Comparing the North Korea and Iran Nuclear Deals

April 30, 2015  

Since the framework agreement with Iran was signed by Tehran, Washington and other world powers, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has focused on the 1994 agreement with North Korea which was also intended to curtail that country’s development of nuclear weapons.

On October 12 of that year, an “Agreement Framework” was signed with the North Koreans that traded two light-water reactors, fuel oil, and economic cooperation for the North to freeze plutonium production. Within two weeks, then-IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) Director Hans Blix testified to the British Parliament his organization was worried it gave the North Koreans too much time to begin complying with the agreement.

“I am very concerned that the Lausanne framework would repeat and is repeating these mistakes,” Prime Minister Netanyahu said in a meeting with South Korean Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education Hwang Woo-yea yesterday in Jerusalem. “I think that freeze and inspect is not an adequate substitute for dismantle and remove.”

Speaking to Arutz Sheva, Dr. Alon Levkowitz of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Students where he specializes in the ties between Israel and South Korea, said “the question comparing the two deals is that the Americans are saying they have capabilities vis-à-vis the Iranian sites, as in inspectors. They said the same back then with North Korea.”

Regarding the comparison, a look at the quotes made by the respective US presidents sheds lights on the similarities.

Back in October 1994, then-President Bill Clinton said, “this is a good deal for the United States. North Korea will freeze and then dismantle its nuclear program. South Korea and our other allies will be better protected. The entire world will be safer as we slow the spread of nuclear weapons.”

“The United States and international inspectors will carefully monitor North Korea to make sure it keeps its commitments. Only as it does so will North Korea fully join the community of nations.”

In a remarkable echo, US President Barack Obama said on April 2, “international inspectors will have unprecedented access not only to Iranian nuclear facilities, but to the entire supply chain that supports Iran’s nuclear program – from uranium mills that provide the raw materials, to the centrifuge production and storage facilities that support the program.”

“I am confident that we can show that this deal is good for the security of the United States, for our allies, and for the world,” added Obama. “There is no daylight, when it comes to our support for Israel’s security and our concerns about Iran’s destabilizing policies and threats toward Israel.”

“Iran needs less than 10% of its centrifuges for the bomb”

Speaking about the issues with the new deal, Levkowitz said, “another problem is that the number of centrifuges Iran has. If Iran were serious when it says that its nuclear program was for electricity, they would need less than 10% of what they have right now in order to make the bomb.”

“Another concern is the ‘backdoor plan’ while honoring the agreement for a few years, they might increase work like North Korea at the same time allowing them to develop the bomb later.”

“What happened in North Korea, they halted their plutonium program but improved their centrifuge program. With a nuclear program you need a big site, close to a river to cool a reactor that is difficult to identify.”

Levkowitz explains that the North Koreans were able to build a large facility underground to develop and test its bombs. He points out that with enough space and access to water – to cool a reactor in an emergency – development can take place.

He points to the positioning of the Fukushima reactor that went critical during the 2011 tsunami in Japan. That reactor was cooled by the sea water that ironically caused many of the issues in the first place. He also points to Syria’s apparent nuclear project near Deir al-Zur by the Euphrates River.

“Israel’s biggest concern is that people will say they signed a ‘wonderful agreement that lets us prevent a bomb,’” remarks Levkowitz, who says the comments now are similar to what the world heard then.

What will South Korea do?

Does South Korea worry about Iran’s proliferation in the same way that Israel does?

Levkowitz answered, “there are concerns about a nuclear rival in the region.” However, “South Korea has a booming trade of $500 million with states in the Persian Gulf. They are worried this might destabilize the region.”

Another thing that Levkowitz adds is that South Korea worried that either its main energy supplies or their prices – which come from countries in the Persian Gulf – might be compromised by a tailspin of events in the Middle East.

There might be other concerns, such as a deeper relationship between Iran and North Korea. While the ties between the two states on a substantive level are somewhat obscure, there is concern that if Iran opts for a ‘backdoor plan’ as mentioned above, they might try to acquire material or actual weapons from the North later.

U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies fellow Joel S. Wit wrote in 2013 that “if Pyongyang’s inventory of nuclear bombs grows, its technological base expands, and its need for hard currency to help cope with international sanctions increases, the North will have a larger inventory of merchandise, plus the incentive to look for overseas buyers.”

The North also is known to have had deep involvement in the Syrian reactor that Israel allegedly destroyed in 2007 in the Deir al-Zur region currently under the control of Islamic State (ISIS).

“South Korea is not that concerned about that. They are concerned about North Korean proliferation but wouldn’t detect this [extra] work.”

Are security interests starting to dovetail more between the two countries?

“On the Iranian nuke issue, South Korea prefers the diplomatic solution. They were concerned Israel might threaten to attack Iran, or that Iran might destabilize the region,” Levkowitz answered.

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