Are Iran & North Korea working together to build nuclear weapons & the missiles to deliver them? I address this question in my new column in The Jerusalem Post.

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(Washington, D.C.) — Despite being widely criticized for a “failed” summit in Hanoi last week, President Trump was absolutely right to walk away from the “denuclearization” talks with North Korea. 

As I explain in a new column in this morning’s Jerusalem Post, what’s at stake here is not just the urgency of stopping one rogue regime Hell-bent on becoming a full-blown nuclear power, but two — North Korea and Iran.

After years of secret tests, North Korea now has upwards of 60 operational nuclear warheads. If Pyongyang wants to give them up, Trump is fully ready to remove all economic sanctions, help the North make a full peace with the South, and mobilize the international community to help the North feed its people and enter the global economy. But Trump says he’s not going to accept anything less than full denuclearization. Amen.

Indeed, the reason Trump shouldn’t accept anything less is this…. 

Excepts from the column:

For years, Tehran and Pyongyang have been working together closely on a variety of military matters. There is no question they are assisting each other’s ballistic missile programs, and have been since the 1980s. But are they also secretly cooperating on the development of nuclear warheads?

The premise at the heart of my forthcoming political thriller, The Persian Gamble, is this: What if Tehran decided to use the $150 billion in cash it received from the West for agreeing to the Iran nuclear deal to secretly purchase fully operational nuclear warheads from the cash-starved regime in Pyongyang, even while publicly pretending to adhere to the JCPOA [the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a.k.a., “Iran nuclear deal”]?

Might the ayatollahs try to bring such warheads into an Iranian harbor, right under the noses of the CIA and the Mossad? It would be an enormously risky move. But it is conceivable they could conclude the gamble was worth it.

American, Israeli and Arab intelligence officials I spoke with as I was researching and writing the novel say they have not seen evidence that Iran is literally trying to buy operational warheads “off the shelf.” Not yet, anyway.

However, they note with concern the fact that senior Iranian military and nuclear officials have been present for at least three North Korean nuclear warhead tests, and maybe more. They acknowledge it is conceivable that Pyongyang could be selling Tehran the data from each of these tests, helping the Iranians fine-tune plans to build their own warheads without having to test them during the period of the JCPOA.

“I have no doubt the proliferation tie between Iran and North Korea is real and active,” one former senior US intelligence official told me….

To read the full column, please click here.

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Why are Arab leaders working so hard to win over U.S. Evangelicals? An Israeli reporter asked me to go on the record about the Delegations my colleagues and I have led. Here is his report.

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UPDATED: (Washington, D.C.) — This morning, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz published an article by its Washington correspondent, Amir Tibon, examining a very interesting question: Why are the leaders of so many Muslim and Arab countries reaching out to American Evangelical leaders, and why now? 

The story looks at a number of Evangelical Delegations that have visited the region, including the ones that my colleagues and I have led to Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia over the past eighteen months.  At Amir’s request, Johnnie Moore, Larry Ross and I were happy to go on the record to discuss what we believe is going on.

Here are extended excerpts from the lengthy article:

There are an estimated 60 million evangelicals in the United States, and under President Donald Trump they have enjoyed historical levels of political influence in Washington — especially with regard to foreign policy. This has led countries that are seeking to gain more influence in D.C. to reach out to prominent evangelicals in a bid to win their support….

Prominent U.S. evangelicals have met with leaders from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates over the past 18 months, while Qatar and Bahrain have separately made their own outreach efforts. While there have been ties between the evangelical community and Muslim governments for years, the cooperation since Trump entered the White House in January 2017 is unprecedented…. 

One person who has played a key role in advancing these new relationships is Joel C. Rosenberg, a best-selling author who was born in the United States but currently lives with his family in Israel.

Rosenberg, himself an evangelical Christian, has written a number of political thrillers on the Middle East, including one in which ISIS conquers Jordan and another focusing on Iran’s war efforts in the region.

None of his books, however, has featured a scene in which an Israeli citizen sits next to the Saudi crown prince. Something like that could only happen in real life…. 

It all began in April 2017, when Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi arrived for his first visit to Washington since assuming power in 2013. During that visit, aside from meeting with Trump in the White House (an honor not bestowed on Sissi by the Obama administration, which had criticized his violent rise to power and his government’s widespread use of torture), the Egyptian president also held an off-the-record discussion with “opinion shapers” who deal with the Middle East.

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Rosenberg was in town at the time and was invited to attend the briefing, alongside former U.S. officials, senior fellows at various think tanks and the leaders of American-Jewish groups.

Rosenberg tells Haaretz he was a bit surprised to receive the invitation. After the discussions were over, though, he walked over and introduced himself to the Egyptian president.

“I told him I had observed that in recent years he held meetings with Jewish-American leaders, invited the pope to Egypt and met with the leaders of other Christian denominations — but he has never had an interaction specifically with evangelicals,” Rosenberg recounts.

Rosenberg says he told Sissi, “You may want to try and do that,” explaining that in addition to the 60 million evangelicals in the United States, there were 10 times as many worldwide. “Without blinking, he immediately told me, ‘Would you be interested in organizing such a meeting?’” Rosenberg recalls.

