Burning Issues brings our best opinion writers to one podium, where they respond, in brief and in real time, to a question about one of the hottest news topics on the agenda. A link to the writer's most recent column appears after each post.
Burning Issues 1-24:
Last three: Jewish identity and UK Jewry, retaliation for Eilat attack, US candidates' Iran stance.
Question #25Which effect, if any, do you believe the North Korean nuclear disarmament deal have on the Iranian nuclear dispute?
Contributions by Gerald Steinberg, Calev Ben-David, Anshel Pfeffer and MJ Rosenberg.
Whether one sees the deal reached in Beijing to pay off the North Korean regime to dismantle its nuclear program as a victory of international diplomacy over warmongering or as yet another shameful climb-down in the face of a cruel dictator's threats, it has to be clear that such a solution won't cut it with Iran. The US administration that gave its blessing to the agreement with Pyongyang isn't going to let the mullahs off so easily. Here are ten reasons why.
1. Kim Jong-il, the genocidal North Korean leader, has one motive, survival as absolute monarch of the benighted kingdom. Behind the shopping list of aid North Korea is about to receive stands the assurance that the US and its allies won't work to topple the regime.
The Iranian leadership, however, is interested in more than staying in power. They see their mission as spreading the Islamic revolution to the rest of the Middle East and from there, worldwide. They won't be so easily bought off. Which leads us to reason number two.
2. Even if Iran was to give up its nuclear program, it wouldn't cease to be a thorn in the Bush administration's backside. Unlike North Korea, which is mainly concerned with itself, Teheran is actively undermining American efforts throughout the region, supplying Shi'ite forces fighting the US Army in Iraq, financing and directing Hizbullah's efforts to overthrown the Saniora government in Lebanon, and playing an increasing role in the Gaza Strip, aiding Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Hence to reason three.
3. The United States is already at war with Iran, even if only by proxy. The Shi'ites fighters in Iraq are controlled, barely at arms length, by the Revolutionary Guard, and American forces have targeted Iranian operatives in Iraq. A war with North Korea was the last thing the US wanted, but a war with Iran they already have.
4. Iran might seem a much more powerful nation, but actually North Korea is a much harder nut to crack. For a start, intelligence on Iran's nuclear capabilities might be patchy, but when it comes to the Yongbyon project, it's almost nonexistent. The nuclear test four months ago caught the West completely by surprise. The fact is that even if a military attack was in the cards, the targets were unknown.
5. Iran's oil wealth notwithstanding, it is much more vulnerable to serious economic sanctions than North Korea. The total control Kim Jong-il has over his subjects has already allowed him to sacrifice an estimated 10 percent of North Korea's population to mass murder and systematic starvation. The Teheran regime is no where near as powerful; food shortages in the cities of Iran could well spark revolution.
6. While Iran enjoys varying levels of support from America's international rivals, it has nothing like the kind of ally North Korea has in its Chinese neighbor. Attacking North Korea could produce a US-China confrontation, providing another reason for finding a diplomatic solution.
7. By managing a nuclear test, the North Koreans had already scored the jackpot. Once it crossed the atomic threshold, Pyongyang was able to demand and receive preferential treatment. Teheran hasn't tested a device of its own and, after having failed to deny North Korea this milestone and being forced to buy it off, the US will step up its efforts to make sure Iran doesn't get there.
8. Iran is taking an active part in the international anti-US and anti-Israel movement, joining forces with radical socialists and racist Holocausts deniers around the world. The US can't be seen handing the Ahmadinejad-Chavez alliance a victory.
9. Ahmadinejad himself bears a great deal of the responsibility for turning Iran into such a major target. His insistent taunts and threats created a challenge that cannot be ignored. Kim Jong-Il might be a murderous paranoid dictator, wallowing in luxury while his people starve, but he hasn't gone out of his way to humiliate the world's greatest power. It's much easier to write a check and pretend he doesn't exist.
10. Another reason that Ahmadinejad and his cronies won't get the same treatment is that while the Pyongyang gang prefers to visit genocide on its own people, the mullahs have sworn to wipe out another country.
