Pepe Escobar, one of the top foreign correspondents writing in English, lives in Hong Kong and has been covering Asia, with particular attention to its economic development, for several decades.
We brought together three of his recent columns that focus in part or wholly on the Korean Peninsula for the purpose of providing a perspective that appears to be totally beyond the worldview of American media at the moment Trump and his supports are trying very hard to freeze our minds, which makes it doubly important for us to reach beyond their imperial sphere for news and perspective.
At the very least you'll get more historical depth and contemporary breadth than you will on TV, and there is no commercial for a pill that obliterate all your joint pain and your pancreas.
Brute isolation: Trump and the art of unraveling the Iran deal
The Trump administration wants a completely different deal, or it will unilaterally pull out. What follows could be incendiary
Contrary to a barrage of spin, the P5+1 meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to assess implementation of the Iran nuclear deal did not go especially well, as diplomats confirmed to Asia Times.
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson was forced to concede Tehran is abiding by the deal. But once again he hammered the new US meme – now it’s about Iran not fulfilling “expectations.”
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At a tense table, Tillerson – for the first time – met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. At least the spin was not explosive. “There was no yelling,” he said later. “We didn’t throw shoes at one another. It was not an angry tone at all.”
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini – not exactly the brightest bulb in the room – was compelled to stress there was no doubt the deal was being respected. She even warned, “all member states are considered to be bound by its implementation. The international community cannot afford to dismantle an agreement that is working and delivering.”
Russia and China won’t renegotiate the deal – and that’s final. And the EU members of the P5+1 – France, the UK and Germany – will also stick to it, as Mogherini herself confirmed.
By now, even bears stranded on melting Arctic glaciers know President Trump has added a cliffhanger, having announced that he has “decided.” Nobody knows what he has decided, even Tillerson. And yet, even the commander of US Strategic Command, Gen. John Hyten, has admitted, “the facts are that Iran is operating under the agreements that we signed up for under the JCPOA.”
What has happened is that the Trump administration has changed the narrative from being about a technical, nuclear-centered agreement, to one that encompasses Iran’s geopolitical reach in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, as well as its missile program and cyber operations – all non-nuclear issues that Mogherini herself stressed were “outside the scope” of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
I followed the nuclear negotiations in Vienna in 2015 for Asia Times. Even then the US delegation was doing everything to include ballistic missiles, something that was thoroughly rejected by other parties, especially by Russia and China.
So for all practical purposes, the Trump administration wants a completely different deal, or it will unilaterally pull out. Technically, that means going against a UNSC resolution supported by international law.
So what about the “path of moderation”?
At the UN pulpit, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivered a measured, elegant, cultured and at the same time scathing speech thoroughly debunking Trump’s assertions with actual facts. The overall theme was “the path of moderation.” A particular pearl: “Moderation is the synergy of ideas and not the dance of swords.” The contrast with the bellicose, Manichean Trump Doctrine was stark.
Rouhani never ceases to point out that the JCPOA could become “a new model for international relations” – a framework to be considered, for example, in the case of the intractable DPRK. German chancellor Angela Merkel, on the record, agrees. But now Rouhani has also been forced to stress that Tehran’s response to a possible US abrogation will be conditioned by how the Europeans respond.
The new Roi Soleil, French President Emmanuel Macron, has eagerly stepped into the fray, posing as a mediator between Washington and the other P5+1 members. But in fact Macron’s touting of new “pillars” – restrictions on ballistic missiles; a follow-on deal that would apply after 2025; and an “open discussion with Iran about the current situation in the region” – amount to endorsing the Trump administration’s changing of the rules.
The DPRK will never bother to even consider negotiating with a “compassionate nation” that refuses to live up to multilateral commitments
If Trump decides the US is going to pull out of the JCPOA, Tehran has stated, on the record, that it will remain committed, as long as the other P5+1 members stay – and they will. The problem will be when the Trump administration, supported by Capitol Hill, subsequently takes the inevitable path of an extra barrage of sanctions against Iran – with possible incendiary consequences.
