Fresh off his meeting with Kim Jong Un, President Trump is talking about getting together with Iran’s leaders “whenever they want” and “without preconditions.” Is this a good idea?
I don’t think so. I favored Trump meeting with Kim, but there are at least two important distinctions between North Korea and Iran.
First, North Korea has nuclear weapons. Iran doesn’t. I think it’s important to establish some sort of dialogue with the dictator of a power that can nuke American territory and possibly American cities. Iran doesn’t have that capability.
Second, there is reason to believe the Iranian regime is reeling. There is no evidence that Kim’s is.
Trump has predicted that the Iranians will seek a new deal from him because the regime seems to be in trouble. But it is precisely for that main reason that Trump shouldn’t meet with the mullahs.
Iran’s purpose at such a meeting would be to obtain economic relief in exchange for nuclear concessions — a better nuclear deal for America, as Trump puts it. But we shouldn’t grant Iran any economic relief.
Regime change should be our goal. Helping Iran’s economy while the mullahs are in charge is inconsistent with that goal.
It might be different if Iran were willing to scrap its nuclear program completely. But Iran isn’t going to do this, any more, frankly, than North Korea will. If Trump thinks otherwise then (a) he’s fooling himself and (b) he should set some preconditions through which Iran can demonstrate its potential willingness to abandon the nuclear program.
It’s possible that Trump doesn’t really want to meet with Iran’s leaders. Maybe he’s just grandstanding. Maybe he’s confident that Iran will refuse to meet with him, as they very likely will. Maybe he thinks such a refusal will further alienate the Iranians from the mullahs.
It seems more likely, though, that Trump wants to meet the mullahs. If nothing else, the meeting would place him center stage and give him something new to boast about. But I don’t think it would serve America’s interests.
UPDATE: Trump probably wants to talk with Iran about Syria. He’s looking for a way out of Syria but understands that Iran would fill the void. A deal with Iran would give him cover to exit.
However, I doubt it would get Iran and its proxy Hezbollah out of Syria. Bolstering the Iranian economy in exchange for promises that Iran will end its regional adventurism seems like a bad deal.