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[Newsmaker] Can Iranian nuke talks affect N.K. issue?

North Korea may be closely watching the ongoing nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West as it explores the most beneficial way to gain concessions from the U.S. and other parties, analysts said Wednesday.

Some observers argue that the talks involving the Islamic republic could help forge the mood for the resumption of the long-stalled talks over Pyongyang’s nuclear program. But others say the Iranian talks may not be helpful to resolve the North Korean issue.

“The Iranian nuclear talks may not be that helpful to facilitate the North’s complete dismantlement of its nukes given that the West has moved toward recognizing parts of Iran’s uranium enrichment activities and has eased its sanctions for the negotiations,” said Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University.

“Carefully looking at the Iranian nuclear talks, the North could seek the suspension of sanctions and the right to continue to enrich uranium (to the extent that it can’t be weapons-grade), in return for resuming its negotiations.”

After failing to reach a deal over the Iranian issue before the Monday night deadline, Iran and the so-called P5+1 countries ― the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany ― have set March 1, 2015, as the new deadline for a political agreement. It also set July 1 as a deadline for a final deal including annexes.

The two sides still remain poles apart on how and when to lift sanctions. Iran wants the West to lift banking sanctions and other punitive measures right away, while the West insists on a step-by-step removal of sanctions to ensure that Iran sticks to its denuclearization commitments.

Should there be a breakthrough in the negotiations with Iran, calls within the Obama administration to resume the talks with the North and seeking an agreement with it could grow, analysts noted.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (AFP)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (AFP)

Pointing to the recent agreement between the North and Russia to work together for the “unconditional” resumption of the talks, some observers argue that the North may once again attempt to use the multilateral aid-for-denuclearization talks to gain political and economic concessions from the major powers.

The North’s state Korean Central News Agency reported earlier this week that during a visit to Russia by Choe Ryong-hae, a secretary of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, the two sides agreed on the unconditional resumption of the talks that involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia. The talks have been stalled since late 2008.

“I think the North might be emboldened with Russia’s backing for the resumption of the six-party talks. So regardless of the results of the Iranian nuclear talks, it will push for its own way,” said Kim Yeoul-soo, a political science professor at Sungshin Women’s University.

Kim stressed that regardless of the results of negotiations, the North will not give up its nuclear program.

“For Pyongyang, the nuclear program is for its regime survival. It would never give up its nuclear arms in any way, and the six-party talks are just a means in the end to prop up its nuclear capabilities,” he said.

“Look what has happened over the two decades of efforts to denuclearize the North. The country now argues that it has diversified, increased, lightened and miniaturized its nuclear warheads. It will never renounce its nuclear arsenal.”

Some argue that the Ukraine case may further solidify the North’s will to stick to its nuclear program. With the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, Ukraine voluntarily gave up its nuclear arms in exchange for its territorial integrity and sovereignty. But Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula, which might have shown the North what could happen after abandoning nuclear arms.

But Chang pointed out that the Ukraine case is not pertinent to the North Korean case.

“Ukraine, at the time, did not have the basic capacity ― in terms of the economy and other factors ― to maintain its nuclear arsenal and thus, it gave up the nuclear arms that it inherited from the former Soviet Union,” he said.

“So, it is irrelevant to link the Ukraine case to that of the North. The North developed the nuclear program by itself and is capable of maintaining it.”

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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