(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump has spent his presidency breaking deals he inherited, confident he could do better. So far, it hasn’t worked.
Now, as he games out a historic summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in Singapore next month, Trump is gambling he can do just the opposite: construct a complicated pact to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
Trump’s negotiating record after almost 16 months in office shows him supremely confident and adept at making dramatic gestures and issuing hardball ultimatums. Yet he and his team have demonstrated little facility in constructing compromise on thorny issues such as the one he faces with Kim: how a regime renowned for its secrecy would verify ending a highly developed nuclear weapons program.
At the same time Trump is preparing for the summit with Kim, he is trying to renegotiate a nuclear pact with Iran by first demolishing an existing deal. His pullout from the Iran accord echoes his withdrawals from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris climate agreement. At home, he canceled an Obama-era program shielding some undocumented immigrants from deportations while urging Democrats to negotiate a settlement with him on the issue.
With each move, Trump said voiding the existing deal would bring the parties back to the bargaining table. Yet in each case the other side has moved on.
His continuing confidence in his negotiating approach was on display this week as he outlined what Americans should expect next after his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord.
“Iran’s leaders will naturally say that they refuse to negotiate a new deal” and “I’d probably say the same thing if I was in their position,” Trump said. “But the fact is they are going to want to make a new and lasting deal, one that benefits all of Iran and the Iranian people. When they do, I am ready, willing and able.”
That philosophy has left a trail of broken agreements and jilted allies, undermining America’s ability to lead on the world stage, said Brett Bruen, who served as the National Security Council’s director of global engagement in the Obama administration.
“Until he can show that he can build and not just bulldoze, I don’t think there are many leaders in the world that will take him seriously,” Bruen said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel stepped up her criticism of Trump’s diplomatic conduct on Friday, saying his decision to withdraw from the Iran agreement “damages trust in the international order.”
“I believe that it’s not right to unilaterally cancel an accord that was negotiated, that was confirmed in the UN Security Council unanimously,” Merkel said in a speech at a religious conference in Muenster, Germany. She added that his actions are throwing the multilateral global order into “real crisis,” also citing his withdrawal from the climate treaty and his efforts to sidestep global trading rules.
The White House didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Trump’s past predictions of a better settlement after he walked away from existing agreements or blew up the status quo with provocative actions have gone unrealized, at least so far.
After Trump pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal between the U.S. and 11 other nations in January 2017, he said the U.S. would begin negotiating bilateral agreements with each country. A year later, he said he would be open to rejoining the multilateral deal if the other countries made him an offer.
Neither has happened. Trump has not negotiated new bilateral trade deals with any of the 11 countries involved and those nations have been unwilling to reopen the negotiations to help the U.S.
When Trump withdrew from the Paris climate agreement, he left the door open for renegotiating a new deal more favorable to the U.S. Almost a year later, there has been no renegotiation. Syria joined the Paris accord in November, leaving the U.S. the only nation opposing it.
He announced global tariffs on steel and aluminum imports in March and said the proposed duties have given him leverage to negotiate better trade agreements.
But so far, only one country -- South Korea -- has finalized an agreement with the U.S. to avoid the tariffs. Other U.S. allies, including the European Union, have threatened to slap tariffs on key U.S. products in retaliation. Trump has twice extended the deadline for the tariffs to begin on several countries, as agreements have proved elusive.
Trump has also repeatedly threatened to withdraw from Nafta, though he has kept the U.S. in the trade pact. Negotiations on revising the deal have dragged on months longer than the administration predicted, though there are signs the parties are nearing a deal.
Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem last year inflamed tensions in the region and all but ended prospects for a Middle East peace deal, according to Martin Indyk, former U.S. special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and a fellow at the Brookings Institution.
After ending the Obama-era program shielding young undocumented immigrants from deportation last year, Trump was unable to strike a deal with lawmakers before his self-imposed six-month deadline. He lamented that “the Democrats just aren’t calling,” and last month declared the program “dead.”
U.S. partners in the Iran nuclear agreement have already signaled they aren’t eager to return to the negotiating table and craft the new deal Trump wants. Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron and Merkel -- the leaders of the U.K., France and Germany -- expressed their “regret and concern” at Trump’s announcement Wednesday and promised in a joint statement to stand by the Iran deal.
In his negotiations with North Korea, Trump has started with a win, gaining the release of three U.S. prisoners who had been held by the Kim regime.
As he greeted the prisoners at an airport near Washington early Thursday morning, the president’s confidence in achieving a deal with Kim was undiminished by difficulties in the other negotiations.
“I really think we have a very good chance of doing something very meaningful,” Trump said. “I really think he wants to do something and bring that country into the real world.”
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