Nobel Peace Laureate Oscar Arias says Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital reminds him of Ronald Reagan's misguided adventurism in Central America in the 1980s.
Trump, similar to Reagan, is making a dangerous foreign policy mistake that will imperil an entire region of the world and isolate the United States from its friends and allies, the former Costa Rican president warns.
"This reminds me of 30 years ago when I made the Central American peace plan and I was looking for international support while President Reagan insisted on asking Congress for more money to fund the Nicaraguan contras," the 1987 peace prize winner told Univision News in a phone interview from his home in San José. "Reagan was convinced that military action alone could bring an end to the conflicts in the region."
Arias thinks Trump is similarly undermining the possibility for a negotiated peace deal in the Middle East, and predicts the U.S. president's rash behavior will marginalize his government the same way Reagan's policy toward Central America did 30 years ago.
"The same is going to happen to Trump," Arias predicts. "The Arab world isn't going to follow him, his European allies aren't going to follow him, his friends in NATO aren't going to follow him, and the UN is possibly going to make a Security Council resolution against this. The U.S. is going to end up totally isolated and without the moral authority it needs to force both sides back to the negotiating table."
In the worst-case scenario, Arias says, Trump's blunder will lead to a new intifada — something the leader of Hamas has already called for. A Palestinian uprising could trigger similar violence "in all corners of the world," Arias warns.
"I hope that doesn't happen, but the possibility exists," he said. "The frustration of the Palestinian people is great. And one can imagine a rebirth of a new intifada—something that nobody wants."
Arias has personal experience with the embassy controversy. In 1982, Costa Rica became the first country in the world to move its embassy back to Jerusalem after the 1980 UN Security Council resolution ordered all member states to withdraw their diplomatic missions from the disputed city.
Arias inherited the situation when he became president in 1986, but says he was too absorbed with Central American peace dealings to address the embassy issue during his first term in office. It was an omission he regretted for 16 years.
"I went to Gaza [in 1990, at end of his first term] and met with communal and political leaders and became aware of their enormous anger toward Costa Rica for having its embassy in Jerusalem," Arias said. "I felt really bad as the Nobel Peace Laureate that I couldn't respond to that."
Arias would ultimately have to wait until his re-election in 2006 to "rectify the historic error." Eight days after Arias announced his decision to withdraw the embassy from Jerusalem, El Salvador—the only other country with a diplomatic mission in the disputed city — followed the his lead.
Arias insists it was the right thing to do. He says Costa Rica's relationship with Israel did not suffer as a result.
"Shimon Peres called me, he was my friend, and I told him, 'This was the correct decision to make— I have to make decisions based on values and principles'," Arias says.
Conversely, Arias thinks Trump's decision is cynical pandering to his political base and devoid of any values and principles. And now the world is a more dangerous place because of it.
"The damage of this decision is unimaginable," Arias wrote on his Facebook page shortly after Trump's cotton-mouthed announcement on Wednesday. "I fear (this decision) could become the biggest catastrophe of the century."