The celebratory headlines of an agreement to end North Korea's nuclear program are premature - we have been here before, only to see the regime in Pyongyang pull back from its commitments. If the outcome is different this time, and IAEA inspectors are allowed to check that North Korea really is dismantling its weapons production facilities, the pressure on Iran to agree to a similar halt will increase.
The leaders in Iran, including President Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Khameni, will then have to choose how to interpret the implications for them. Having copied the North Korean strategy of talk-talk, cheat-cheat, they might try to continue until they also reach the stage of conducting a nuclear weapons test, thereby hoping to extract a huge financial and political settlement, as predicted by former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton.
But Iranians clearly are not prepared to allow their leaders to turn them and their society into another North Korea, under a super-totalitarian regime that controls every aspect of their lives, and entirely isolated from the rest of the world. Iran is far behind the North Korean schedule, and many years from being able to make nuclear weapons.
Unlike Kim Jung Il, the Iranian leaders must still go through elections, and face opposition, albeit carefully controlled. As a result, Iran has tried, and so far succeeded, primarily by manipulating the Europeans, in having its nuclear cake, while also eating at the international table.
Now, however, this game may be up, for Iran as well. Cooperation between China and the US is the essential difference that, if continued, will force the North Koreans to implement their end of the agreement for once, and freeze their nuclear program.
Unlike Putin's Russia, which is still mired in the Cold War mentality, Chinese leaders understand that for their regime to survive and provide the economic growth that the public demands, they need international stability. And rogue regimes are too dangerous to be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, regardless of the short term benefits that can be had from selling them technology, and in the case of Iran, buying their oil.
It is still far too early to know where the agreement on North Korea will go, but if the deeds actually match the words this time, the pressure on Iran, including sanctions and the potential of a military attack, will increase.
The next Zionist revolution
Hopefully the main impact of the North Korea nuclear disarmament deal on the Iranian situation will be to energize the international community with the realization that tough, concerted multilateral action, can impact on even the most intransigent regime.
Many analysts were pessimistic that the government of Kim Il Sung would ever agree to back down on his country's nuclear designs, and it is indeed far too soon to tell whether he will actually follow through on the pledges made in this week's deal. But the dire state of North Korea's economy in the face of continuing international trade sanctions made it impossible for Sung to resist the pledges of foreign aid being made in exchange for shutting down his country's nuclear program.
Similarly, there are already signs that even the fairly weak sanctions placed on Iran late last year by the UN Security Council are already having an economic impact on Iran, along with some of the pullbacks and cancellations of other deals with Western corporations reported in recent weeks.
Growing criticism of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with Iran itself suggests that if the international community, in particular Europe, steps up the level of sanctions in the face of continuing Iranian resistance to suspend its nuclear program, it is not too late to halt this radical Islamic regime from producing its own atomic weapons.
Once - and only if - Iran agrees to first suspend its nuclear enrichment efforts and allow full and unfettered access to international monitors, can a deal then be hammered out along the lines of that agreed to by North Korea this week.
Snap Judgment: Sore losers
The Bush administration has never cared as intensely about North Korea's bombs, as about the possibility Iran will have them. That is because the neocon obsession is with the Middle East. So, for the failed neocons still close to power, resolving North Korea frees them to focus their energy on Iran.
For them, North Korea changes nothing. Although, to be fair, they were as wrong about Korea as about Iraq, having said all along that talking to the North was pointless.
The American public will react differently. Successful talks with North Korea will lead most Americans to conclude that if we can resolve the Korean crisis through talks and not war, we can do the same with Iran. Most Americans view North Korea as the craziest regime on the planet. Tehran, by comparison, seems to be led by a madman who will be held back by his bosses, the Mullahs.
There won't be an American attack on Iran. The neocons who are pushing it have been utterly discredited by the failed Iraq war and many of them are more worried about subpoenas from Congress about manipulating the US into war than about Iran. Both parties are focusing on '08 and with no constituency, except a few hundred neocons, pushing for war, it isn't going to happen. Especially with the military strongly in opposition.
In Washington: Why not realism?