North Korea & Iran Nuclear Deals Compared

April 29, 2015
Differences outweigh similarities in comparing the blueprint for a nuclear deal with Iran and the 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea, according to George Perkovich, Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The 1994 Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea (DPRK) failed to end Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. But an Iran deal, if completed, would have the backing of the world’s six major powers and “contain much stronger elements to deter cheating and more meaningful incentives to motivate compliance than the Agreed Framework did,” argues Perkovich. The following are key excerpts from his latest analysis, “Why the Iran Nuclear Deal Is Not the North Korea Deal.”
Nuclear Text and Context
Difference: Iran does not yet have sufficient fissile material for one or more nuclear weapons.
Before the Agreed Framework was completed in October 1994, the DPRK was estimated to have already produced more than enough plutonium for one nuclear weapon. By contrast, neither the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nor any intelligence agency has offered evidence that Iran has acquired enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.
Difference: The proposed deal with Iran explicitly addresses all pathways to the bomb.
The Agreed Framework focused specifically on the DPRK’s plutonium program. … As it turned out, the DPRK secretly imported uranium enrichment technology from Pakistan and developed a parallel route for acquiring weapons-usable fissile material.
The proposed agreement with Iran explicitly covers both the uranium and plutonium pathways to acquiring nuclear weapons, and includes extensive measures to verify that declared and undeclared pathways would be blocked.
Difference: A comprehensive agreement with Iran will be extensively detailed.
The Agreed Framework was only four pages long and omitted many important details. It specified three steps that the two sides would take to “move toward full normalization of political and economic relations” and was relatively vague in describing them. …
The parties negotiating a comprehensive agreement with Iran envision a much more focused and detailed document that does not call for full normalization. These details will address not only the parameters of activities that Iran may and may not undertake but also verification, dispute handling, and consequences of nonperformance. This should bolster all parties’ confidence that everyone knows what is required of them, that failures to fulfill terms will be detected quickly, that ambiguous behavior will be addressed through agreed procedures, and that nonfulfillment of terms will have consequences. All of this creates incentives for all parties not to renege.
Similarity: The proposed deal with Iran will reward bad behavior.
Like North Korea, Iran was caught violating its safeguards obligations under the NPT. And, as with North Korea, Iran from 2003 onward steadfastly resisted efforts by the IAEA, by Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, and, eventually, by the UN Security Council to compel it to just comply with its NPT obligations and successive IAEA and UN Security Council resolutions. Therefore, the compliance framework gradually gave way to a negotiation framework in which Iran is offered benefits in return for agreeing to take measures to build international confidence that it will not acquire nuclear weapons and will provide the information the IAEA needs to conclude that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful. As a result, under the reported terms of a prospective comprehensive agreement, Iran will retain a uranium enrichment program that can be seen as a reward for bad behavior.
Monitoring and Verification
Difference: The verification that is envisioned with Iran would be extensive in its scope and intensity.
The Agreed Framework contained no specific verification procedures beyond saying that the DPRK would “provide full cooperation” in allowing the IAEA “to monitor” the freeze on activities related to the DPRK’s graphite-moderated reactor, and that “before delivery of key nuclear components” of the replacement light-water reactors, the DPRK would “come into full compliance with its Safeguards Agreement.”
The proposed arrangement with Iran would allow international monitoring of Iran’s uranium enrichment activities from cradle to grave, as it were. The IAEA would verify activities at uranium mines and mills, all facilities involved in producing and storing centrifuge rotors, and all centrifuge assembly facilities. …
The United States has also said that Iran would establish and allow the monitoring of a dedicated procurement channel for “the supply, sale, or transfer to Iran of certain nuclear-related and dual use materials and technology.” …
Difference: Iran would be subjected to greatly enhanced U.S. intelligence capabilities, including cyberintelligence and overhead.
Basic technical capabilities to detect violations of commitments like those Iran would make under a comprehensive nuclear deal have improved significantly since 1994. This augments the deterrence of cheating, including by heightening the probability that such cheating could be detected in time to allow military interdiction.
Similarity: Iran will resist providing the IAEA with the transparency and cooperation sufficient to answer questions about past nuclear activities.
The IAEA is determined to gain Iranian cooperation in providing transparency and information necessary to assess past Iranian activities with possible military dimensions. The agency needs to resolve questions about these past activities to reach a conclusion that there are no undeclared nuclear activities in Iran and that the country’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful. Without this broader conclusion, the agency cannot say that Iran has returned to good standing. Moreover, an understanding of what Iran did in the past will inform efforts to monitor and verify that its future activities are declared and wholly peaceful. …
Deterrent Factors
Difference: A final agreement with Iran would presumably be codified in a UN Security Council resolution.
