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Trump smiles with Kim, threatens Tehran

July 03, 2019 00:00:00

US President Donald Trump (left) shaking hands with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un — AFP

WASHINGTON, July 02 (AP): With North Korea, US President Donald Trump puts on the charm. But with Iran, he cranks up the pressure with economic sanctions and a stronger military presence in the Persian Gulf. He warned its leaders Monday they are "playing with fire."

Nuclear weapons are at the heart of the difficult US relations with both Pyongyang and Tehran. But it's in North Korea where Trump has more leeway - and perhaps a greater chance of striking a deal.

Kim Jong Un has seemed as willing to meet with Trump as the US president has been to talk and shake hands for the cameras with him. The North Korean leader jumped at the chance to meet Trump at the Demilitarised Zone between the Koreas last weekend.

Trump has made repeated overtures to Iranian leaders, too, but without the same results.

"I think Trump would be equally on a charm offensive with the Iranians if he had a dance partner," said Mark Dubowitz, an Iran nuclear deal skeptic with the Foundation for Defence of Democracies.

Also, Israel, which views Iran as its archenemy, is pressuring Trump to take a hardline approach to Tehran, which has threatened to wipe Israel off the map. There is no big anti-North Korea lobby in the United States pressuring the White House to shun Kim's repressive government.

Trump inherited heavy US sanctions on North Korea and then for months traded fiery rhetoric with Kim, saber rattling that caused jitters across the world. That has given way to flowery correspondence, meetings between the two and this weekend's historic visit when Trump became the first US president to step into North Korea while in office.

Not that Pyongyang has taken big steps in return. Critics point out that North Korea has not moved to "denuclearize" as Trump has demanded. But the country has refrained from conducting nuclear tests or test-firing long-range missiles.

Trump tweeted late Monday that "our teams will be meeting to work on some solutions to very long term and persistent problems. No rush, but I am sure we will ultimately get there.

Not so smooth with Iran.

Trump campaigned on pulling the United States out of the nuclear agreement that Tehran signed with the US and other world powers in 2015. He complained that the deal, which eased economic sanctions in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear programme, didn't address Iranian ballistic missile capabilities or its support of militant groups.

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