The Nork nuke angle

Omri Ceren promises a report on House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Iran yesterday, with attention to the $50 billion signing bonus President Obama has in store for acquiring the signature of the Supreme Leader’s representatives on the arrangement in process with Iran. The $50 billion will come in handy as the Iranians finance their nuclear program and support their good works in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East and around the world. In a side deal, if necessary, we’ll agree to throw in a couple of nuclear devices of the Supreme Leader’s choice to be named later. From a the reigning perspective inside the Obama administration, it’s all in a good cause.

Last night Omri took a break to draw attention to the page-one Wall Street Journal story by Jeremy Page and Jay Solomon reporting “China warns North Korean nuclear threat is rising” (accessible here via Google). In an email message on the story Omri comments:

This has to count as a monster scoop from the WSJ’s Jeremy Page and Jay Solomon. The Chinese – who have notoriously downplayed North Korean nuclear capabilities – are telling U.S. nuclear specialists that the DPRK will have 40 nuclear warheads by the end of 2016 and potentially over 75 by the end of the decade. And DPRK engineers have apparently miniaturized them and can mount them on their KN-08s, which can reach California.

The WSJ write-up is blunt about how the story is likely to affect the Iran debate: “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… “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.”

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.

The WSJ also flagged a broader U.S. hegemony angle – “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” – which is certainly worth reporting out. But the next few weeks on the Hill are going to be about Iran and Corker-Menendez, so that’s where the policy conversation is probably going to go.

I thought that readers who have been following Omri’s email commentary on the arrangement in process with Iran would find this of interest as well.

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