On July 14, the lengthy negotiations between Iran and the “six world powers” culminated in signing an agreement on the Iran’s nuclear program. The result of the 13-year negotiations is the abandonment of the nuclear weapons development program and granting permission to the IAEA representatives to access to facilities and nuclear programs. In exchange, Iran will be given an opportunity to rebuild its economy since all the previously imposed sanctions will now be lifted.
These results have given rise to a series of statements with an appeal to the DPRK to follow the Iran’s example. Thus, summing up on Monday the results of the meetings held with South Korean colleagues in Seoul, the special representative of the U.S. at the six-party negotiations Sydney A. Seiler said that the agreement reached with Iran showed that the U.S. was also willing to negotiate with Pyongyang “in case the counterpart had a desire to do so.” He emphasized that “when the North Korean leadership decided to end its international isolation, Washington would show its flexibility.”
The government of South Korea has also expressed hopes for the North Korean nuclear issue to be resolved through negotiations resulted in final settlement. Unlike Tehran, Pyongyang already has nuclear weapons and cannot be hurt by economic sanctions as severely. However, an example of successful joint work of the world community should have a positive effect on Pyongyang, which hardly benefits from its current isolation.
North Korea has, however, a different perception of the issue. As the ambassador of the DPRK to Moscow Kim Hyun-joon stated on July 29, 2015 in an exclusive interview to Interfax, “the nuclear issue on the Korea Peninsula and the Iranian nuclear program are intrinsically different. As is known, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is already an established nuclear weapon state. And, as any nuclear weapon state, it pursues its own interests.” Kim emphasized that “the DPRK is not interested in a dialogue devoted to a unilateral and unconditional abandonment and freezing of its nuclear program.”
Earlier, on July 21, answering the question of a correspondent of the Korean Central News Agency, a representative of the Foreign Ministry of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea noted that “the deterrent nuclear weapons possessed by North Korea are not a subject of bargaining, but necessary protection means of the country’s sovereignty and of its right to exist; they are required to counter the U.S. nuclear threat and its half-a-century-old hostile policy.”
Indeed, while comparing the Korean and Iranian nuclear programs, some important points should not be overlooked. First, despite the imposed sanctions, Iran is a country with a significantly higher level of development and a larger network of international contacts. Besides, Iran is an exporter of oil, which plays a prominent role in its economy. Thus, relief from sanctions is by far a more important goal for Iran than protection from hypothetical threats to its security.
In addition, the intensity of the security threat experienced is incomparably lower than that experienced by North Korea. Though, Iranian authorities continue declaring that they are at war with Israel, the war they “fight” is a “cold” war. Unlike during Sunni regimes, there were no actual armed conflicts between Iran and Israel. In addition, Iranian troops are adequately fitted with modern combat equipment and can afford not to brandish its nuclear weapons as the only means of a symmetric response.
North Korean circumstances, on the other hand, are quite different. Since the Korean war of 1950-53 the country has been in a position of a target for the enemy’s nuclear weapons (North Korea did not possess nuclear weapons at that time). Therefore, the issue of security has a much more profound meaning for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Secondly, the level of the development of nuclear programs of the two countries is also incomparable. As far as the Iran’s nuclear program is concerned, it has been defined as raising “grounded suspicions” that the country is involved in the development of nuclear weapons, while in the case with the DPRK, the nuclear program of the country has advanced to the phase when several nuclear tests have already been conducted. If the Iran’s nuclear program is only at its “seed” stage and right now looks more like a concept, its “cancellation” could be reversed. It is similar to sanctions, which can be lifted and then imposed again, or to a science-research project, which can be frozen and later relaunched.
However, the annulment of the North Korean nuclear program would have an “irreversible” effect. This is one of the issues with the settlement of the North Korean nuclear crisis—North Korea is expected to take actions, which would have irreversible effects, while similar actions of its “opponents” are reversible in nature: another reason can always be found for the lifted sanctions to be reimposed.
Thirdly, what sets the situation with North Korea apart is that the country has envisioned the general picture and is aware of its risks. The DPRK takes into account both the unpleasant experience with the sadly remembered Framework agreement, when the other party to it did not discharge its obligations, and the fate of the six-party negotiations, which were also broken up after a project of resolution had been worked out. Besides, North Korea remembers the situation with the Libyan nuclear project very well. Gaddafi was generously awarded for its rollback, including all his crimes were “consigned to oblivion.” But today, looking back at the events of the past, we should ask a question of whether the West would have supported the Islamists and the subsequent military intervention, had the nuclear program not been rolled back?
Therefore, a number of quite pragmatic reasons can explain the rigidity of the position of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in this matter.
Konstantin Asmolov, candidate of historical sciences, senior researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.