OpinionIran in the World PressIran follows in North Korea's nuclear shoes

Iran follows in North Korea’s nuclear shoes

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Wall Street Journal: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry emerged from the latest round of Iran nuclear talks in Geneva earlier this month to say that negotiators are “clearly further down the road in understanding what the remaining challenges are.”
Over 24 years, Pyongyang has shown Tehran how to cheat its way to a nuclear bomb.

The Wall Street Journal

By Claudia Rosett

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry emerged from the latest round of Iran nuclear talks in Geneva earlier this month to say that negotiators are “clearly further down the road in understanding what the remaining challenges are.” Yet with talks due to resume Wednesday, Mr. Kerry and his team have yet to address one of the biggest challenges: the example set by North Korea, which over the past two decades has shown the world—Iran, not least—how a rogue state can exploit over-eager western diplomacy to haggle and cheat its way to the nuclear bomb.

Since 1994, North Korea has cut a series of nuclear freeze deals, collecting security guarantees, diplomatic concessions and material benefits along the way. North Korea has cheated and reneged on every deal. Today, the Kim regime has uranium enrichment facilities, has restarted (again) its plutonium-producing nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, has conducted a series of increasingly successful long-range missile tests, and has carried out three nuclear tests, in 2006, 2009 and 2013.

Recent commercial satellite imagery of North Korea’s Punggye-ri underground nuclear test site shows two freshly dug tunnel entrances and continuing excavation, according to a recent report from the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. If past activity is any guide, these signs augur the next nuclear test.

To understand the scale of Korean nuclear perfidy, one needs to trace the history of the three grand bargains struck in 1994, 2005 and 2007, not to mention a spate of lesser deals. Under the 1994 Agreed Framework reached under former President Bill Clinton, North Korea agreed to freeze and ultimately dismantle its nuclear weapons program, including its main reactor at Yongbyon. In return, the U.S. would move toward normalizing relations with Pyongyang, lead a consortium to finance and build two lightwater reactors on North Korea’s east coast, and, pending their completion, provide North Korea with 500,000 tons annually of heavy fuel oil.

The idea, similar to the step-by-step approach the U.S. is now pursuing with Iran, was that the deal would unfold in phases, each replete with verification and rewards, leading to a more friendly and benign North Korea. Instead, North Korea carried on with missile proliferation not directly covered in the Agreed Framework.

The Kim regime shut down its Yongbyon reactor, but began to cheat and renege on other aspects of the deal, blocking inspectors and doing business with Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan nuclear network. In 1999, a congressional panel called the North Korea Advisory Group reported that in the five years since the signing of the Agreed Framework, the threat of North Korea’s proliferation activities, had “advanced considerably.”

Nonetheless, the Clinton administration tried to negotiate a further deal, this one to halt its missile program. As part of that effort, in October 2000, Mr. Clinton hosted a senior North Korean military official for some 40 minutes of presidential face time at the White House. Later that month, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Pyongyang. Kim entertained her with a mass games performance in which the crowd flipped picture cards to simulate the launch of a nuclear-capable Taepo Dong-1 long-range missile.

The Clinton administration’s policy coordinator for North Korea, Wendy Sherman, is now the Obama administration’s lead negotiator for the Iran nuclear talks. In a 2001 New York Times op-ed, Ms. Sherman urged President Bush to cut a deal, writing that Kim Jong Il “appears ready to make landmark commitments” because to “ensure the survival of his regime, he has to improve the country’s disastrous economy by reducing the burden of a vast missile program and opening the doors to trade.”

As it turned out, Kim was more interested in ensuring his regime’s survival by expanding his nuclear ventures. In late 2002, the Bush administration confronted North Korea over its uranium enrichment program. North Korea reportedly admitted to the uranium program, then denied it. Meanwhile, North Korea began reprocessing plutonium for bombs from the spent fuel rods the Agreed Framework had failed to remove from Kim’s turf.

By the following year, however, the U.S. and other world powers began another round of talks with North Korea, the Six-Party Talks. Out of that came a Joint Statement in 2005. It entailed more phased steps, “commitment for commitment.” That was followed just over a year later by North Korea’s first nuclear test, in October 2006.

In February 2007, via negotiations led by Ambassador Chris Hill, the Bush administration announced the next big nuclear freeze deal. That fell apart, commitment by commitment, over the next 22 months, as North Korea delayed, demanded and balked over viable terms of verification.

By the time that Six-Party deal collapsed, at the end of 2008, North Korea had obtained yet more free fuel, the return of $25 million in allegedly tainted money frozen at the U.S.-sanctioned Banco Delta Asia in Macau, and removal from America’s list of terrorist-sponsoring states. North Korea greeted President Obama with a ballistic missile test and a nuclear test in 2009, and in 2010 unveiled an apparently well-advanced uranium enrichment program it had previously denied having.

In 2011, Kim Jong Il died, and in early 2012 the U.S. reached a deal with Kim’s son and heir, Kim Jong Un. There was to be a North Korean moratorium on missile and nuclear tests, in exchange for massive food aid. North Korea shrugged off that deal to launch two long-range missiles later that year, and in February this year conducted its third nuclear test.

For Iran’s regime, now heading into its third round of nuclear talks since the Rouhani charm offensive replaced President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s apocalyptic antics, North Korea is no distant example. Tehran and Pyongyang have a longstanding business partnership based on Iran’s oil and North Korea’s weapons programs, and the two rogue states have close diplomatic ties.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei traveled to North Korea in 1989, in his earlier incarnation as Iran’s president. There, according to reports at the time by Tehran Radio, he expressed to North Korea’s founding dictator Kim Il Sung his admiration that “You have proved in Korea that you have the power to confront America.” Twenty-four years and three nuclear tests later, North Korea has provided Khamenei with quite a display of how that’s done. It does not bode well for the Iran nuclear talks in Geneva.

Ms. Rosett is journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and heads its Investigative Reporting Project.

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