The United States’ Firm Policy On North Korea Should Be Applied To Iran, Too

Tasnim News Agency/via REUTERS

Ivan Sascha Sheehan Executive director, School of Public and International Affairs, University of Baltimore
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Whatever one thinks of the outcome of the Singapore summit, there is no denying the historical significance of the meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un.

Many thought such a meeting would never take place and that Kim couldn’t be brought to the bargaining table. But the naysayers were wrong.

To be clear, there was good reason for skepticism just days before plans for the summit were finalized. President Trump himself called off the original meeting in response to Pyongyang’s belligerent rhetoric. It was an important re-assertion of the president’s strong approach to negotiating with rogue regimes and adversaries of the United States. Trump’s willingness to abandon the talks was a departure from his predecessor who seemed willing to negotiate at almost any cost.

But the administration’s firm approach wasn’t just characterized by Trump’s tough talk on the international stage. It was backed up by concrete actions aimed at convincing Pyongyang that it was in their interest to open up talks and that the regime would face serious consequences for remaining committed to nuclear activities in defiance of the West. The effects of economic sanctions were bolstered by Trump’s talks with China, which helped shorten one of the North Korean regime’s only lifelines.

Strong American leadership can lead to effective international cooperation, and insofar as this is the nature of the Trump administration’s approach to foreign policy, it may have historic implications for other regions as well. Indeed, in the wake of the Singapore summit, Trump expressed great confidence in his ability to open up new talks with the Islamic Republic of Iran and to secure a better deal than the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

If Trump has taken a reasonably tough approach to North Korea, he can be described as being positively adamant with Iran. Accurately describing the regime as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and the greatest contributor to the suffering of its own people, the White House has promised to impose the “strongest sanctions in history” on Tehran if it does not agree to meaningful compromises on a range of issues not limited to uranium enrichment.

Trump’s ultimate success in pushing Pyongyang in the right direction suggests that he may be able to do the same with Tehran, and soon. The Iranian regime had been given some relief from economic sanctions while the JCPOA was in effect before Trump pulled the United States out of it last month. But now European businesses are steadily abandoning planned trade agreements, old sanctions are on their way to being restored and various new sanctions are targeting hardline institutions like the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

All this adds up to a situation in which Iran may soon face even greater pressure than North Korea. And, this is to say nothing of the pressure that the regime faces from within its own borders.

At the end of last year and the beginning of this year, Iran was rocked by protests in more than 140 cities and towns. The massive uprising gave rise to unprecedented calls for regime change from within. If the international community can directly tap into that anti-government sentiment, which persists in scattered protests even today, then there is effectively no limit to what can be achieved in negotiations with Tehran.

In contrast to North Korea, Iran boasts a thoroughly organized Resistance movement that has been pushing for democratic governance since the earliest days of the dictatorial regime. That movement will present itself and its platform to the world on June 30 in an international gathering near Paris, organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). In recent years, the event has attracted the participation of approximately 100,000 people, including Iranian expatriates from throughout the world and political dignitaries from a wide range of countries, including the United States and EU member states.

While nationwide protests were still in full swing in January, even Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was forced to admit that the NCRI’s main constituent group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), played a leading role in planning the demonstrations and facilitating their rapid spread throughout the country.

If the only thing that Trump secures from his meeting with Jim Jong Un is a general commitment to denuclearization, it is telling that he managed to do so without the added leverage provided by prospective U.S. support of a domestic threat to the regime’s hold on power. His firm approach to diplomatic negotiations need not encounter any such constraints as the White House turns its attention back to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Maryam Rajavi, the head of the NCRI, has repeatedly underscored the opportunities that exist for those organizations to work together with the international community in pursuit of shared aims. In a speech on May 5, for instance, she said, “The Iranian people… are calling on the international community, in particular the West, to support their uprising for the overthrow of the Iranian regime.”

President Trump, bipartisan U.S. officials and every serious-minded Western policymaker should consider Mrs. Rajavi’s vision for what Iran could look like in the future: a site of free and fair elections, with safeguards for the rights of women and minorities, no nuclear ambitions and a commitment to peaceful relations with neighboring countries. With a firm approach to Iran policy, that goal can be achieved. The prospects have never been better.

Professor Ivan Sascha Sheehan is the incoming Executive Director of the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore. Follow him on Twitter @ProfSheehan.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.