North Korea and Iran: The Nuclear Duo

Obama administration takes North Korea testing issue to the UN while ignoring Iran link.

North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test on January 6th, which it claimed was a hydrogen bomb. Despite some skepticism as to North Korea’s claim that it had actually tested a hydrogen bomb, the Obama administration acknowledged that North Korea had indeed tested some sort of nuclear device. The administration condemned North Korea’s latest testing as a violation of a series of past United Nations Security Council resolutions.

“We do not and will not accept North Korea as a nuclear armed state, and actions such as this latest test only strengthen our resolve,” declared Secretary of State John Kerry.

Mr. Kerry is a bit late with his declaration. North Korea has had an active nuclear arms program for nearly a decade and has conducted three of its four nuclear tests during President Obama’s time in office. None of the sanctions contained in the Security Council resolutions have stopped North Korea from thumbing its nose at the so-called “international community” and conducting as many nuclear and missile tests as it wishes. Kerry’s declaration begs the question - “resolve” to do what? Pass yet another Security Council resolution with a few more symbolic sanctions and some additional travel restrictions on senior North Korean officials?

The Obama administration’s claim of “resolve” in dealing effectively with nuclear threats rings hollow. Its idea of what “resolve” means was demonstrated by the loophole-ridden nuclear deal with Iran, which contains no safeguards against Iran’s cooperation with North Korea on nuclear technology and development. No doubt the administration would offer North Korea a similar deal if its leader Kim Jong-un were as crafty as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in lulling President Obama and Kerry into a false sense of security.

Moreover, rather than work closely with China to maximize its leverage in defusing North Korea’s nuclear threat, the administration chose to prioritize climate change in its relationship with China above all other issues.

The administration’s solution to the North Korea problem is to double down on its failed strategy of relying principally on the UN for concerted “international” action. It joined Japan, a non-permanent member of the Security Council, in calling for the December 6th emergency session. After about two hours of closed door consultations, the Security Council issued a press statement condemning the test and vowing further unspecified measures in response:

“The members of the Security Council strongly condemned this test, which is a clear violation of Security Council resolutions1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), and 2094 (2013) and of the non-proliferation regime, and therefore a clear threat to international peace and security continues to exist. The members of the Security Council also recalled that they have previously expressed their determination to take ‘further significant measures’ in the event of another DPRK nuclear test, and in line with this commitment and the gravity of this violation, the members of the Security Council will begin to work immediately on such measures in a new Security Council resolution.”

Even if Russia and China were to come around and support another resolution under the enforcement provisions of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, it is hard to believe that it will make any difference. Before the emergency Security Council meeting even began, Russian UN Ambassador Churkin was already lowering expectations, saying softly to reporters: “Cool heads, cool heads” and “proportionate response.”

North Korea regards the UN Security Council, and the Obama administration for that matter, with about as much contempt as Iran does. Indeed, all North Korea’s leaders have had to do is look at how Iran has been treated when it behaves badly. Iran was rewarded with a deal that merely postpones its nuclear arms program in return for the lifting of sanctions and unfreezing of many billions of dollars. Moreover, Iran suffered no consequences to speak of from its recent violations of the Security Council resolutions prohibiting it from developing or testing ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. The Security Council held meetings but did nothing. As U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last December, “Beyond having Security Council discussions on the matter there’s been no follow-on action. Discussions are a form of U.N. action.”

For its part, the Obama administration put off the imposition of any separate U.S. sanctions it had been considering in response to Iran’s missile launchings as soon as the Iranians claimed that any such sanctions would violate President Obama’s “holy grail” nuclear deal.

The United Nations Security Council, as well as the Obama administration, tend to compartmentalize flashpoints erupting in different regions of the world. They refuse to acknowledge that Iran and North Korea have long been joined at the hip when it comes to the development of nuclear material for bombs and ballistic missiles capable of delivering them.

The Security Council holds separate meetings on Iran and North Korea, as if their respective nuclear activities have been completely unrelated to each other. And, as demonstrated by the following exchange between a correspondent and White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest at the January 6th daily press briefing, the Obama administration is turning a blind eye to the dangerous risk of continuing cooperation between Iran and North Korea:

“Q: You mentioned Iran earlier, and I’m wondering if there’s a bit of sleight of hand there from the Iranians’ perspective – meaning they’re trying to, on the one hand, work with the international community to have sanctions relief, but on the other hand, it’s been widely reported that they’ve been working with the North Koreans, perhaps even using them as a proxy to continue development of their own nuclear ambition. Does the White House understand that view?

MR. EARNEST:  I can’t speak to the veracity of those claims.

Iran and North Korea have been cooperating for decades on nuclear technology. As Ilan Berman, a leading expert on the Middle East and Iran, wrote last August in the National Journal, “over the past three decades, Iran and the Stalinist regime of the Kim dynasty in North Korea have erected a formidable alliance—the centerpiece of which is cooperation on nuclear and ballistic-missile capabilities.”

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter stated during an April 2015 interview that North Korea and Iran could still be cooperating to develop a nuclear weapon. Moreover, according to an assessment of “Iran-North Korea-Syria Ballistic Missile and Nuclear Cooperation” published by the Congressional Research Service last May, “U.S. intelligence officials have expressed concern that North Korea might export its nuclear technology or fissile material.”

Iran “may still rely on Pyongyang for certain materials for producing Iranian ballistic missiles, Iran’s claims to the contrary notwithstanding,” the Congressional Research Service report added.

North Korea has also conducted several tests involving nuclear explosive devices, a technology in which Iran has reportedly shown interest and would be in a position to procure from North Korea.

In short, rebutting the claims by the Obama administration that its nuclear deal with Iran cuts off all its pathways to the achievement of a nuclear weapon capability, the title of Mr. Berman’s National Journal article says it all – “North Korea: Iran’s Pathway to a Nuclear Weapon.”

There is no reason to believe that, as a result of the deal Iran is already sidestepping, Iran will suddenly stop all dealings with North Korea with regard to both countries’ nuclear programs. The Obama administration and the United Nations upon which it relies ignore the close relationship between the two rogue nations at the world’s peril.