What’s clear is that neither “RC” – the Russia-China strategic partnership – nor the Europeans will isolate Tehran. For “RC” in particular, it’s all about Iran’s destiny as a key hub in the interpenetrating Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and North-South Transportation Corridor, its future full membership of the SCO and even, possibly, BRICS Plus, and its capacity to be a future supplier of natural gas to Europe. Moreover, Rouhani has repeatedly stressed that, whatever happens, Tehran will never aim to build a nuclear weapon.
Trump’s fateful decision in fact conditions and frames how he will deal with North Korea. Pulling out of the JCPOA will send an unmistakeable message to Pyongyang and also complicate the efforts of “RC” to defuse the situation. The DPRK will never bother to even consider negotiating with a “compassionate nation” that refuses to live up to multilateral commitments.
And all this sound and fury from the US will, ultimately, signify only one thing: another multi-trillion-dollar, unwinnable war in Southwest Asia, simply to indulge the wet dreams of assorted Beltway armchair generals.
The Russia-China plan for North Korea: stabiliry, connectivity
From Asia Times
Moscow has been busy building agreements that would extend Eurasian connectivity eastward. The question is how to convince the DPRK to play along
The United Nations Security Council's 15-0 vote to impose a new set of sanctions on North Korea somewhat disguises the critical role played by the Russia-China strategic partnership, the "RC" at the core of the BRICS group.
The new sanctions are pretty harsh. They include a 30% reduction on crude and refined oil exports to the DPRK; a ban on exports of natural gas; a ban on all North Korean textile exports (which have brought in US$760 million on average over the past three years); and a worldwide ban on new work permits for DPRK citizens (there are over 90,000 currently working abroad.)
But this is far from what US President Donald Trump's administration was aiming at, according to the draft Security Council resolution leaked last week. That included an asset freeze and travel ban on Kim Jong-un and other designated DPRK officials, and covered additional "WMD-related items," Iraqi sanctions-style. It also authorized UN member states to interdict and inspect North Korean vessels in international waters (which amounts to a declaration of war); and, last but not least, a total oil embargo.
"RC" made it clear it would veto the resolution under these terms. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the US' diminishing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Moscow would only accept language related to "political and diplomatic tools to seek peaceful ways of resolution." On the oil embargo, President Vladimir Putin said, "cutting off the oil supply to North Korea may harm people in hospitals or other ordinary citizens."
"RC" priorities are clear: "stability" in Pyongyang; no regime change; no drastic alteration of the geopolitical chessboard; no massive refugee crisis.
That does not preclude Beijing from applying pressure on Pyongyang. Branch offices of the Bank of China, China Construction Bank and Agricultural Bank of China in the northeastern border city of Yanji have banned DPRK citizens from opening new accounts. Current accounts are not frozen yet, but deposits and remittances have been suspended.
To get to the heart of the matter, though, we need to examine what happened last week at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok -- which happens to be only a little over 300 km away from the DPRK's Punggye-ri missile test site.
It's all about the Trans-Korean Railway
In sharp contrast to the Trump administration and the Beltway's bellicose rhetoric, what "RC" proposes are essentially 5+1 talks (North Korea, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea, plus the US) on neutral territory, as confirmed by Russian diplomats. In Vladivostok, Putin went out of his way to defuse military hysteria and warn that stepping beyond sanctions would be an "invitation to the graveyard." Instead, he proposed business deals.
Largely unreported by Western corporate media, what happened in Vladivostok is really ground-breaking. Moscow and Seoul agreed on a trilateral trade platform, crucially involving Pyongyang, to ultimately invest in connectivity between the whole Korean peninsula and the Russian Far East.
South Korean Prime Minister Moon Jae-in proposed to Moscow to build no less than "nine bridges" of cooperation: "Nine bridges mean the bridges of gas, railways, the Northern Sea Route, shipbuilding, the creation of working groups, agriculture and other types of cooperation."
Crucially, Moon added that the trilateral cooperation would aim at joint projects in the Russian Far East. He knows that "the development of that area will promote the prosperity of our two countries and will also help change North Korea and create the basis for the implementation of the trilateral agreements."
Adding to the entente, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha both stressed "strategic cooperation" with "RC."
Geo-economics complements geo-politics. Moscow has also approached Tokyo with the idea of building a bridge between the nations. That would physically link Japan to Eurasia -- and the vast trade and investment carousel offered by the New Silk Roads, aka, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU). It would also complement the daring plan to link a Trans-Korean Railway to the Trans-Siberian one.
Seoul wants a rail network that will physically connect it with the vast Eurasian land bridge, which makes perfect business sense for the fifth largest export economy in the world. Handicapped by North Korea's isolation, South Korea is in effect cut off from Eurasia by land. The answer is the Trans-Korean Railway.
Moscow is very much for it, with Putin noting how "we could deliver Russian pipeline gas to Korea and integrate the power lines and railway systems of Russia, the Republic of Korea and North Korea. The implementation of these initiatives will be not only economically beneficial, but will also help build up trust and stability on the Korean Peninsula."
Moscow's strategy, like Beijing's, is connectivity: the only way to integrate Pyongyang is to keep it involved in economic cooperation via the Trans-Korean-Trans-Siberian connection, pipelines and the development of North Korean ports.
The DPRK's delegation in Vladivostok seemed to agree. But not yet. According to North Korea's Minister for External Economic Affairs, Kim Yong Jae: "We are not opposed to the trilateral cooperation [with Russia and South Korea], but this is not an appropriate situation for this to be implemented." That implies that for the DPRK the priority is the 5+1 negotiation table.
Still, the crucial point is that both Seoul and Pyongyang went to Vladivostok, and talked to Moscow. Arguably the key question -- the armistice that did not end the Korean War -- has to be broached by Putin and the Koreans, without the Americans.
While the sanctions game ebbs and flows, the larger strategy of "RC" is clear -- a drive aimed at Eurasian connectivity. The question is how to convince the DPRK to play along.
Unmasked: Trump Doctrine vows carnage for new axis of evil
From Asia Times
North Korea, Iran, Venezuela are targets in "compassionate" America's war on the "wicked few." It's almost as though Washington felt its hegemony threatened
This was no "deeply philosophical address." And hardly a show of "principled realism" -- as spun by the White House. President Trump at the UN was "American carnage," to borrow a phrase previously deployed by his nativist speechwriter Stephen Miller.
One should allow the enormity of what just happened to sink in, slowly. The president of the United States, facing the bloated bureaucracy that passes for the "international community," threatened to "wipe off the map" the whole of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (25 million people). And may however many millions of South Koreans who perish as collateral damage be damned.
Multiple attempts have been made to connect Trump's threats to the madman theory cooked up by "Tricky Dicky" Nixon in cahoots with Henry Kissinger, according to which the USSR must always be under the impression the then-US president was crazy enough to, literally, go nuclear. But the DPRK will not be much impressed with this madman remix.
That leaves, on the table, a way more terrifying upgrade of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Trump repeatedly invoked Truman in his speech). Frantic gaming will now be in effect in both Moscow and Beijing: Russia and China have their own stability/connectivity strategy under development to contain Pyongyang.
The Trump Doctrine has finally been enounced and a new axis of evil delineated. The winners are North Korea, Iran and Venezuela. Syria under Assad is a sort of mini-evil, and so is Cuba. Crucially, Ukraine and the South China Sea only got a fleeting mention from Trump, with no blunt accusations against Russia and China. That may reflect at least some degree of realpolitik; without "RC" -- the Russia-China strategic partnership at the heart of the BRICS bloc and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) -- there's no possible solution to the Korean Peninsula stand-off.
In this epic battle of the "righteous many" against the "wicked few," with the US described as a "compassionate nation" that wants "harmony and friendship, not conflict and strife," it's a bit of a stretch to have Islamic State -- portrayed as being not remotely as "evil" as North Korea or Iran -- get only a few paragraphs.
