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North Korea’s nuclear playbook for Iran
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North Korea’s nuclear playbook for Iran

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana

I long have maintained that the development of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems serves as a playbook and predictor of the behavior of Iran regarding its own weapon systems. I believe that Iran has diligently studied world reaction to North Korea’s military programs to determine reaction to its own.

Last week, North Korea, reacting to a UN Security Council resolution condemning its latest rocket launch and tightening sanctions on the country, threatened that it would “target” the United States and that it would continue with a third and “higher-level” nuclear test.

American intelligence agencies expressed concern that the country may have made considerable progress in its nuclear and missile programs despite longstanding sanctions.

The White House’s reaction was that a nuclear test “would only increase Pyongyang’s isolation.” Apparently, such admonitions have not affected Pyongyang’s behavior. In announcing the targeting of the United States, North Korea said, “Settling accounts with the U.S. needs to be done with force, not with words, as it regards jungle law as the rule of its survival.”

How did the Hermit Kingdom, with its three generations of dynastic leadership — “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung; “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il; and now 30-year-old Kim Jong-un — become an international nuclear power?

This is a severely abridged chronology. In reading it, consider how we are following similar policies with Iran.

1993: The International Atomic Energy Agency accuses North Korea of violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The IAEA demands inspections. North Korea threatens to quit the NPT, but ultimately agrees to inspections.

1994: North Korea and the United States sign an agreement for North Korea to stop and eventually dismantle its nuclear weapons program. In return, North Korea will get aid to build two power-producing nuclear reactors.

1998: North Korea fires a rocket that flies over Japan. North Korea and the United States hold talks over the suspected construction of an underground nuclear facility. The United States demands inspections.

1999: North Korea allows United States inspectors in return for help on its potato yields. Inspectors find no evidence of nuclear activity during its visit. United States agrees to ease economic sanctions and a U.S.-led consortium agrees to build two nuclear reactors.

2001: North Korea threatens to restart its nuclear weapons program and to start testing missiles again unless normalized relations are resumed with the United States.

2002: The United States says North Korea has admitted having a secret program that violates the NPT.

2003: North Korea withdraws from the NPT, reactivates its nuclear power facilities, begins test-firing missiles, and declares that it has nuclear weapons.

2004: Six-party talks begin. North Korea offers to freeze its program and allow inspections in exchange for aid, eased sanctions, and removal from the U.S. list of terrorist sponsors. These talks would be off and on for the next two years with no long-term agreement.

2006: North Korea successfully tests a nuclear weapon. The Security Council approves a resolution to impose sanctions against North Korea and require an end to nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

2007: North Korea agrees to close its main reactor for $400 million in aid and to disable its nuclear program by the end of year.

2008: North Korea misses its deadline to disable. The United States announces that North Korea is taken off the list of states that sponsor terrorism. North Korea refuses to allow unfettered access to inspectors.

2009: North Korea announces its second nuclear test and that is has enough weapons-grade plutonium for two bombs.

2011: The United States and North Korea talk about resuming six-party talks and possible food assistance for a nuclear moratorium.

2012: Moratorium announced.

2013: North Korea announces third nuclear test and threatens the United States.

Is there any question that the United States has been the victim of a North Korean rope-a-dope?

The same scenario is playing out with Iran, which has learned from North Korea. Multilateral negotiations, sanctions, and incentives all have been tried since the Iranian nuclear program has come to light. As with North Korea, the Iranian responses have been delay, deceit, and obfuscation. Moreover, we know there is cooperation between Iran and North Korea, especially regarding missile technology.

Using the North Korean chronology, Iran is about at 2005, arriving at this point sooner than the 12 years it took North Korea.

Henry Kissinger, at the World Economic Forum last weekend, said for 15 years the Security Council has declared that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. He warned a nuclear Iran is approaching. “In a few years, people will have to come to a determination of how to react, or [face] the consequences of non-reaction. I believe this point will be reached in a very foreseeable future,” indirectly validating Netanyahu’s “red line.”

Can we afford to use the same techniques that failed to stop North Korea?

This should be a subject for inquiry at the confirmation hearings for John Kerry at State, Chuck Hagel at Defense, and John Brennan at the CIA.

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