Photo: U.S. President Donald J. Trump, addresses the 72nd General Assembly’s annual general debate 19 September 2017. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak - Photo: 2017

Trump’s UN Speech Arouses Fear of a ‘Dark and Difficult Phase’ in Reducing Nuclear Threat

By Devendra Kamarajan

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) –”Trust within and among countries is being driven down by those who demonize and divide. We are a world in pieces. We need to be a world at peace,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his address to the General Assembly on September 19.

In contrast, the U.S. President Donald Trump warned North Korea: “The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” He also threatened Iran and Venezuela.

Reacting to these threats, the Arms Control Association criticised Trump’s address as a failure of nuclear leadership. “Trump’s address is yet another sign that we are entering a dark and difficult phase in the long-running effort to reduce the threat posed by nuclear weapons,” said Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director of the organization based in Washington, D.C.

“In the long run, the United States will continue to play an essential and useful role in reducing the risks of nuclear weapons. But in the near term, other responsible U.S. and world leaders must step forward to provide the nuclear leadership that Mr. Trump is failing to demonstrate,” added Kimball.

He regretted that Trump had missed an opportunity to outline a coherent approach on how the United States, Russia, and other nuclear-weapon states could responsibly reduce nuclear tensions and work together to prevent nuclear conflict. “At this point in his first term as president, Barack Obama had convened a special meeting of the UN Security Council and won the adoption of a comprehensive strategy (UNSC 1887) to reduce nuclear risks worldwide,” Kimball recalled.

The Executive Director of the Arms Control Association, an independent organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world’s most dangerous weapons, recalled that since 1945, U.S. presidents have sought to rally global support and action toward practical solutions curbing the spread of nuclear weapons and reducing the dangerous likelihood of their use. 

“Sadly, President Donald J. Trump, in his first, fiery address before the UN General Assembly has demonstrated that he is not up to this most important of U.S. presidential responsibilities. Instead, Trump threatened to unravel the widely supported, hard-won 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers that verifiably blocks Iran’s path to a bomb. Allies and security and nonproliferation experts agree that Iran is meeting its nuclear-related commitments under the deal,” said Kimball.

On September 13, more than 80 of the world’s leading nuclear nonproliferation specialists issued a joint statement in Washington, D.C. on why the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between six world powers – China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States – and Iran “has proven to be an effective and verifiable arrangement that is a net plus for international nuclear nonproliferation efforts.”

“Since the nuclear deal was implemented in January 2016, the JCPOA has dramatically reduced the risk posed by Iran’s nuclear program and mandated unprecedented monitoring and transparency measures that make it very likely that any possible future effort by Iran to pursue nuclear weapons, even a clandestine program, would be detected promptly,” the statement noted.

The statement is endorsed by former U.S. nuclear negotiators, former senior U.S. nonproliferation and intelligence officials, a former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a former member of the UN Panel of Experts on Iran, and leading nuclear specialists from the United States and around the globe.

“We firmly support vigorous efforts to monitor and enforce compliance with the JCPOA,” the experts said, “but we are concerned by statements from the Trump administration that it may be seeking to create a false pretext for accusing Iran of noncooperation or noncompliance with the agreement in order to trigger the reimposition of nuclear-related sanctions against Iran.”

Under the terms of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, the administration must certify to Congress every 90 days that Iran is fully implementing the nuclear deal. Failure to issue the certification would open the door for Congress, under expedited procedures, to introduce legislation to reimpose nuclear sanctions that were lifted in exchange for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program that block its pathways to a bomb. The next certification deadline arrives in mid-October.

“Abandoning the deal without clear evidence of an unresolved material breach by Iran that is corroborated by the other EU3+3 partners runs the risk that Tehran would resume some of its nuclear activities,” they warned.

Thus far, reporting from the U.S. intelligence community, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the other parties to the agreement make it clear that Iran is meeting its many JCPOA commitments.

These include long-term, verifiable restrictions on Iran’s sensitive nuclear fuel cycle activities, many of which will last for 10 years, some for 15 years, some for 25 years, with enhanced IAEA monitoring under Iran’s additional protocol agreement with the IAEA and modified code 3.1 safeguards provisions lasting indefinitely.

“[U]nilateral action by the United States, especially on the basis of unsupported contentions of Iranian cheating, would isolate the United States. In doing so, the United States would discourage Iran and others—including Washington’s EU3+3 partners—from supporting any U.S. proposal for negotiations on a new agreement while simultaneously damaging the agreement in place,” the experts say.

The statement concludes: “we urge the Trump administration and the U.S. Congress to continue to fulfill Washington’s commitments under the accord and to refrain from actions that undermine U.S. obligations in the agreement.”

“Given that we are already struggling to contain the North Korean nuclear and missile crisis, it would be extremely unwise for the president to initiate steps that could unravel the highly successful 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which could create a second major nonproliferation crisis,” said Kelsey Davenport, nonproliferation policy director for the Arms Control Association, which organized the statement.

Kimball said: “Any further steps by the Trump administration to undermine the Iran nuclear deal will isolate the United States, make it harder to confront Iran’s misbehavior in the region, and worst of all, potentially lead to the undoing of the agreement, thereby increasing the threat of war and a spiral of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and beyond.”

In doing so, he not only shared the views of European allies and those of China and Russia. According to the New York Times, “President Emmanuel Macron of France took sharp exception to President Trump’s remarks at the General Assembly. He challenged Mr. Trump’s dismissal of the Iran nuclear agreement, defending it as ‘solid, robust and verifiable.’

“The French leader said that renouncing the deal with Iran would be a ‘grave error,’ calling the agreement ‘essential for peace.’ Britain, China, Germany and Russia also hold that view, which could isolate the United States should Mr. Trump carry out his threat to quit the Iran accord.”

Macron seconded Trump’s assertion that North Korea’s nuclear belligerence is dangerous and unacceptable. But he said diplomatic pressure was the best solution. “France rejects escalation and will not close any door to dialogue,” he said.

Referring to the U.S. President’s new edition of his “fire and fury” threat, Kimball said: “Trump likewise failed to appeal to the international community to better implement existing sanctions and to support efforts for a realistic, negotiated solution, instead recklessly threatening to destroy North Korea. It is naive to think that sanctions pressure and bellicose U.S. threats of nuclear attack can force North Korea to change course.”

He recalled President John F. Kennedy’s remarks following the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis: “Above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to the choice of either a humiliating defeat or a nuclear war.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 19 September 2017]

Photo: U.S. President Donald J. Trump, addresses the 72nd General Assembly’s annual general debate 19 September 2017. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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