The art of unraveling a deal
According to the Trump Doctrine, Iran is "an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed and chaos," a "murderous regime" profiting from a nuclear deal that is "an embarrassment to the United States."
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted: "Trump's ignorant hate speech belongs in medieval times -- not the 21st century UN -- unworthy of a reply." Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov once again stressed full support for the nuclear deal ahead of a P5+1 ministers' meeting scheduled for Wednesday, when Zarif was due to be seated at the same table as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Under review: compliance with the deal. Tillerson is the only one who wants a renegotiation.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has, in fact, developed an unassailable argument on the nuclear negotiations. He says the deal -- which the P5+1 and the IAEA all agree is working -- could be used as a model elsewhere. German chancellor Angela Merkel concurs. But, Rouhani says, if the US suddenly decides to unilaterally pull out, how could the North Koreans possibly be convinced it's worth their while to sit down to negotiate anything with the Americans?
What the Trump Doctrine is aiming at is, in fact, a favorite old neo-con play, reverting back to the dynamics of the Dick Cheney-driven Washington-Tehran Cold War years.
This script runs as follows: Iran must be isolated (by the West, only now that won't fly with the Europeans); Iran is "destabilizing" the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, the ideological foundry of all strands of Salafi-jihadism, gets a free pass); and Iran, because it's developing ballistic that could -- allegedly -- carry nuclear warheads, is the new North Korea.
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That lays the groundwork for Trump to decertify the deal on October 15. Such a dangerous geopolitical outcome would then pit Washington, Tel Aviv, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi against Tehran, Moscow and Beijing, with European capitals non-aligned. That's hardly compatible with a "compassionate nation" which wants "harmony and friendship, not conflict and strife."
Afghanistan comes to South America
The Trump Doctrine, as enounced, privileges the absolute sovereignty of the nation-state. But then there are those pesky "rogue regimes" which must be, well, regime-changed. Enter Venezuela, now on "the brink of total collapse," and run by a "dictator"; thus, America "cannot stand by and watch."
No standing by, indeed. On Monday, Trump had dinner in New York with the presidents of Colombia, Peru and Brazil (the last indicted by the country's Attorney General as the leader of a criminal organization and enjoying an inverted Kim dynasty rating of 95% unpopularity). On the menu: regime change in Venezuela.
Venezuelan "dictator" Maduro happens to be supported by Moscow and, most crucially, Beijing, which buys oil and has invested widely in infrastructure in the country with Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht crippled by the Car Wash investigation.
The stakes in Venezuela are extremely high. In early November, Brazilian and American forces will be deployed in a joint military exercise in the Amazon rainforest, at the Tri-Border between Peru, Brazil and Colombia. Call it a rehearsal for regime change in Venezuela. South America could well turn into the new Afghanistan, a consequence that flows from Trump's assertion that "major portions of the world are in conflict and some, in fact, are going to hell."
For all the lofty spin about "sovereignty," the new axis of evil is all about, once again, regime change.
Russia-China aim to defuse the nuclear stand-off, then seduce North Korea into sharing in the interpenetration of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU), via a new Trans-Korea Railway and investments in DPRK ports. The name of the game is Eurasian integration.
Iran is a key node of BRI. It's also a future full member of the SCO, it's connected -- via the North-South Transport Corridor -- with India and Russia, and is a possible future supplier of natural gas to Europe. The name of the game, once again, is Eurasian integration.
Venezuela, meanwhile, holds the largest unexplored oil reserves on the planet, and is targeted by Beijing as a sort of advanced BRI node in South America.
The Trump Doctrine introduces a new set of problems for Russia-China. Putin and Xi do dream of reenacting a balance of power similar to that of the Concert of Europe, which lasted from 1815 (after Napoleon's defeat) until the brink of World War I in 1914. That's when Britain, Austria, Russia and Prussia decided that no European nation should be able to emulate the hegemony of France under Napoleon. In sitting as judge and executioner, Trump's "compassionate" America certainly seems intent on echoing such hegemony.