Some seven months later, in November 2017, a dozen influential evangelicals — including several members of Trump’s evangelical advisory board — arrived at Sissi’s presidential palace in Cairo.

It was the first time an Egyptian president had ever hosted such a delegation. (That delegation and the one to Azerbaijan this week are not connected.)

Larry Ross, a public relations expert from Texas who was among the participants, recalls that the meeting with Sissi “was scheduled to be about 30 minutes long, but we ended up sitting with him for three hours.”

During the conversation, Sissi told the group he wanted to “build on the legacy” of Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president who signed the historic peace agreement between Israel and Egypt in the late 1970s. He also emphasized the importance of finding a way to advance peace between Israel and the Palestinians, saying that such an agreement would open up the possibility of “regional peace” between Israel and the entire Arab world.

Two days after the meeting with Sissi, the delegation flew to Jordan, where it was hosted by King Abdullah II. Unlike the Egyptian president, Abdullah had met with evangelical leaders before. Still, for this specific evangelical delegation it was an impressive achievement: Meeting two of the most important leaders in the Arab world within one short trip.

The visit was covered by news outlets across the Middle East — and it turned out to be just the beginning. Sissi held a second meeting with Rosenberg’s evangelical group last September, this time on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. Not coincidentally, the meeting took place just before a rare meeting between Sissi and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — a fact the Egyptian president didn’t fail to mention in his discussion with the evangelicals.  

Then last December came the most unexpected development in this evolving Arab-evangelical relationship: Rosenberg and other members of his delegation were invited to visit the UAE and Saudi Arabia, to meet their respective crown princes (Mohammed bin Zayed and Mohammed bin Salman) for the first time.

Rev. Johnnie Moore, an evangelical pastor from California, participated in the meetings — which took place just weeks after he returned from a separate visit to Saudi Arabia as part of an interfaith initiative.

“It was a real surprise,” he recalls, noting that Saudi Arabia has had a decades-long reputation for being the harshest Arab-Muslim country on religious issues. Moore says he views the fact that a visit by an evangelical group could take place there as “a huge sign of change.”

The fact that an Israeli citizen, Rosenberg, led the delegation and was joined by his son, who is also an Israeli citizen, was in itself significant. Saudi Arabia doesn’t officially allow most Israelis to enter the country: Having two Israeli citizens sit inside the crown prince’s palace in Riyadh was proof that, in order to win the support of evangelicals, Saudi Arabia’s leadership was open to updating some of its stances toward Israel.

Bahrain and Qatar have also attempted to reach out to prominent evangelicals recently. The Qataris went as far as to spend tens of thousands of dollars on bringing Mike Huckabee — an evangelical pastor  and the father of White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders — on a well-publicized visit to the Gulf state….

One clear reason for Muslim governments to try to attract evangelical support is the influence of the evangelical community upon the Trump administration. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are both evangelicals, and both have played a key role in outlining the administration’s Middle East policy (including being the two most senior U.S. officials at last month’s Mideast summit in Warsaw).

Moore says that while Trump’s rise to power has “clearly accelerated” the ties between these Arab leaders and U.S. evangelicals, there is more to the story than just an attempt to get closer to the current administration.

“In the past,” he says, “these countries relied solely on the support of American administrations when it came to their relationships with the United States. Now, they are beginning to realize that in order to have a truly strong and stable relationship, you also need to have support among the American people — not just in Washington, but all over the country.”

This realization can have an impact on policy priorities. A nation that views its relationship with Washington solely through the prism of maintaining good relations with the U.S. government will focus on security, intelligence and economic ties alone. But a country seeking to win support among a large political and religious constituency in the United States will often try to promote issues that are important to that constituency.

In their attempts to appeal to evangelicals, Arab leaders have focused on promising to protect the well-being of Christians in the Middle East, and on the prospect of improving their countries’ ties with Israel.

One Arab official who spoke with Haaretz about the evangelical outreach efforts, and who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, explained that “no country is going to change its policy toward Israel in order to make evangelicals happy. But if a country is already taking some steps toward a different kind of relationship with Israel — and presenting those steps in a more public way can also help you win support in the United States — then perhaps it should be considered.”

The increased contacts between the evangelical community and the Arab world could certainly contribute to changes in how Arab countries conduct their ties with Israel. Some believe it could also change, or at least challenge, some long-held views about the Middle East within the evangelical community.

In recent decades, evangelicals have donated tens of millions of dollars to Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, and many of them have opposed the establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel. Could the ongoing interaction with Arab leaders who support a two-state solution lead to a more nuanced view of this issue for some evangelicals?

Rosenberg says he believes there is a common misconception about evangelical views regarding Israel and the Palestinians. In the delegation’s meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed, he says, he touched on that misconception by telling MBS: “Some people think evangelicals who love Israel care little or not at all about the plight of the Palestinians. This is probably true of some evangelicals, but it’s not true of us, or of most evangelical Christians. We grieve for the suffering they have endured. We want a better life for them.”

