For North Korea, an Iran-style nu­clear deal is not an op­tion


If any hopes have been raised that the progress be­tween the United States and Iran to halt Tehran’s de­vel­op­ment of nu­clear weapons could bring change in Py­ongyang, North Korea has gone out of its way to thwart them.

In a flurry of public com­ments since the deal, the North has been blunt: Its nu­clear weapons are not a bar­gain­ing chip; it is al­ready a mem­ber of the nu­clear club; and if Washington wants to talk, it must rec­og­nize the North as such or put an im­me­di­ate end to its hos­tile poli­cies to­ward Py­ongyang.

Clearly, the dif­fer­ences be­tween North Korea and Iran are vast.

North Korea has al­ready gone down the ne­go­ti­a­tions road and come out on the other end with a small but po­ten­tially threat­en­ing nu­clear ar­se­nal. North Korea is also still tech­ni­cally at war with the U.S. and has a pow­er­ful ri­val and U.S. ally, South Korea, along with tens of thou­sands of U.S. troops right across the Demil­i­ta­rized Zone. Each year, U.S. and South Korea hold mas­sive war games in prepa­ra­tion for a pos­si­ble in­va­sion from the North, or, as Py­ongyang sees it, an in­va­sion of the North.

The big­gest is­sue of all, how­ever, could sim­ply be that it is not in the DNA of North Korea’s lead­ers to flip-flop.

Py­ongyang’s de­sire for a nu­clear de­fense against the far su­pe­rior U.S. forces prob­a­bly goes all the way back to the coun­try’s founder and first pres­i­dent, Kim Il Sung. For the cur­rent leader, Kim Jong Un, his grand­son, re­vers­ing that course would be an un­prece­dent­edly bold break with the past and bring into ques­tion the por­trayal of the rul­ing Kim dy­nasty as in­fal­li­ble.

When North Korean lead­ers pon­der the op­tion of giv­ing up their nu­clear weapons — if they ever se­ri­ously do — the ben­e­fits Iran will likely reap from its deal with the United States are prob­a­bly not fore­most on their minds. More likely, they re­call the fate of Libyan dic­ta­tor Moam­mar Gad­hafi, who aban­doned his nu­clear pro­gram and ended up be­ing de­posed, hunted down and killed by rebel forces af­ter months on the run. Though one didn’t di­rectly lead to the other, in Py­ongyang, Gad­hafi’s fate is seen as a po­tent cau­tion­ary tale.

With­out re­fer­ring to the Iran talks, Kim Jong Un told vet­er­ans gath­ered last week in Py­ongyang for the 62nd an­niver­sary of the ar­mistice that ended the fight­ing in the 1950-53 Korean War that peace has yet to come to the Korean Penin­sula. He held fast to the North’s con­stant warn­ings to its peo­ple that they must be ready for another, fi­nal show­down with the United States.

He also said the North’s pos­ses­sion of nu­clear weapons has dra­mat­i­cally shifted the bal­ance of power.

“Our force at present is not what it was in the 1950s, when we had to fight with ri­fles in our hands against the U.S. im­pe­ri­al­ists armed to the teeth,” he said in the ad­dress, which was re­peat­edly broad­cast on tele­vi­sion and car­ried in full in the North’s state-run news­pa­pers. “We now pos­sess such a force as to fight any form of war­fare of the choice of the United States. We have a might pow­er­ful enough to de­ter the United States from un­leash­ing a nu­clear war.”

North Korea’s new de­fense min­is­ter, in a sep­a­rate speech, went even fur­ther. He sug­gested that the “sec­ond Korean War” could be right around the cor­ner and warned the U.S. that if it is, the North will leave no Amer­i­cans alive to sign a sur­ren­der doc­u­ment.

North Korea watch­ers stress that such rhetoric needs to be taken with a big grain of salt. Whip­ping up do­mes­tic fears of an im­mi­nent U.S. threat is po­lit­i­cally use­ful in North Korea and helps rally the na­tion be­hind its lead­ers while dis­tract­ing at­ten­tion from the coun­try’s many eco­nomic prob­lems, lack of so­cial free­doms and in­di­vid­ual rights.

