While escalating tensions between the United States and Iran are increasing a risk of war in the Middle East, U.S. President Donald Trump mentioned the possibility of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un breaking his promise about denuclearization. He said on Sunday, "I don't think he’d break his word to me, but maybe he will." Washington has held talks with Pyongyang under the condition that the North will stop nuclear tests and Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) tests.
President Trump’s remarks are clearly a warning against North Korea, considering that he has always emphasized that Kim Jong Un is a “man of his word” despite a series of threats from the North. He might have decided that the risk of Pyongyang’s possible provocations is high based on reports of U.S. intelligence agencies. President Trump may be busy responding to Iran’s threats of “bloody revenge,” but he is still on his guard when it comes to North Korean nuclear threats.
The bone of contention between the United States and Iran is Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has announced that it would not be bound by the nuclear deal that President Trump abandoned in May 2018, pronouncing the death of the deal. President Trump has warned he may retaliate with “disproportionate” force if Iran hits U.S. targets in an effort to avoid the worst-case scenario where nuclear crises unfold in the Middle East and East Asia at the same time.
Even for as strong a military as the Unites States’, being involved in “two wars” is too taxing. This suggests a possibility that Pyongyang might be deprioritized. However, this does not guarantee lower tensions on the Korean Peninsula due to President Trump’s unpredictability. Reportedly, Trump’s decision to assassinate Iran’s top military general was shockingly impulsive. There is no reason why he wouldn’t do the same for North Korea.
The utmost priority for President Trump right now is the presidential election scheduled late this year. He is at risk of being impeached with no mature advisor, which will only increase his tendency to follow his “political instinct.” He might go beyond everyone’s imagination with his retaliation against the North’s provocations, or he could decide to be generous in negotiations.
The rising tensions in the Middle East have increased uncertainty on the Korean Peninsula, leaving it in the hands of impulsive and adventurous leaders. Whether it be an absolute collapse or an unsatisfactory compromise, it is highly likely that Seoul will be left out of decision-making process. South Korea has numerous pressing issues to resolve with the United States such as deployment to the Strait of Hormuz and military cost sharing. The government needs to work to enhance the cooperation with Washington and make sure Seoul is in a good position as far as security is concerned.