He also admits that the meetings with Arab leaders were illuminating on this specific issue for some evangelical members of the delegation. He mentions that Sissi, for example, told the delegation why it was important for Egypt to promote a reconciliation agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

“I think if it was another leader speaking about this diplomatic effort with Hamas, some people in our group would have been very uncomfortable,” says Rosenberg. “But with Sissi, people felt like we should give him some space to work on it. He’s proven his commitment to peace and to fighting terrorism. Even if we disagree, we shouldn’t be cynical about it — we should at least listen to him.”

[To read the full article in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, please click here.]

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NYT Magazine profiles Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State & an Evangelical Christian. Reports he reads my novels. But then goes on odd eschatology tangent.

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(Washington, D.C.) — Aside from the Vice President, no member of the Cabinet has a closer working relationship with President Trump than Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

That’s a good thing, especially given the high stakes of American diplomacy right now. Mr. Trump came to office with no military or foreign policy experience, and having said a number of unsettling things during the 2016 campaign.

Pompeo is a strong conservative and a devout Evangelical Christian. He graduated from West Point. Served as an officer in the U.S. Army. Was deployed in Europe during the end of the Cold War. Came back to Kansas. Built a company. Ran for Congress. Served on the House Intelligence Committee. Was tapped to be Trump’s first Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Served there with distinction before becoming Trump’s second — and far more effective — Secretary of State.

This morning, the New York Times Magazine has published an extensive profile of Pompeo, looking both at his relationship with Trump and his Evangelical faith. I’ll let you be the judge of whether the reporter is genuinely curious about and respectful of Pompeo’s religious beliefs, or trying to paint him as a nut.

When he explores Pompeo’s faith, the reporter — Mattathias Schwartz — weaves me into the story. He notes that Pompeo and I met when he was in Congress. That we’ve stayed in touch over the years. That we’ve met together from time to time, most recently in Egypt. And that he has read my novels over the years. 

All of that is true. Indeed, I was more than happy to give the Secretary an advance copy of my forthcoming political thriller, The Persian Gamble, during one of our last meetings. 

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But the implication in the article is that the basis of our friendship is End Times theology. That stunned me when I read the final version of the story because it’s not true.

Pompeo and I have talked about a lot of interesting and important subjects over the years, including our shared Evangelical faith. But not once have we ever talked about eschatology. I would never shy away from discussing my views with him, or anyone else for that matter. But he’s never raised the topic. Nor have I. We’ve had plenty of other things to focus on. 

When I met Schwartz in Egypt, we sat near each other at the American University in Cairo where Pompeo was delivering a major policy address. Then we rode together in Pompeo’s motorcade to the massive new “Nativity of the Christ Cathedral,” and then to the brand new mosque. Schwartz asked me a number of questions about my views of Pompeo and some questions about myself and my background. Yet he never asked me about whether Pompeo and I had ever discussed eschatology or shared the same views. 

Here’s what has actually impressed my about Pompeo over the years:

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  1. Pompeo understands the nature and threat of evil. Too many in Washington do not. Yet as I have often said, “to misunderstand the nature and threat of evil is to risk being blindsided by it.” Pompeo is unlikely to be blindsided. He came of age when the Soviet Union — the Evil Empire — was at its zenith. He thus understands the  serious threat posed by tyrants like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un. He also sees Radical Islamism — not Islam as a religion, but Radical Islamism as a terrorist ideology — as a force for evil that absolutely must be pro-actively confronted, contained, and dismantled.  
  2. Pompeo is a man of action — not content with simply analyzing a problem, he wants to figure out how to solve that problem and then pursue his strategy relentlessly. That’s why it was so important that he leave the CIA, whose director is not supposed to be involved in making policy. He’s much better suited to being Secretary of State, where he can help the President and VP shape bold, decisive American answers to the world’s most dangerous and intractable problems. 
  3. Trump, Pence and Pompeo have forged an impressive alliance in completely reversing the direction of the disastrous Obama-Biden-Clinton-Kerry foreign policy. Together, they have scrapped the fatally flawed Iran nuclear deal and are building a global alliance to neutralize the Iran threat. They are pressing North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program and sign a peace treaty with South Korea. They are working to strengthen NATO and contain the aggressiveness of Czar Putin. And they’re trying to forge a new era of peace and strategic alliances between Israel and her Sunni Arab neighbors. I pray they are successful on every front. This not easy work. The threats are real and the stakes are high. But they’re moving in the right direction, and I can’t think of anyone better to be running the State Department at a time like this than Mike Pompeo.

I’d recommend you read the magazine profile in full.

I’d also encourage you to take 29 minutes and listen to an interview Mattathias Schwartz did with National Public Radio in which he discusses how he approached researching and writing the profile, what his views of Pompeo are, and how he views Pompeo’s faith.

You likely won’t agree with it all. I didn’t. But Pompeo is a power player. There haven’t been many serious, detailed profiles about him. And it’s worth understanding him better, and keeping him (and his lovely wife, Susan) in your prayers.

(Photos: 1) New York Times Magazine website; 2) First time I met with Pompeo, back when he was a Member of Congress; 3) our most recent meeting in Cairo.)

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