Washington shifts focus to Iranian nuclear talks

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Washington shifts focus to Iranian nuclear talks

Nuclear talks among the six world powers and Iran have cast a shadow on the prospect that nuclear talks with North Korea will resume, experts have said, as Washington will now be concentrating its diplomatic energy on Tehran and the political resources needed to persuade Congress.

Tuesday was the deadline for talks between negotiators from Iran and the P5+1, a group consisting of the United States, China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain, though no announcement was made on the outline of the agreement that would restrict Iran’s nuclear program in return for lesser sanctions.

Citing progress made, the participating countries extended the deadline.

“The Iran nuclear talks helped spread the mood that a dialogue is also needed to deal with the North’s nuclear program,” said a diplomatic source in Washington. “But when you actually look into the details, it remains to be seen whether conditions are suitable to resume nuclear talks with North Korea.”

Over the past few years, Iran and North Korea have walked similar paths when it comes to their anti-Americanism and nuclear development, though efforts by the international community to halt their nuclear arms programs have had some key differences.

While Iran is talking with the P5+1, Pyongyang’s nuclear program has been discussed via the six-party talks involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States. Those discussions, however, have remained stalled for years.

The Obama administration has to concentrate its energy on persuading Congress on the outcome of the nuclear talks with Iran, so it has no room to deal with North Korea right now, said Joel Wit, a visiting fellow with the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

He added that it was erroneous to believe that talks with Iran would have a positive influence on a possible resumption of the six-party talks.

Robert Gallucci, who negotiated the 1994 Geneva agreement with North Korea, agreed that the Obama administration would have to defend its deal with Iran in front of the Republican-led Congress, which meant talks with Pyongyang would not begin any time soon.

Under the 1994 Agreed Framework, North Korea conceded to freeze and dismantle its nuclear weapons program in return for a non-military reactor and the normalization of ties with the United States. The pact was killed, however, after Pyongyang continued nuclear development that included uranium-based programs and backed out on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 2003.

Until now, the Republicans have pressured the Obama administration on Iran by using North Korea as an example.

In February, Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who is seeking the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential election, criticized Obama’s strategy for Iran, warning that the president was repeating the mistakes that led to a nuclear North Korea.

“I believe we are repeating the same mistakes of the Clinton administration in the 1990s regarding North Korea,” Cruz said.

He also attacked Obama for allowing Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, the former policy coordinator for North Korea under the Clinton administration, to lead negotiations with Iran.

The Obama administration has argued that North Korea is different from Iran and pushed forward talks with Tehran. While Iran had not committed a major breach in the agreement, the North has already abandoned previous pacts and conducted three nuclear tests.

Experts say the Obama administration will probably apply more severe standards on North Korea to resume talks.

But even if nuclear talks with North Korea resume, nuclear centrifuges could still be an obstacle.

If Iran is allowed to operate up to 6,000 centrifuges, the North would likely cite it as a precedent and make a similar demand to the United States, said Victor Cha, senior adviser and Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Iran has installed 18,000 uranium-enrichment centrifuges, and the United States and its Western allies are pressing Tehran to curb the program. International media have also reported that Iran might be allowed to run about 6,000 centrifuges for peaceful purposes.

Meanwhile, North Korea has insisted that it will not join in any talks aimed at ending its nuclear arms program.

According to Voice of America (VOA), a North Korean diplomat at the United Nations said on Tuesday that North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons unless the entire world is denuclearized.

Pyongyang also will not accept any requests to resume six-party talks, he was quoted as saying.

BY CHAE BYUNG-GUN, SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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