One of the prevailing narratives in favor of preserving the Iran nuclear deal has a few noticeable flaws.
President Donald Trump formally announced Friday that he cannot and will not recertify Iran’s compliance with the deal, declaring that Iran’s activities and ambitions are decidedly not in the interest of the U.S.
A recent New York Times opinion piece suggested that if America walks away from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran deal, North Korea “will assume the United States will not honor its commitments, even on multilateral agreements.” Many other observers have made similar arguments, asserting that backing out of the Iran deal could result in the deterioration of American credibility abroad.
This argument ignores North Korea’s steadfast commitment to the development of nuclear weapons since the U.S. eliminated Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, moves which cemented North Korea’s belief that it needs a reliable nuclear deterrent to protect and preserve the regime.
It also fails to acknowledge North Korea’s credibility gaps, as well as the rogue regime’s unwillingness to negotiate. History shows that the North Korean regime often deals in bad faith, and their current rhetoric indicates that they will not negotiate their nukes and are uninterested in talks unless it is on their terms.
“North Korea cheated on the deals they’ve negotiated,” Anthony Ruggiero, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, stressed to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“They have had a number of agreements where they promised not to build nuclear weapons and then a number of subsequent agreements where they promised to give up the weapons they promised to never build in the first place, and then those talks also all failed,” Bruce Klingner, former chief of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Korea branch and now a senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, explained to TheDCNF. Pyongyang is not credible negotiator.
The Clinton administration negotiated the Agreed Framework in 1994, offering billions of dollars in aid in exchange for a nuclear freeze. While accepting U.S. assistance, North Korea started a covert uranium enrichment program, although the regime denied the allegations against it.
North Korea tested its first nuclear weapon in 2006, and the regime tested a staged thermonuclear weapon — a suspected hydrogen bomb — in early September, detonating a bomb with an explosive yield far greater than anything the regime has ever tested and designed for the destruction of cities.
Withdrawing from an international arms control agreement might send a message to others that the U.S. is not interested in dialogue or diplomacy and indicate that the ongoing pressure campaign directed at North Korea is in pursuit of either war, collapse, or regime change, not talks. This shift might impact China’s strategic calculus — although there is an argument to be made that China only acts to pressure the regime when it thinks war is on the horizon, but North Korean strategic thinking is not likely to change significantly.
North Korea doesn’t want to talk and hasn’t for years, experts told TheDCNF.
The argument that decertifying the Iran nuclear deal will negatively impact U.S. credibility with North Korea also suggests “that North Korea is just waiting by the phone ready to negotiate, but that is simply not the case,” Ruggiero explained. “North Korea has not given any indication that they are ready to begin negotiations with the United States.”
“They have said publicly and privately that denuclearization is totally off the table, that they will never abandon their treasured nuclear sword, and they told us when I met with them in June, ‘accept us as a nuclear state, and then we can either talk about a peace treaty or fight,'” Klingner said. North Korea is close to achieving its nuclear ambitions, making a nuclear freeze or a moratorium on missile testing unlikely at this point.
“We have tried dialogue, we have tried engagement, we have tried negotiations. We have had 25 years of formal and informal discussions with North Korea,” Klingner argued.
South Korea has also reached out, calling into North Korea every day from the border village of Panmunjom for a year and a half. No one picks up the phone. Liberals and conservatives have both extended a hand to the rogue regime, expressing a desire for real dialogue, but the North has rejected these peaceful offers over and over again.
“We have nearly achieved the final point on the way to our ultimate goal, to achieving a real balance of force with the United States,” North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho told Russian reporters in Pyongyang this week. “Final scores be settled with the Americans only with a hail of fire, and not with words.”
Ruggiero suggested that the narrative on the Iran deal should be made in reverse and explained that it is not North Korea watching Iran, but rather the other way around.
“It’s Iran that’s watching North Korea,” he told TheDCNF. “It’s Iran that’s watching North Korea violating nuclear deals without consequence.” More importantly, he explained, Iran is watching as some leading scholars and observers argue that the U.S. must abandon denuclearization and accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state.
“I’m sure that the leaders in Iran are noticing the pundits that are throwing their hands up saying we can’t do anything with North Korea, we must accept their nuclear weapons program,” Ruggiero said.
“I’m sure that Iran is particularly interested in that,” he added.
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