Donald Trump, who campaigned for president promising to bring his unique dealmaking skills to gridlocked Washington, assumed office facing a twin choice. On the one hand, he would have to decide whether, as candidate Trump had repeatedly pledged, to undo “the worst deal ever” with Iran that the Obama administration and the world’s major powers had negotiated in 2015 to block that country’s pathways to the bomb for at least 15 years. Conversely, he would also have to decide whether to do a deal with North Korea to constrain its burgeoning nuclear and missile programs—capabilities that by 2020, if left unchecked, could allow the Kim Jong Un regime to strike the U.S. homeland with a nuclear weapon mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
A few days past the 100-day mark, the Trump administration’s signals on these urgent nuclear challenges are mixed. On Iran, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reported to Congress that the Tehran regime “is compliant” with its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran deal, but President Trump accused Iran of “not living up to the spirit” of the agreement—a reference to the Islamic Republic’s destabilizing regional behavior that is beyond the scope of the nuclear accord. On North Korea, Trump has warned of “a major, major, conflict” with the country if diplomacy fails, while Tillerson has stated that Washington’s precondition for any direct negotiations with Pyongyang is precisely the outcome the United States seeks—North Korea’s denuclearization.