North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the country’s military, Pyongyang, North Korea, Feb. 8, 2018 (Korean Central News Agency photo via AP).

Ahead of a potential meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, recent statements from Washington and Pyongyang have veered wildly in tone and substance, moving from conciliatory to combative and back again. Yet the latest head-spinning developments follow several months of seemingly steady progress toward a potential breakthrough on the Korean Peninsula. The following 10 WPR articles trace that remarkable shift and also describe the risks for both sides going forward. The following 10 articles are free for nonsubscribers until June 14. Making Nice Will the Spirit of Korean Reunification Linger After the Olympics? […]

President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Nashville Municipal Auditorium, Nashville, Tenn., May 29, 2018 (AP photo by Andrew Harnik).

There’s little reason to believe that U.S. President Donald Trump will successfully achieve his foreign policy objectives. But as a thought experiment and for the sake of argument, what would America and the world look like if he did? Trump’s “America First” agenda is predicated on a number of notions, explicit and implicit, regarding how to promote strength at home and abroad. First, the U.S. should maintain balanced accounts, and where possible net surpluses, in its trade relationships. Second, America’s alliances and security partnerships should be as close to cost-neutral as possible. Third, the U.S. should not shrink from leveraging […]

A rally supporting U.S. policy of putting pressure on North Korea, Seoul, South Korea, May 18, 2018 (AP photo by Ahn Young-joon).

SEOUL—Without knowing how many plot twists are left in U.S. President Donald Trump’s attempt to engage with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, it’s hard to know if the play will end up being a tragedy, a comedy or a satirical farce. The audacity of Trump’s belief that he can transform the Korean Peninsula into a denuclearized zone of peace in mere weeks is matched by his inability or unwillingness to master the historical issues and complex constraints that have so far kept the parties from achieving the breakthrough he seeks. One of the reasons the plot keeps changing is […]

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer at the 9th China Business Conference at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Washington, May 1, 2018 (AP photo by Cliff Owen).

It’s déjà vu all over again. Where’s the beef? And speak loudly, but forget the stick. Those were among the clichés that came to mind during the Trump administration’s China trade policy gyrations over the past few weeks. Almost exactly a year after Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced the results of a “herculean” effort to get a deal with China to boost U.S. exports of energy and agricultural goods, and six months after Ross announced another set of deals purportedly worth $250 billion in increased American exports of natural gas, soybeans, beef and pork, the White House released a joint […]

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks as Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei listens during a meeting with members of the Iranian government, Tehran, May 23, 2018 (Sipa photo via AP).

Two weeks after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outlined the parameters of the “new Iran strategy” that he believes would lead to a “better deal” with Iran. It is a laundry list of 12 demands Iran must meet if it is to avoid getting hit by what Pompeo called the “strongest sanctions in history.” But Iran won’t accept these sweeping demands. Would it actually return to the negotiating table? And how could this new strategy shape Iran’s domestic politics? The Trump administration’s move is a huge gamble […]

A military parade is held to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army at the Zhurihe training base, Xilingol, China, July 30, 2017 (TopPhoto photo via AP).

Say you had just awoken from a long slumber and glanced at today’s headlines. You would conclude, no doubt, that Iran and North Korea are America’s greatest security threats. The attention those admittedly malign nations receive from the Trump administration surpasses all other adversaries or potential adversaries. In reality, though, Iran and North Korea are second-tier challenges, unlikely to strike directly at vital U.S. national interests. Russia is more worrisome, given its recent and continuing political meddling against the United States and President Donald Trump’s perplexing lack of concern with its attacks on American elections. Ultimately, though, Russia is devious […]

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivering a speech on Iran at the Heritage Foundation, Washington, May 21, 2018 (AP photo by J. Scott Applewhite).

In his first major policy address since becoming secretary of state, Mike Pompeo on Monday outlined the Trump administration’s “Plan B” for dealing with Iran now that the U.S. has decided to no longer comply with the terms of the nuclear deal it negotiated with Tehran and five other world powers in 2015. At the heart of Pompeo’s approach is a list of 12 demands that Iran would have to meet in exchange for the U.S. concluding a formal Senate-ratified treaty guaranteeing Iran’s unfettered return to the global economy. As far as demands for international behavior go, Pompeo’s are reasonable: […]

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, left, and Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, May 20, 2018 (Iraqi government photo via AP).

To judge by much of the expert commentary so far, last week’s parliamentary elections in Iraq were a setback for the United States. The winning coalition, led by the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, has been viewed as anti-American—but also not quite pro-Iranian, given Sadr’s reinvention as an Iraqi nationalist. The affable incumbent, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, came in third, behind an explicitly pro-Iranian coalition. It usually takes Iraq many months of bargaining to actually form a new government. In the 2014 elections, it took about four months; in 2010, it took nearly nine months. So it isn’t yet clear who will […]

A burned truck outside al-Rawdah mosque a day after a terrorist attack killed hundreds of worshipers, northern Sinai, Egypt, Nov. 25, 2017 (AP photo by Tarek Samy).

