, a former national-security adviser and nuclear negotiator, warned that a U.S. exit from the deal would mean “that our hand is completely open to take any action that we see as beneficial to our country,” including enriching uranium. Given Trump’s language of late, he said, the options are already being intensely debated in Tehran. Iran has long wanted to produce its own fuel for nuclear reactors, as it diversifies its energy sources. The world’s major powers have never trusted Iran’s pledge not to develop a nuclear bomb, whatever its promises. One of the deal’s primary goals is to prevent Iran from transferring its enriched uranium to fuel a bomb.

Rouhani also warned that Trump would pay the bigger price if he officially challenges the deal, noting Washington has the support of only one other leader—Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. More than a hundred and ninety countries stand by the nuclear accord. “If the new officials in the United States believe that the violation of the J.C.P.O.A. will bring pressure on Iran, they are completely and absolutely mistaken,” Rouhani said in the press conference. Globally, he predicted, U.S. diplomacy would become suspect if the Americans walked away from an accord that they had the largest hand in crafting.

Instead, the Iranian leader told a packed press conference, “The position of Iran throughout the world will be stronger and better than before.” That may be a gross overstatement, given the country’s many other policies that are widely considered dangerous for both Iran’s people and the outside world. The regime still holds several American citizens and green-card holders; some, including a former U.N. staffer, have been sentenced to long prison terms for espionage. But Iran was certainly getting a sympathetic ear at the United Nations, where America’s allies were making Iran’s case to the Trump Administration.