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Experts: Iran Deal Has Limited Impact on North Korea

A South Korean man watches a TV news program showing the file footage of the missile launch conducted by North Korea, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, March 13, 2015.

Iran’s nuclear deal is likely to have a limited impact on the North Korean nuclear issue, U.S. experts say.

After nearly two years of intensive negotiations, Iran and world powers led by the United States have reached an agreement that would limit Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons in return for a lifting of international sanctions.

The Iranian deal makes North Korea the only country that is at odds with the United States over its nuclear development.

The United States and North Korea are engaged in a standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. Diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue have been sluggish, with multistate talks over the issue stalled since late 2008. The North is known to have conducted nuclear tests three times and expanded its nuclear capabilities.

Dim Outlook

Experts predict the Iranian agreement will not improve prospects for a new breakthrough in the nuclear standoff between the United States and North Korea, saying the two cases are different in many aspects.

Stephan Haggard, a professor at the University of California-San Diego who has written extensively on North Korea, said Pyongyang is not likely to take the Iranian deal positively.

“I don’t think that the Iran deal will have an influence on North Korea one way or the other, and it could be negative. The deal establishes a quite invasive inspections regime on Iran in return for a lifting of sanctions. North Korea could see this element of the deal as negative,” said Haggard.

He added that international sanctions have a limited impact on North Korea, unlike Iran, which is vulnerable to sanctions because its economy is highly dependent on the export of oil.

“North Korea does not appear to be suffering under sanctions to the same extent that Iran was, given its political economy, and with trade with China high and protected, I don’t see it experiencing similar pressures,” said Haggard.

Gordon Chang, an author and Asia specialist, said Pyongyang sees little incentive for engaging Washington at this time.

“I think that the regime in Pyongyang is thinking why they should talk to us, because they’ve got everything that they want — they have the bomb, they have long-range missiles. They don’t really need to talk to us,” said Chang.

Despite the low prospects, some say the Iranian deal would draw renewed attention to the North Korean nuclear issue.

“Over the mid- to longer term, if the [Iranian] agreement is successfully implemented, I think, the U.S. new administration and the international community are likely to focus even more on North Korea,” said David Straub, a former State Department official who dealt with North Korea.

Bruce Bechtol, a professor at Angelo State University in Texas, offered a similar opinion.

“I think there is certainly a possibility that the United States would try to take advantage of this new 'breakthrough' with Iran to try and restart talks with North Korea,” said Bechtol.

Message Sent

Mitchell Reiss, former director of policy planning at the State Department, said the Iranian agreements could send a signal to Pyongyang that a nuclear deal with Washington is still possible.

“I think it sends a message to those elements in the North Korean regime who are interested in reaching a nuclear agreement with the United States, because it shows that even though it is very difficult and time-consuming, it is possible,” Reiss said.

The United States said the Iranian deal demonstrates Washington’s willingness to “engage countries with whom the United States had long-standing differences.”

“We are prepared for negotiations, provided that they are authentic and credible, get at the entirety of the North’s nuclear program, and result in concrete and irreversible steps toward denuclearization,” said John Kirby, spokesman for the State Department.

In Seoul, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry welcomed the Iranian agreement and called for the North’s denuclearization.

“The ROK government urges North Korea to promptly take steps toward denuclearization under U.N. Security Council resolutions and the September 19 Joint Statement,” said the ministry, in reference to a 2005 nuclear deal.