President Donald Trump faces two high-stakes nuclear problems with two rogue regimes. And in the pursuit of elusive grand bargains, he has relied heavily on one tool: “maximum pressure.”
But with neither North Korea nor Iran has the strategy yielded the ultimate nuclear deal so far.
With North Korea, Trump introduced an escalating series of sanctions and harsh tweets (remember “Rocket Man”?) that, after a tense few months of brinkmanship in the summer and fall of 2017, yielded quickly to maximum engagement. Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, have now held two summits, exchanged letters, and, in Trump’s words, “fell in love.” For Iran, the pressure phase looks nowhere near over; just this week, the United States dispatched an aircraft carrier and other military assets to the region and imposed yet another round of sanctions, as Trump has done repeatedly since pulling out of what he called the “disastrous” nuclear deal a year ago.
But Trump also said this week that he wished the Iranians would call him, and his administration has frequently held out the prospect of negotiations—perhaps a lot like the ones with Kim.
Trump hasn’t yet struck a nuclear deal with North Korea; he left the existing nuclear deal with Iran in pursuit of a better one, but that also doesn’t seem imminent. Sanctions and diplomacy take time to work, and in the meantime, sanctions arguably helped get Kim to the negotiating table, even if the negotiations now look like they’re floundering. In Iran’s case, though, whether the maximum-pressure campaign can even get that far is unclear.