The parallels are striking.
In 1994, the Clinton administration signed a deal that it claimed would stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. The deal was negotiated by Wendy Sherman, the same Democratic party hack who is now in charge of the Iran file. North Korea abrogated the agreement when it felt able to do so, and has gone on to test nuclear weapons. Iran has participated in North Korea’s nuclear tests.
Now, the Wall Street Journal reports that China, which is not known for being alarmist, says that North Korea will have 40 nuclear weapons – double the number it has now – by 2016 and 75 by the end of the decade.
China’s top nuclear experts have increased their estimates of North Korea’s nuclear weapons production well beyond most previous U.S. figures, suggesting Pyongyang can make enough warheads to threaten regional security for the U.S. and its allies.
The latest Chinese estimates, relayed in a closed-door meeting with U.S. nuclear specialists, showed that North Korea may already have 20 warheads, as well as the capability of producing enough weapons-grade uranium to double its arsenal by next year, according to people briefed on the matter.
A well-stocked nuclear armory in North Korea ramps up security fears in Japan and South Korea, neighboring U.S. allies that could seek their own nuclear weapons in defense. Washington has mutual defense treaties with Seoul and Tokyo, which mean an attack on South Korea or Japan is regarded as an attack on the U.S.
“I’m concerned that by 20, they actually have a nuclear arsenal,” said Siegfried Hecker, a Stanford University professor and former head of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, who attended the closed-door meeting in February. “The more they believe they have a fully functional nuclear arsenal and deterrent, the more difficult it’s going to be to walk them back from that.”
Chinese experts now believe North Korea has a greater domestic capacity to enrich uranium than previously thought, Mr. Hecker said.
The Chinese estimates reflect growing concern in Beijing over North Korea’s weapons program and what they see as U.S. inaction while President Barack Obama focuses on a nuclear deal with Iran.
In Washington, some Republican lawmakers said the pending White House deal with Iran could mirror the 1994 nuclear agreement the Clinton administration made with North Korea. The deal was intended to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons capabilities, but instead, they allege, provided diplomatic cover to expand them. North Korea tested its first nuclear device in 2006.
“We saw how North Korea was able to game this whole process,” U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an interview. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Iran had its hands on the same playbook.”
The pace of North Korea’s nuclear arms growth depends on its warhead designs and its uranium-enrichment capacity, Mr. Royce said: “We know they have one factory; we don’t know if they have another one.”
China, which is North Korea’s largest investor, aid donor and trade partner, has for most of the past decade underestimated Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities, nuclear experts said, including its capacity to produce fissile material.
Estimates of North Korea’s capabilities by Chinese experts began to align with those in the U.S. after 2010, and moved beyond after 2013, according to people familiar with exchanges on the matter between China and the U.S.
Until recently, the Chinese “had a pretty low opinion of what the North Koreans could do,” said David Albright, an expert on North Korea’s nuclear weapons and head of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington. “I think they’re worried now.”
China’s foreign and defense ministries didn’t respond to requests for comment. Diplomats at North Korea’s mission to the United Nations didn’t respond to attempts to seek comment. The White House, State Department and Pentagon declined to provide U.S. estimates of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.
“We have been and remain concerned about North Korea’s nuclear program and believe China should continue to use its influence to curtail North Korea’s provocative actions,” said Patrick Ventrell, a spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council.
He said the U.S. was working with other countries to implement U.N. sanctions designed to press North Korea “to return to credible and authentic denuclearization talks and to take concrete steps to denuclearize.”
After all, that’s worked so well until now. /sarc
In an email, the Israel Project’s Omri Ceren breaks it down into politics and policy implications.
Politics — why it will matter: The parallels write themselves. The Agreed Framework was negotiated by Wendy Sherman and the Iran deal is being negotiated by Wendy Sherman. The Agreed framework lasted a decade and the Iran deal is slated to last a decade. The Agreed Framework relied on IAEA verification and the Iran deal relies on IAEA verification. And now the North Koreans have a full-blown nuclear arsenal, which the Americans don’t even know about (“U.S. officials didn’t attend the meeting but some expressed surprise when they were later briefed on the details”). It’s a disaster on any number of levels.
Policy — why it should matter even more: the Iran deal will flood the Islamic Republic with hundreds of billions of dollars, potentially including the $50 billion signing bonus. But in every meaningful sense, the North Korean nuclear program is an Iranian nuclear program, albeit beyond Iran’s territorial borders. The Iranians pay for the program. The Iranians receive knowledge and technology from the program. The Iranians are on hand to observe every major nuclear and missile test. Etc. Seen in this light, the nuclear deal with Iran will become a multi-billion dollar jobs program for North Korean nuclear engineers, who will use the money to create and miniaturize more nuclear warheads, which they will then give back to Tehran. The deal doesn’t stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program. It finances the program.
What could possibly go wrong…?
Iranian nuclear development is related to that of North Korean and in fact is identical to it. North Korean nuclear development is based on the Japanese program during World War II which was carried out in what is now called North Korea,because the Soviets occupied Manchuria after Japan surrendered. There are rumors that Japan was able to run a nuclear charge had it not been fully occupied by the US. North Korea was born with a military nuclear capability.