As a bilateral agreement, the Agreed Framework was not an undertaking of the UN Security Council.
A comprehensive agreement with Iran would be codified in a legally binding UN Security Council resolution, the violation of which would, among other things, be a threat to international peace and security. This increases the risks that Iran would face in violating the agreement. Unlike existing Security Council resolutions that Tehran says were illegally imposed on it by others, Iran would be consenting to a resolution that endorses a nuclear agreement.
Difference: The P5+1 are unified in wanting to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and have worked in harness to achieve this outcome diplomatically.
The negotiations that produced the 1994 Agreed Framework were conducted by the United States and the DPRK alone. The other permanent members of the UN Security Council were not invested in it and in its enforcement.
Difference: In response to a U.S. military attack, Iran could not immediately cause massive military destruction of major cities in countries that are U.S. partners.
The DPRK had massive artillery capabilities that could gravely damage Seoul in the event of a U.S. military attack on North Korean nuclear facilities. To be sure, Iran could sustain asymmetric warfare in many locations for a long time, which gives it some means of deterring a military attack against its nuclear facilities. But Iran lacks conventional military means to retaliate effectively and massively against Gulf Cooperation Council states and Israel, or against U.S. forces in the region. This further augments deterrence of an Iranian race to nuclear weapons, either by cheating on an agreement or after it expires.
Difference: Iranian leaders fear nuclear proliferation by their neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia, and believe that if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, it would greatly enhance the probability that Saudi Arabia would follow suit, perhaps with U.S. complicity.
The DPRK did not have such concerns. The U.S. nuclear guarantees that were extended to South Korea and Japan mitigated the risks that these states would seek their own nuclear weapons in response to the DPRK.
Incentives to Cooperate
Difference: Iran will not be required to roll back all of the capability it has acquired to produce and separate plutonium.
The Agreed Framework’s specific measures and general aim were to render the DPRK without capabilities that could be mobilized to produce nuclear weapons.
Seen from a technical nonproliferation angle, the key difference is that the proposed arrangement with Iran would leave it with more potential to produce nuclear weapons than the Agreed Framework was supposed to leave the DPRK.
Difference: Iran does not need nuclear weapons to guarantee its government’s survival or to compel economic payoffs.
The DPRK’s relative weakness compared with all its neighbors left its leaders feeling they had no better option than nuclear weapons to deter potential coercion and aggression against the country.
Iran, meanwhile, is the most populous country in its region and embodies a proud, accomplished civilization, endowed with significant natural and educated human resources. ...
Difference: Iran is not as autarkic as the DPRK was and is, so sanctions have a major impact on it.
In terms of economics, Iran’s illicit nuclear program has been a major problem rather than a solution. Iranian businesses and citizens feel that sanctions have hurt the country enormously. ...
Difference: Much of the Iranian population knows the West and wants more integration with it.
Iran’s young, urban population is modern and relatively well educated, often with direct or indirect knowledge of the Western world, unlike the population of the DPRK. ... This is a significant constituency that would be mobilized if the government acted in ways that caused any sanctions that had been lifted to be reimposed, for example by cheating on a nuclear deal.
Difference: Representatives of an elected government are conducting the negotiations for Iran and are part of the policy-shaping process.
Regime Characteristics
Similarity: The most important decisionmaker in Iran is an internationally isolated, ideological man who believes the United States seeks the overthrow of his government
Like Kim Jong-il in the DPRK in the mid-1990s, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Iran is the supreme leader. He has not left Iranian soil since 1989 and has little personal knowledge of the outside world. Like Kim Jong-il did, he projects a singular revolutionary ideology that narrates his government’s unique place and mission in the world. ...
Similarity: The government of Iran does and will continue to do condemnable things.
Iran, while different from the DPRK in many positive ways, also continues to act contrary at least to Western norms, threatening the interests of its own people and its neighbors as well as the broader international community. ...
Other Challenges to Implementation
Difference: Key U.S. partners in the Middle East fear a nuclear deal and eventual normalization of relations between the United States and Iran.
Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other Arab states express wariness of a possible nuclear deal with Iran for several reasons. Most obviously, they note that Iran will be left with significant capabilities to enrich uranium—capabilities that could be mobilized to produce nuclear weapons in violation of the proposed agreement and the NPT. …
Similarity: Implementation of a comprehensive nuclear arrangement with Iran will require at least passive cooperation by the U.S. Congress.
The Agreed Framework with the DPRK was an executive agreement, not a treaty. As such, and like thousands of other such agreements made by U.S. administrations since 1939, it was not presented to the U.S. Senate for ratification. …
The prospective nuclear agreement with Iran also will not take the form of a treaty. But it will entail commitments by the United States to suspend sanctions on Iran, which the U.S. Congress can impede. ...
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