‘Iran-Korean nexus’ complicates pending US nuke deal decision

The Trump administration has warned that Iran will become “the next North Korea” if the JCPOA remains as is.

September 29, 2017 01:30
3 minute read.
‘Iran-Korean nexus’ complicates pending US nuke deal decision

A missile is launched during a long and medium-range ballistic rocket launch drill in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on August 30, 2017.. (photo credit: KCNA/VIA REUTERS)


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WASHINGTON – With only two weeks left before President Donald Trump makes a fateful choice on America’s path forward in a nuclear deal with Iran, lawmakers and world leaders are warning him that his decision will have serious consequences on the more immediate threat posed by North Korea.

Proponents of the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, say the accord is a testament to diplomacy and an example to the North Koreans that an off-ramp exists from a conflict over its nuclear work. But critics say weaknesses of the JCPOA ensure Iran’s ultimate status as a nuclear power, and thus set a poor baseline for negotiations with the North, should they ever occur.

The Trump administration is aware of these parallels and has warned that Iran will become “the next North Korea” if the JCPOA remains as is.

“We must consider the day when the terms of the JCPOA sunset. That’s a day when Iran’s military may very well already have the missile technology to send a nuclear warhead to the United States – a technology that North Korea only recently developed,” Nikki Haley, the president’s envoy to the UN, told a Washington-based think tank earlier this month.

Haley also criticized a decision by international powers not to include any reference in the JCPOA to Iran’s ballistic missile program.

“You can call it ‘nonnuclear’ all you want – missile technology cannot be separated from pursuit of a nuclear weapon,” she said. “North Korea is showing the world that right now.”

Intercontinental ballistic missiles are designed to carry nuclear payloads. Their development in Iran has concerned the US government for years, and they are the aggravating factor in America’s most recent standoff with the North, which is seeking to expand its nuclear weapons capability by matching it with deliverability.
TV coverage of Iranian missile test, September 23, 2017 (Reuters)

Although the nuclear agreement does not address Iran’s ballistic missile work, the UN Security Council resolution that endorses the deal, numbered 2231, does call on Iran to end its ballistic missile activity. Iran has not done so.

A memo circulating through Republican offices on Capitol Hill and obtained by The Jerusalem Post notes the “proliferation nexus” between North Korea and Iran, which have been suspected – but not proven – of collaborating on both their missile and nuclear programs.

“If President Trump opts to ‘recertify’ Iran under [the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act], the Iranians will feel emboldened to double down on their illicit activities, viewing the president as weak and full of empty bluster,” the document reads, referring to a 2015 law passed by members of both parties outlining Congress’s role in the agreement’s review process. “Rogue leaders around the world, including in Pyongyang, will take note – something for which no amount of symbolic sanctions imposed on a few companies or individuals can compensate.”

On the other side are Democrats and European leaders warning that, to the contrary, North Korea will see decertification or withdrawal as an example of American inconsistency and diplomatic intransigence.

“If we don’t uphold our end of a nuclear accord with Iran, why would Pyongyang believe we would uphold our end of any diplomatic solution reached on North Korea’s nuclear program?” asked Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, who ran for vice president on the Democratic ticket in 2016, in a Time magazine op-ed published Tuesday. “Other countries could not be faulted for having similar concerns.”

This line of thinking was reaffirmed by envoys to the US from France, Britain, Germany and the EU at a Washington event last Friday where they together asserted Korean diplomacy would be hard enough as it is, only made harder by a second, parallel nuclear crisis in the Middle East.

And, at the UN General Assembly, French President Emmanuel Macron said his primary message to Trump on Iran was to emphasize the North Korea parallel.

“If President Trump considers [the JCPOA] not sufficient, I do agree with that,” Macron told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, while adding: “I think that it’s better than nothing. Okay? Why? Because if we stop with this bill, if we just stop with the nuclear agreement, so we will enter into a situation very similar to the North Korean situation before what happened this summer.”

“I think it would be a big mistake,” he said.

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