But there are also signs the North could be plan­ning to demon­strate its de­fi­ance to U.S. pres­sure in the months ahead by launch­ing a rocket in con­junc­tion with large-scale cel­e­bra­tions for the 70th an- niver­sary of the found­ing of its rul­ing party on Oct. 10. North Korea claims it has the right to launch a rocket, which will carry a satel­lite, but the U.S. and the United Na­tions say that is in vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional bans de­signed to keep it from de­vel­op­ing long-range mis­sile tech­nol­ogy. The tech­nol­ogy for both is very sim­i­lar.

For the U.S., North Korea it­self is the cau­tion­ary tale. Decades of talks and agree­ments with the North failed spec­tac­u­larly, and crit­ics worry Iran could try to play the same game.

The Iran deal is op­posed by most law­mak­ers in the Repub­li­can-held Congress, with some draw­ing a di­rect com­par­i­son with the North Korea ne­go­ti­a­tions, start­ing with the Agreed Frame­work agree­ment reached in 1994 un­der Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton. Un­der that deal, Py­ongyang’s nu­clear weapons pro­gram was frozen in re­turn for the pro­vi­sion of nu­clear power re­ac­tors and the even­tual nor­mal­iza­tion of ties with the United States. The deal sub­se­quently un­rav­eled.

Washington has been care­ful to point out the dif­fer­ences.

Dif­fer­ent from Any­thing That Ever

Ex­isted with North Korea

“This is a very dif­fer­ent agree­ment from any­thing that ever ex­isted with North Korea,” U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry told a House Com­mit­tee on For­eign Af­fairs hear­ing Tues­day on the Iran deal.

Kerry said the Iran deal cov­ers all pos­si­ble nu­clear-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties — whereas the 1994 agree­ment with North Korea cov­ered only its plu­to­nium pro­gram. It sub­se­quently emerged the North was also seek­ing to use ura­nium for an al­ter­na­tive route to de­vel­op­ing nu­clear weapons.

Kerry also said Iran had given con­sent to a process of in­spec­tions of its nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties — a highly prob­lem­atic is­sue in deal­ings with Py­ongyang.

Although crit­ics con­tend the U.S. has failed to achieve a goal of as­sur­ing in­spec­tions “any­where, any­time,” some ex­perts say the deal has a more rig­or­ous ver­i­fi­ca­tion pro­ce­dure to en­sure com­pli­ance than the Agreed Frame­work had.

Syd­ney Seiler, U.S. spe­cial en­voy for the so-called six-party talks, a stalled mul­ti­lat­eral fo­rum that was cre­ated to per­suade Py­ongyang to de­nu­cle­arize, told re­porters in Seoul on Mon­day the Iran deal shows how ne­go­ti­a­tions can work when both par­ties are will­ing to dance.

“The Iran deal demon­strates the value and the pos­si­bil­i­ties that ne­go­ti­a­tions bring,” he said. “It demon­strates again our will­ing­ness when we have a will­ing coun­ter­part. It demon­strates our flex­i­bil­ity when the DPRK makes the de­ci­sion that it wants to choose a dif­fer­ent path. ... We have al­ways stood ready to en­gage in di­a­logue on this is­sue.”

But he added that pres­sure will re­main a key com­po­nent in con­vinc­ing Py­ongyang to re­turn to ne­go­ti­a­tions. He said the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity must do what­ever it can “to in­flict a cost for its un­will­ing­ness to ne­go­ti­ate.”

At about the same time, North Korea’s am­bas­sadors to the United Na­tions and Bei­jing held news con­fer­ences pos­ing their coun­ter­ar­gu­ment — that it is the United States im­ped­ing the di­a­logue process.

Ji Jae Ry­ong, North Korea’s am­bas­sador to China, said the Iran deal is ir­rel­e­vant be­cause the North is al­ready “a nu­clear weapons state both in name and in re­al­ity.”

“We are not in­ter­ested at all in di­a­logue to dis­cuss the is­sue of freez­ing or dis­man­tling our nukes uni­lat­er­ally first,” he said at the North Korean Em­bassy in Bei­jing.

Am­bas­sador Jang Il Hun, mean­while, told re­porters at the United Na­tions that no of­fers for talks have been made since one of­fered by him­self in Jan­uary “be­cause, I think, the po­si­tion of the United States has not changed since then.”

“We see no prospect of re­sum­ing the on­go­ing ef­fort to ease ten­sion be­tween the two coun­tries,” he con­cluded. AP writ­ers Matthew Pen­ning­ton in Washington and Cara Anna at the United Na­tions con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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