Nuclear deal with Iran repeats the mistakes of the failed 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea
The 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea is widely recognized as a failure as it allowed North Korea to keep its nuclear power program as long as it agreed to submit to further inspections. However, as we now know North Korea never intended to abide by the agreement and used the pause to continue its nuclear weapons development in secret. Policy makers should evaluate the lessons from the North Korean agreement so we do not make the same mistake with Iran.
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[CON] The difference between the Libyan and North Korean agreements is instructive. The North Korea deal was highly transactional, not based on a strategic decision by Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions. It later described its position as “freeze for benefits.” On the other hand, while Qadaffi clearly sought a lifting of sanctions, he was denied substantial benefits until disarmament was completed. The Iran deal is much closer to the North Korea model, with little or no evidence that Iran has made a strategic decision to forego nuclear ambitions; indeed, it has fought hard and successfully in the negotiations to preserve as much capability as possible.
History tells a different story. Under the Agreed Framework, signed on October 12, 1994, Pyongyang agreed to freeze its plutonium production program in exchange for an American-led consortium providing ten years’ worth of heavy-oil deliveries and the construction of two electricity-generating light-water nuclear plants. (North Korea hid its real motive for wanting nuclear plants—to gain geopolitical clout—with a purported need for electrical power. Iran uses the same rationale for its nuclear program.)
Although North Korea did freeze its plutonium program in 1994, it simply began pursuing the enrichment of uranium instead. Between 1990 and 1996, the Pakistani government, through the nuclear physicist Abdul Qadeer Khan, supplied North Korea with key data on uranium enrichment in exchange for missile technology. In 2005, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf publicly acknowledged that Khan had provided centrifuges and their designs to North Korea.
In short, North Korea was cheating both before and after the signing of the Agreed Framework. It did so in spite of the copious benefits flowing to the country as a result of South Korea’s Sunshine Policy, through which, from 1998 to 2008, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and his successor, Roh Moo-hyun, pumped approximately $8 billion in economic assistance into North Korea in the hope of improving bilateral relations. Kim Dae-jung even won a Nobel Peace Prize for meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il in 2000—a summit, it was later divulged, that was made possible only through the payment of a $500 million cash bribe to Kim Jong Il.
It takes a willful denial of reality to claim, as Gallucci, Wit, and Delury do, that the United States was at fault for the breakdown in U.S.-North Korean negotiations. A dispassionate reading of the evidence suggests that North Korea was never serious about giving up a nuclear program into which it had invested decades—not to mention billions of dollars—and that it saw as vital to regime protection and internal legitimacy. If North Korea has not developed as many nuclear weapons as U.S. intelligence agencies once feared, that is most likely a side effect of the regime’s dysfunction rather than any lack of desire to acquire more weapons.
The parallels with Iran are not comforting. If Iran is anything like North Korea, it will seek to gain the benefits of a deal—notably, the lifting of sanctions—without truly ending its nuclear program. Keeping Iran in check will require verification procedures more strict than those imposed on North Korea. But there was little sign of such procedures in the framework agreement negotiated in Lausanne. In fact, shortly after the deal was announced, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khameini, said that Iran would never accept unfettered inspection of its military facilities. And even if Iran does eventually accept stricter oversight, the United States will have to commit to holding the country to account instead of simply offering extra concessions in a futile bid to get it to live up to its original promises, as it did with North Korea. Only then will the lessons of the Agreed Framework truly have been learned.
Monitoring Iran's compliance will require on-site IEAE inspections. Obama's deal has more intrusive inspections procedures than the Agreed Framework with North Korea, but that doesn't mean the procedures are sufficient. There will be continuous monitoring of a few declared nuclear sites, but Iran will be able to delay inspections of disputed facilities for at least 24 days, which would give it time to sanitize a site.
The larger problem is that, like North Korea, Iran is a big country: If the government wants to hide something, it will likely succeed. Compliance depends on voluntary cooperation. Perhaps Iran will cooperate, but so far, it has not come clean with the IAEA about 12 existing "areas of concern" regarding the "possible military dimensions" of its nuclear program.
That is not a good sign. It suggests that Iran, like North Korea (or, for that matter, Iraq during the 1990s), is likely to play a game of cat-and-mouse with inspectors — and that if it does cheat, as North Korea did, the world will again discover it is too late to do anything about it.
When the Agreed Framework unraveled, the U.S. cut off some benefits to North Korea while offering fresh incentives for cooperation. South Korea continued to bankroll North Korea until a more conservative government took office in Seoul. Military action wasn't a serious option because war would have been too destructive.
The U.S. won't have any more leverage to compel Iranian compliance than it has had with North Korea. Iran will most likely reap the lion's share of economic benefits — gaining access to more than $100 billion in frozen oil funds — in the next six months. That windfall couldn't be revoked. And military action against Iran would become increasingly risky once the embargo on selling conventional weapons and ballistic missiles to Tehran is lifted.
The author argues that one risk of the nuclear deal with Iran is that it will follow the same experience we had with the failed 1994 Framework Agreement with North Korea: by the time we have detected their cheating on the agreement, we won't have the leverage or capability to do anything about it.
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North Korea was cited again as a failed example of denuclearization efforts on Sunday as Republican opposition grew to a potential nuclear deal the President Barack Obama administration is negotiating with Iran.
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