Kim Jong-un, North Korea leader.
(photo credit: KNS / KCNA / AFP)
Many of us were thinking of Iran when North Korea claimed this week to have detonated a hydrogen bomb.
The test “reminds us all that the most important mission is to prevent a similar thing from taking place in Iran: a nuclear agreement first and a nuclear weapon later,” National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz said.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a candidate for the Republican nomination for US president, noted that Wendy Sherman, the person appointed by the Clinton administration in the mid-1990s to negotiate with North Korea, negotiated the “exact same deal” with Iran.
This is not the first time Israeli officials led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and American Republicans, use North Korea as a warning of what they say will become of the Iran deal.
In contrast, allies of President Barack Obama argue that precisely the opposite lesson should be learned. The only way to prevent the Iranians from obtaining nuclear weapon capability, say those who support the Iran deal, is via an enforceable, verifiable negotiated agreement with Iran.
Admittedly, there is some substance to the claim made by Obama and his allies. The North Korean and Iranian cases are very different.
Iran’s leadership is under domestic political pressure to end sanctions and normalize relations with the West.
North Korea, in contrast, sees near-total isolation as the key to its survival. Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s dictator, knows that any loosening of his grip would precipitate the collapse of his regime of fear.
Unlike Tehran, Pyongyang has little to offer the world.
North Korea has no oil, no striving middle class and little strategic value. Its greatest power is the threat it poses to one of the most prosperous corners of the globe.
And the Agreed Framework between the US and North Korea in 1994 was only a few pages long. In contrast, the Iran deal is considerably more detailed and stretches over hundreds of pages.
But while differences do exist between the Iranian and North Korean cases, Netanyahu, Steinitz, Cruz and other critics of the Iran deal have a point when they warn that Tehran could very well follow in North Korea’s footsteps, and do this by exploiting the same weaknesses that enabled Pyongyang to obtain nuclear weapon capability.
Just like the North Koreans, the Iranians have mastered the art of bartering their compliance with the nuclear deal for one concession after another.
The Iran agreement is perceived as one of the few achievements in an otherwise failed Mideast policy pursued by the Obama administration over the past seven years. The administration would opt for sweeping concessions to Tehran before allowing for the demise of the Iran deal or admitting to its failure. The Iranians know this and are adept at exploiting the US leadership’s weakness.
This extortion was on display on Wednesday of last week.
At the beginning of the day the White House announced that it would impose sanctions on Iran for violating UN Security Council resolutions. (Back in October and again in November, Iran illicitly test-fired ballistic missiles.) Later the same day, however, the Obama administration quietly walked back its announcement, telling lawmakers that the sanctions would be indefinitely delayed.
What happened? Well, according to sources who spoke to The Washington Free Beacon, the administration has allowed Iran to dictate the terms of the deal out of fear that the Iranians would ditch it before it is officially implemented. Iranian leaders have made clear that any new US sanctions will force it to walk away from the nuclear agreement. The Obama administration backed down, unwilling to endanger the Iran deal.
This week, incoming Mossad chief Yossi Cohen said during a ceremony marking his first day in post that the Iran deal has “significantly increased” the threat to Israel posed by the Islamic Republic. This might be because its signing essentially takes off the table the possibility of a military strike against Iran by Israel. But it could also be because, like the North Koreans, the Iranians know how to leverage the nuclear deal to extract more concessions from the present US administration, an administration that would do much before allowing the collapse of a deal it worked so hard to clinch.