The Cable

Lavrov on Trump, North Korea: ‘We Have to Calm Down the Hotheads’

Also, North Korea is watching what happens to the Iran deal.

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When it comes to the escalating, personal war of words between the tetchy leaders of nuclear-armed states, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov thinks there’s been inappropriate rhetoric on both sides.

Speaking at a press briefing at the U.N. General Assembly on Friday, Lavrov likened the war of words between President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to “a kindergarten fight between children. And no one can stop them.”

Trump threatened to “totally destroy” Kim’s country this week. Kim responded with an unusual personal address, labelling Trump a “mentally deranged dotard,” and floating the idea of exploding a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific. Trump, who has authority for thousands of nuclear warheads, then responded on Twitter Friday, “Kim Jong Un of North Korea, who is obviously a madman who doesn’t mind starving or killing his people, will be tested like never before!”

Regarding the “exchange of threats, naturally it’s quite bad,” said Lavrov. “It’s simply unacceptable to sit back and look at nuclear military gambles of North Korea,” but so, too, is it “unacceptable to start war on the peninsula.” Lavrov suggested that perhaps some neutral European country could negotiate between Trump and Kim.

Beyond his pox-on-your-both-your-houses approach to the United States and North Korea, Lavrov underscored one of the biggest risks of Trump’s tough rhetoric this week, which has included open denunciations of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Lavrov noted that Pyongyang is carefully watching how the United States deals with that pact, currently up for recertification. (Russia and Europe all want the deal to continue.)

But Trump’s threats to tear up the deal, which relieved some sanctions on Iran in exchange for a halt to nuclear development, make any sort of negotiated deal with North Korea all the more unlikely, Lavrov noted.

“Right now, North Korea is being told, ‘renounce weapons and we’ll lift sanctions,” Lavrov said.

“If this agreement on the Iran nuclear deal will fall apart, they will say, ‘why do I need to negotiate with you?’”

“I think it’s a very apparent thing,” the foreign minister added.

Photo credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

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