Expert discusses Trump on North Korea and Iran’s nuclear programs

April 12, 2019

Chief U.S. negotiator between the U.S. and North Korea in the early 1990s and Brandeis Masters and Ph.D. graduate Robert Gallucci ’68 Ph.D. ’74 discU.S.sed President Donald Trump’s strategies in North Korea and Iran on Thursday. Gallucci spoke with Director of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies Gary Samore (POL).

Samore introduced Gallucci as the first U.S. diplomat to negotiate a diplomatic agreement with North Korea. Gallucci was the top U.S. negotiator on North Korea during the Clinton administration, according to an article from NPR.

Gallucci spoke to the climate of the U.S. government, which he said did not favor diplomatic negotiations with enemy nations. “Hardwired into your domestic context is a hostility to engagement,” Gallucci said and spoke about how he was thought to be naïve and questioned for pursuing diplomacy.

“Which would you rather have, the rhetorical question comes, a piece of paper or a better missile?” he said others would ask and described how government officials saw compromises not as a part of the negotiation process but as compromising national security.

Gallucci said that the press acted the same way—concerned only with what he gave up, not what he got.

During his career, Gallucci helped to negotiate the Agreed Framework, a deal where North Korea agreed to close its plutonium plant in exchange for fuel supplies from the United states. The deal fell apart in 2002 after the Bush administration accused North Korea of violations, according to NPR.

Gallucci spoke about his time in the Clinton administration, saying that during the crisis with North Korea, there was a real risk of U.S. escalation. “President Clinton came pretty close to ordering a military strike on North Korea,” Gallucci said, though he later clarified he wasn’t certain if Clinton would have done it.

Gallucci compared President Bill Clinton and Trump’s styles of negotiating, saying while Clinton preferred negotiations to take place between lower level diplomats and then the president could agree to a negotiated outcome, Trump wants to negotiate himself.

“I’ve never met President Trump, but he doesn’t strike me as a shrinking violet,” Gallucci said, and then questioned Trump’s decision making. “Why would he think that the best use of his time is to start going in a back and forth with the chairman of North Korea?” Gallucci asked. “That’s a lot of hacking around.”

Gallucci also expressed his concerns with the current administration. “I was worried a lot through 2017 that we were much closer to launching a military strike against North Korea,” he said, though he now feels like the relationship between the two countries is more stable, calling it a “plateau.”

Looking towards the 2020 presidential election primary season, Gallucci said he’d be watching for North Korean action, such as antagonizing South Korea or testing a nuclear weapon—and for the president’s response.

Gallucci questioned what Trump would do in the scenario of a North Korean attack. “Do you think he would belittle the significance of it, so it wouldn’t damage his past political activity or would he seize upon it to demonstrate that he is the leader of leaders?” Gallucci asked. Samore agreed that it might not be wise to approach the president as a rational actor.

But Gallucci still believes that more progress can be made on limiting North Korea’s nuclear weapons capabilities. “I still think negotiations are possible with these people,” he said.

Gallucci also touched on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—more commonly known as the Iran deal—and said that though it wasn’t a perfect deal, it was far better than going to war over Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Gallucci questioned the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the JCPOA, saying, “I don’t see how this helps us, but I do see how this hurts us.” Though Iran has continued to abide by the terms of the deal, after the U.S. pullout, Iran could also leave the deal, meaning the main benefits of the pause on Iranian nuclear weapons program would be lost, said Gallucci. The U.S. should honor the hard fought deal, Gallucci said.

Gallucci also spoke about first starting out as a negotiator with North Korea. He said that he wasn’t an expert in Korea or Asia, and that he had only been to South Korea once before the negotiations began. “We had no experience at this,” he said, and described the process as “OJT” or “On the Job Training.”

At the time, North Korea wasn’t allowing the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) to inspect their nuclear facilities. Gallucci was sent to negotiate.

When he first met the North Korean diplomats, he observed that “Every single one of them had a little lapel pin of Kim Il-sung.” He continued, “I was imagining myself with a little lapel pin of Bill Clinton, and I couldn’t [imagine it].”

Gallucci also took questions from the audience, ranging from how the process of creating a deal with North Korea would look to partisan politics in Congress. Gallucci clarified that he didn’t feel the partisan divide hugely affected his work.

Gallucci has an extensive background in diplomacy that includes serving as President of the MacArthur Foundation and serving as the dean of Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. Gallucci now teaches at Georgetown University.

The event was sponsored by the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, the Department of Politics and the International and Global Studies Program.

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