Egypt and Israel have a shared interest in the defeat of the self-proclaimed Islamic State’s Egyptian affiliate. But when that offshoot—which calls itself Wilayat Sinai, or Sinai Province—is snuffed out, what happens next in Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula is unclear, and the interests of these allies of convenience begin to diverge. Since 2011, jihadi militants in Egypt’s North Sinai governorate, who declared their allegiance to the Islamic State in November 2014, have threatened the security of both Egypt and Israel. Before joining the Islamic State, one of the jihadis’ goals was driving a wedge between the two neighboring states. Through […]

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the country’s military, Pyongyang, North Korea, Feb. 8, 2018 (Korean Central News Agency photo via AP).

For many years, North Korea’s relationship with the outside world has endlessly cycled between belligerence and crisis, always backed by an endless chorus of hysterical hostility. Recently, though, things seemed to be heading in a very different direction. Since late March, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has held two cordial meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping. And during a landmark April summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Kim promised to work toward an official end to the Korean War and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The next big step for Kim was a planned June meeting with […]

Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr celebrate in Tahrir Square, Baghdad, Iraq, May 14, 2018 (AP photo by Hadi Mizban).

Iraqis went to the polls last weekend in an election that was closely watched by outside powers, especially Iran and the United States. Both Tehran and Washington had hoped voters would solidify their own respective plans for Iraq by choosing their preferred candidates to lead the next government in Baghdad. The results came as a shock. It’s early in the government-forming process and surprises could still occur. But the election alone suggests the biggest geopolitical loser from Iraq’s latest democratic exercise was neighboring Iran. That doesn’t mean, however, that the U.S. found much to celebrate in the results. The top […]

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivers his opening address during the 32nd ASEAN Summit, Singapore, April 28, 2018, (AP photo by Yong Teck Lim).

The announcement last week that Singapore will be the site of the summit on June 12 between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un—just a week after it will host the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s premier security forum—once again put the city-state in the international spotlight. But within its own region of Southeast Asia, Singapore already faced a year of heightened attention and expectations. It holds the annual rotating chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations amid a series of domestic, regional and global challenges, and has recently become a more vocal defender of the […]

Bijan Namdar Zangeneh, the Iranian minister of oil, waits on Germany’s then-Minister of Economic Affairs Sigmar Gabriel at his office in Tehran, Iran, October 3, 2016 (dpa photo by Bernd von Jutrczenka via AP).

Last week, President Donald Trump announced the United States would be reimposing unilateral sanctions against Iran that had been suspended as part of the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. At the heart of the U.S. sanctions are measures targeting Iran’s oil and gas sector, including any non-Iranian corporations that do business with Iran. In an email interview, Thijs Van de Graaf, an assistant professor of international politics at Ghent University in Belgium, discusses the evolution of Iran’s oil and gas sector since the JCPOA, and the implications of the reimposition […]

A protest against the inauguration of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 14, 2018 (AP photo by Nasser Nasser).

Overturning seven decades of U.S. policy and international consensus, President Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital marked a turning point in the prospects of an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement based on the principle of two independent states. Trump once insisted that his decision should not translate into an official American position on any of the so-called final status issues for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Yet, contradicting his own statements, he also stressed that by “taking Jerusalem off the table,” Palestinians and Israelis would somehow get past Jerusalem and “don’t have to talk about it anymore,” even though the city’s […]

Iranian women attend an anti-U.S. gathering after Friday prayers in Tehran, Iran, May 11, 2018 (AP photo by Vahid Salemi).

The United States has found a new way to hurt the United Nations Security Council: Ignore it. Last week, I predicted that U.S. President Donald Trump was about to pull out of the Iranian nuclear bargain, setting the stage for a showdown in the council. This was half right. Trump quit the deal Tuesday. But his national security adviser, John Bolton, signaled that the U.S. does not plan to return to the U.N. to reimpose multilateral sanctions on Tehran. Instead, Washington will rely on unilateral secondary sanctions, which can cut non-American companies out of the U.S. market if they continue […]

Iranian lawmakers burn pieces of paper representing the American flag and the nuclear deal as they chant slogans against the U.S., Tehran, Iran, May 9, 2018 (AP photo).

On Tuesday, from the Diplomatic Room of the White House, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran nuclear deal, which waived multinational sanctions on Iran in exchange for strict controls on Tehran’s nuclear program. Listing a litany of destabilizing actions by the Iranian regime, including sponsorship of terrorism, support to armed proxies, the development of ballistic missiles and “plundering the wealth of its own people,” Trump declared that no action is “more dangerous” than Iran’s “pursuit of nuclear weapons—and the means of delivering them.” The […]

A Chinese Wing Loong 2 reconnaissance and combat drone on display at the Dubai Airshow, United Arab Emirates, Nov. 12, 2017 (Sputnik photo by Sergey Mamontov via AP).

In another move meant to break with his predecessor, President Donald Trump last month announced new export policies for U.S. drones. In presenting Trump’s policy shift, Peter Navarro, assistant to the president for trade and manufacturing policy, said it “will level the playing field by enabling U.S. firms to increase their direct sales to authorized allies and partners.” The media reaction was hyperbolic, with one outlet asking whether the policy now meant Trump could “sell deadly drones to dictators,” and another stating in its headline that “Trump offers deadly U.S. drones to more countries.” But does the move simply harken […]

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