Iran deal negotiator worries Trump doesn't see how China, Iran and North Korea 'all interconnect'

Key Points
  • The U.S. decision to hit Chinese goods with tariffs comes as Washington tries to obtain Beijing's help on North Korea.
  • Wendy Sherman, a former U.S. State Department official, weighs in on the White House's actions.
  • The appointment of policy hawk John Bolton as national security advisor is also bad news for tensions with Tehran and Pyongyang, she warned.
There is an 'enormous amount at stake' in US-China ties

President Donald Trump's recent actions, from controversial trade tariffs to installing John Bolton as national security advisor, could hurt U.S. foreign policy goals in North Korea and Iran.

Trump's decision to impose duties on up to $60 billion worth of Chinese imports, for example, comes at a time when Washington needs Beijing's help to rein in a nuclear-armed Pyongyang, said Wendy Sherman, a former under secretary of state for political affairs at the U.S. State Department who was the lead American negotiator for the Iran nuclear agreement.

The U.S. has long pressed Chinese President Xi Jinping's government to apply more pressure on the rogue state in the hopes of bringing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table.

And the president's move to replace H.R. McMaster with policy hawk Bolton, who Sherman described as "a man who has never seen a war he does not want to wage," could add more risk into the mix, especially ahead of a historic summit under consideration for Trump and Kim.

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference.
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In the past, Bolton has recommended scrapping the Iran nuclear deal and justified the need for U.S. strikes against North Korea.

Bolton's hawkish views could encourage Trump to do what he wants on North Korea and Iran, said Sherman, who is currently a non-resident senior fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School and a senior counselor at consultancy Albright Stonebridge Group.

"There is an enormous amount at stake here and my greatest concern is that the president is dealing with each of these pieces in silos, without understanding how they all interconnect and how we have to work out a comprehensive strategy," she said.

Defense Secretary James Mattis may try to ease tensions behind the scene but it's unclear how successful he may be, Sherman continued.

Trump has set a mid-May deadline for European powers to meet his demands on revisions to an agreement that would place limits on Tehran's nuclear program.

French President Emmanuel Macron's April visit to Washington will be "crucial" to the fate of the deal, Sherman said, noting that Macron appears to get along with Trump.