Iran and North Korea: Dangerous partners in nuclear proliferation
Recall Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States formed a political commitment with Iran in Geneva on July 14, 2015. The third anniversary of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the Iran deal will be mid-July 2018. (The deal was neither a treaty nor signed.)
But now there is a new wrinkle concerning Iran: Tehran is an apparent partner in proliferation with North Korea. Iran can get around the “sunset provision” of refraining from a nuclear weapons breakout for 10 years after the commitment was made among the parties to the 2015 nuclear deal: Tehran would be able to purchase technology or knowledge related to building a nuclear weapon from Pyongyang and breakout far sooner.
Earlier this year, CIA Director Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTillerson: State Dept. ‘not missing a beat’ despite vacancies Trump considering spy network to combat ‘deep state’ enemies: Intercept Five things senators should ask Tom Cotton if he’s nominated to lead the CIA MORE told Fox News:
“As North Korea continues to improve its ability to do longer-range missiles and to put nuclear weapons on those missiles, it is very unlikely, if they get that capability, that they wouldn’t share it with lots of folks, and Iran would certainly be someone who would be willing to pay them for it.”
North Korea and Iran have a history of joint missile development dating back to the 1980s, and both countries have been linked to the same Pakistani nuclear physicist. As CNN reports:
“Iran currently possesses more ballistic missiles than any other country in the Middle East but remains dependent on foreign suppliers for missile development and production.”
What is the Iran nuclear deal? It posed a simple tradeoff: In exchange for Tehran agreeing to limit its nuclear capabilities, economic sanctions would be lifted. But the devil is in the details concerning a role for missiles on the nuclear side and state sponsorship of terrorism on the sanctions relief side. Obama front-loaded sanctions reprieve, so Iran received respite upfront, while compliance is to come later. Obama “trumped” Trump, so to speak.
The nuclear deal aims to extend time for Iran to create the bomb. To make one type takes, among other things, enriched uranium, which is fissile material; actual building and testing the bomb; a trigger mechanism; and a delivery system.
Some say Iran might be 2 to 3 months away from getting the bomb. With the deal, Tehran commits to refrain from pursuing it, and faces obstacles, if Iran seeks to break its commitment and pursues the bomb.
Under the accord, Iran is to abandon 97 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium. It should give up 14,000 of its 20,000 centrifuges, machines used to enrich uranium, and agree to enrich it only to levels unsuitable in weapons for 15 years.
The deal curbs Iranian production of plutonium, another other element that can be used to build the bomb. The accord bans plutonium reactors for 15 years and stipulates Iran must dismantle its current one. If Iran abides by these rules for 10 years, it would take it at least 12 months to build a weapon.
While specific restrictions lapse in 10, 15, or 25 years, the deal binds Iran to permanent measures, committing to refrain from pursuing nuclear weapons and agreeing to notify the IAEA when it decides to build a nuclear facility.
Trump is right to place Tehran on notice. But the accord is just the tip of the iceberg now that North Korea is in the picture.
Opponents of Trump’s approach state:
“As for the problem from Hell in North Korea, (the president) and his National Security Adviser reject the acceptance of mutual deterrence. What then, pray tell, remains on the table? When we are unable to imagine deterrence and diplomacy working, we invite war, and sometimes wage it. On the plus side, the year now receding has produced a Ban Treaty. Kudos are due to its champions.”
The accord aims to extend time for Iran to create the bomb. To make one type takes enriched uranium, which is the fissile material; actual building and testing the Bomb; a trigger mechanism; and a delivery system.
The deal curbs Iranian production of plutonium, another element used to build the Bomb. The accord bans plutonium reactors for 15 years and stipulates Iran must dismantle its current one. If Iran abides by these rules for 10 years, it would take it at least 12 months to build the weapon.
While specific restrictions lapse in 10, 15, or 25 years, the deal binds Iran to permanent measures: Committing not to pursue the bomb and agreeing to notify the IAEA, when it decides to build a nuclear facility.
As an aside, another wrinkle concerns growing capacity of Iran in cyberwarfare. David Ignatius states:
“The Trump administration has declared its desire to help Saudi Arabia and other allies push back against Iran’s proxies across the Middle East, in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere. … (Washington’s) call for rollback is largely rhetoric, at this point; there’s still little clear policy. But Tehran’s allies can fight back, sometimes in ways that are hard to identify or attribute. That’s especially true with cyberweapons.”
Given the breaking news, background, and debate between opponents and supporters, how to proceed, considering evidence in this study?
The Way Forward
First, Trump must remember Tehran is a partner in proliferation with Pyongyang. Break links between them by pressuring both. If Pyongyang partners with Tehran they are stronger, and Beijing’s as well as Washington’s sanctions will have little effect.
Second Trump must make sure his National Security Council staff is familiar with pros and cons of the deal, for them to defend the administration’s position on the Hill.
Third, today is Trump time. Trump’s day has come to crack down on both partners in proliferation, with coercive diplomacy, that risks yet minimizes the need for war.
Prof. Raymond Tanter (@AmericanCHR) served as a senior member on the Middle East Desk of the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration, Personal Representative of the Secretary of Defense to international security and arms control talks in Europe, and is now Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan.