Is North Korea next?

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Is North Korea next?

The 12-year standoff over Iran’s nuclear program may finally be over. Iran and six world powers agreed to the framework of a deal to curtail Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Technicalities remain before finalizing the deal by a deadline at the end of June, but most of the stumbling blocks have been surmounted. U.S. President Barack Obama lauded the agreement as a “historic understanding.” It could set a milestone in the global campaign against nuclear nonproliferation.

Ever since an anti-government organization in Iran divulged that Tehran was secretly running a uranium enrichment facility for military purposes in August 2008, Iran’s nuclear program has been a festering problem for the international community. Iran and Israel have been on the brink of military conflict as Israel remains convinced that the program is for clandestine weapons development, while Iran claims it is for peaceful use. The possibility of reaching a deal arose after a moderate leader, Hassan Rouhani, was elected to the presidency and
U.S. president Obama reached out to him.

Under the deal, Iran will freeze its nuclear capabilities in return for the lifting of international sanctions. Tehran will have to neutralize most of its enrichment stockpiles and close down facilities, measures that would increase the “breakout time” to produce weapons-grade uranium from a current two to three months to at least one year, which would give foreign watchdogs enough time to intervene to stop any suspicious activities. Iran would be able to continue limited enrichment activities for research, maintaining its “right to pursue civil nuclear power.” The country was able to save face.

The remaining nuclear challenge is North Korea. Obama could have a diplomatic trifecta if he can solve the North Korean nuclear crisis after normalizing relations with Cuba and settling the Iran nuclear problem. The Iranian case is hardly over. Obama must persuade the Republicans dominating Congress to give a U.S. endorsement to the final deal. North Korea’s nuclear issue is different from Iran’s. Pyongyang has broken out of the Nonproliferation Treaty and conducted three nuclear tests already. It defines itself as a nuclear power in its constitution. It is too risky for Washington to put faith in Pyongyang on seeing through a deal. Just because Iran’s case has been settled, the bottleneck in the North Korean nuclear issue won’t go away suddenly.

But we must build momentum. The U.S., China, and Russia are members of the six-party talks to address North Korean issues. Seoul must work on them to reactivate them.

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