The conclusion of a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program this week has raised hopes it might lead to a breakthrough in stalled negotiations on denuclearizing North Korea.
From a realistic view, however, there can be little expectation that the accord between Tehran and six world powers, including the U.S., will have any significant implications for the North Korean nuclear issue.
The fundamental difference between Iran and North Korea is that the former regards its nuclear program as an option, not a prerequisite for securing its regime but the latter believes its weapons capabilities are vital to regime survival. Pyongyang has piled up a substantial nuclear arsenal while Tehran has a way to go before building a bomb.
After the announcement of the Iranian deal, a U.S. State Department spokesman said Washington was prepared for “authentic and credible” negotiations with North Korea, which would result in concrete and irreversible steps toward its denuclearization.
As many experts note, Pyongyang can hardly be expected to negotiate away its nuclear programs. Its strategy is unlikely to be affected by the Iranian deal when it has managed to build up a nuclear arsenal while making some economic improvements.
The U.S. administration is also set to be preoccupied with getting congressional approval for the accord signed with Iran after 12 years of negotiations. Opponents to the pact, which freezes the Islamic nation’s nuclear activities rather than eliminating its ability to build a bomb, will recall the failure in dealing with the North.
The U.S. has remained firm on its stance that Pyongyang should show sincerity toward denuclearization before the resumption of negotiations with the regime, which has reneged on its earlier promises.
Under these circumstances, South Korea needs to assume a leading role in working out a strategy for inducing changes in the North’s course of action.
Seoul should step up coordination with the U.S., China and other neighboring powers to get Pyongyang to recognize its policy of developing nuclear programs and the economy in parallel will be unviable. It may be necessary to take a more gradual approach to resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. The successful result from the Iranian deal, which will have to stand the test of time, may help push the North out of its isolation.