Tuesday, September 27, 2005

North Korea vs. Iran

While Asians were enjoying the full-moon Thanksgiving holidays a week ago Monday, they received two contrasting pieces of news regarding the nuclear deal.
One from Beijing, where the six countries finally ironed out a joint statement from the talks on North Korea's nuclear program. The other from Vienna, where delegations from the U.S. and EU-3 (Britain, France and Germany) rushed to tackle the Iranian nuclear issue at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). As the North Korean nuclear problem emerges from a long dark tunnel, the Iranian one looks increasingly gloomy. Some Western countries are talking about the option of referring the Iranian issue to the UN Security Council. This possibility had been frequently raised regarding North Korea, whenever the six-party talks encountered a dead-end. The news from Beijing were welcomed worldwide by many who have been waiting for a breakthrough. In a joint statement, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) "committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs," and said it was "returning at an early date to the treaty on nonproliferation of nuclear weapons (NPT) and to the IAEA safeguards." In return, the six participant countries expressed their respect for North Korea's right to "peaceful uses of nuclear energy." In this context, they said they would discuss the "provision of a light-water reactor" to North Korea at an appropriate time. This compromise is the most significant achievement since the North Korean nuclear issue emerged in 1993. The six-party talks, which resumed in Beijing on September 13, looked very fragile at first. North Korea insisted on retaining its right to pursue peaceful nuclear activity. This became an obstacle since other parties wanted to see the complete dismantling of all nuclear programs. However, they managed to reach a sound compromise. The progress at the Beijing talks does not mean that the six-party joint statement provides a solution to every problem. There is a long and difficult road ahead. North Korea's claim, which follows only one day after the agreement, to receive a light-water reactor before dismantling its nuclear program is one example.
The six countries should work harder to develop a framework for the implementation of their commitments as reflected in the joint statement. A follow-up meeting is scheduled to begin in early November. One of the main tasks for the participating countries is dealing with a verification process. Despite the difficult tasks ahead, the Beijing agreement is a big step forward on the way to the comprehensive settlement of the North Korean nuclear issue. Therefore, we should try to learn every lesson possible from the six-party talks, if they are applicable to the Iranian nuclear issue. First, the five parties have been consistent in their positions vis-a-vis North Korea throughout the talks. They held very frequent contacts and discussed their plans in detail. Also, they never retreated from the principle of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. This firm stand made North Korea move forward with its bold strategic decision. In dealing with the Iranian nuclear problem, have the parties concerned held truly close consultations among themselves? Second, there has been an "honest broker" in the six-party talks. China is trusted by each of the other five participants. It has played a very constructive role throughout the talks. It stretched the limit of its patience to produce a compromise text regarding its own revised drafts. Through persuasion, China succeeded in filling the gap, inch by inch, between the participants. In the Iranian case, is an "honest broker" needed? If yes, then who? Third, it was agreed to give North Korea substantial benefits. The Republic of Korea's (South Korea) recent offer to provide 2 million kilowatts of electric power to North Korea served as a catalyst in forging a deal. The five countries' agreement to discuss the light-water reactor issue was also an inducement. However, the incentives were not confined to economics. The United States affirmed that it has "no intention to attack or invade North Korea" with any type of weapons, thereby satisfying North Korea's long-held demand for security assurances. The commitment of the joint effort to normalization of the relations between the U.S./Japan and North Korea is also a part of the comprehensive deal. Were serious efforts made to figure out what Iran really wants? The Beijing agreement was not the end of the issue, but it is a very meaningful development. It harbingers a happy ending for the most terrible scenario.
It is everybody's wish that the Beijing compromise will lead not only to a successful resolution to the North Korean nuclear problem, but also serve as a good reference to Iran's.