Last year, President Trump’s aides feared he would be too bellicose on his trip to the United Nations General Assembly opening in New York.
This year, they fear he won’t be bellicose enough, according to a story Monday in the New York Times.
The point of “Trump at the U.N.: Undiplomatic? This Time, Aides Fear the Opposite,” by Mark Lander and David Sanger is that Trump’s handlers fear he will go off the reservation again. But this time, it will be by being too nice to dictators, such as North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, or being open to meetings with others, such as Iran’s Hassan Rouhani.
“Far from restraining Mr. Trump’s belligerent tendencies, his senior aides are engaged in a quiet effort to avoid a direct encounter with Iran’s leader that he would be unprepared to handle or concessions that they fear could undermine their effort to keep pressure on North Korea.”
Either of those outcomes “would rattle Mr. Trump’s aides, who are uniformly hawkish about Iran and North Korea, and favor squeezing those countries over talking to them.”
It doesn’t quote any of these potentially rattled aides. Rather, it quotes a former Obama administration official who helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal Trump has since rejected.
“The president is prepared to bluster and threaten, but he also wants to achieve the deal of the century,” the Obama official said. “With North Korea, it worked because he had a willing partner. The problem he’s going to face with Iran is that the leaders there believe a meeting would validate his strategy.”
The aides don’t fear the Iran meeting so much because the Iranians have said they don’t want one, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has submitted what he called a series of “simple demands” that Iran would have to meet before the U.S. would engage – halting missile launches and “‘ceasing to be the world’s largest state sponsor of terror,’” the Times wrote.
It continued with the bull-in-a-china-shop theme. “Laying out a series of requirements is one thing; controlling the president’s conviction that he can outmaneuver any leader, or strike any deal, is another,” Lander and Sanger wrote.
The story further claims the Europeans overruled Trump on what would be the topic of the meeting Trump will chair.
“Mr. Trump’s first instinct was to make the session all about Iran, listing his demands for what that country must do to negotiate a new nuclear deal, and threatening allies – including Britain, France and Germany, which negotiated the 2015 accord that Mr. Trump has disavowed – with harsh sanctions if they do not cut off all commercial ties with Tehran by November,” Lander and Sanger wrote.
But after the British and Germans objected because, as they “warned the White House,” an Iran-only session would “starkly illustrate the split in the Western alliance that Mr. Trump set in motion by leaving a deal that the Europeans believe is preventing Iran from producing nuclear fuel for weapons,” the agenda was broadened to “countering the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.”
According to unnamed sources, John Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser, convinced him to broaden the agenda because if Iran alone was the topic of the meeting, it would “be entitled to a seat at the table to respond.”
But on Friday, Trump “confused matters further by saying in a tweet: ‘I will chair the United Nations Security Council meeting on Iran next week!’”
According to the Times, a “senior diplomat,” who was not named, “said White House officials could not explain Mr. Trump’s tweet, but urged them to ignore it, assuring them that the agenda for the meeting would be followed.”