Other editorials from around the world
The Telegraph of London on politics surrounding next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, Jan. 3:
Great sporting events are political. Much as athletes, footballers, swimmers and the rest would like to think that international tournaments are merely an opportunity for them to demonstrate their prowess, they can also be used for purposes of diplomacy or realpolitik. The 1936 Berlin Olympics were a shop-window for Nazi Germany. The 1980 Moscow Olympics were boycotted by the Americans in protest at the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The Soviets duly kept their team and those of their eastern European satellites away from Los Angeles in 1984.
Such events can also build bridges. Late last year, the stand-off between the two Koreas over Kim Jong-un’s nuclear programme seemed to bring the peninsula close to war, and the tensions have not disappeared. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, warned last night that Pyongyang could be preparing for another missile test and reiterated that the United States would not accept a nuclear North. Yet the fact that the Winter Olympics is taking place in South Korea next month has opened a window to a possible rapprochement. Kim’s regime said it is willing to hold talks with officials in Seoul about participating in the Games.
Talks are due to be held next week, both to discuss the North sending a delegation and a general de-escalation of tension. South Korea’s president sees the Pyeongchang Games as a “ground-breaking chance to improve South-North relations and establish peace.” His optimism may be misplaced, with the North attaching unacceptable conditions or continuing with its provocations regardless. Yet if the Games can help to reduce the risk of a conflict, then the investment in new ski slopes will have been worth it.
Los Angeles Times on President Donald Trump and protests in Iran, Jan. 3:
It’s entirely appropriate for President Trump to offer support for peaceful protesters in Iran and to demand that the government there respond with restraint. Despite claims by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that they were instigated by foreign “enemies,” the protests that erupted in that country last week seem to be home-grown and motivated by dissatisfaction with high prices, unemployment and a corrupt ruling elite.
Some protesters may also have objected, as Trump claimed in one of his tweets, to the fact that their wealth “is being stolen and squandered on terrorism.”
But Trump and other American politicians need to be careful not to issue calls for regime change, however veiled, that the United States is unable and unwilling to back up with military action. The president came close to making such a promise in a tweet on New Year’s Day that began with, “Iran is failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama Administration” and ended with the exclamation, “TIME FOR CHANGE!” In a similar vein, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said: “We should support the Iranian people who are willing to risk their lives.”
Such language offers Iranian dissidents false hope, just as former President George H.W. Bush raised the hopes of Iraqi Shiites and Kurds in 1991 when, near the end of the first Gulf War, he said that the Iraqi people could “take matters into their own hands, to force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside.” When those Iraqis rose up against Saddam, U.S. forces didn’t come to their aid. Trump’s words also make it easy for the Iranian regime to dismiss their protests as American-inspired. That doesn’t mean U.S. politicians can’t sympathize with the concerns of young, disaffected people in Iran or that the U.S. can’t penalize Iran when it believes that country has misbehaved. The U.S. already has imposed sanctions on Iran for its support for militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah and for its testing of ballistic missiles potentially capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
Finally, Trump must resist the temptation to seize on the protests in Iran as an excuse for further undermining the nuclear agreement. In October, Trump declined to certify to Congress that staying in the nuclear deal was in America’s interest even though the International Atomic Energy Agency repeatedly has said that Iran has complied with the agreement. But he didn’t say that he would reimpose the sanctions that were lifted in connection with the deal or demand that Congress do so.
At the same time, Trump warned that the agreement would be “terminated” if Congress didn’t take action to improve on the agreement — action that hasn’t been forthcoming, raising the possibility that he might reimpose sanctions this year, effectively ending the agreement.
Might the protests in Iran — and the government’s response to them — give Trump another reason for taking that extreme step? (In one of his tweets, the president mentioned “all of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave (Iran).”) That truly would be an irresponsible reaction. The nuclear agreement wasn’t a favor to Iran; in restraining its nuclear program, it contributed to the security of the whole world. That was true before the protests and it’s still true.