It didn’t take long for the optimistic story about Iran’s nuclear program in yesterday’s New York Times to turn sour. The paper reported on Wednesday that talks were resuming between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran about resuming inspections of the Islamist regime’s nuclear facilities had resumed. It also noted the report in an Iranian news agency about Tehran diverting its efforts from a bomb to research, a development that might cause the West to treat the issue with less urgency. But, less than 24 hours later, the IAEA announced the talks with Iran had failed and that the United Nations watchdog was still unable to inspect the Parchin site where it suspects military applications of the project including nuclear triggers are being constructed. That means the Iranians are free to go on pushing toward their goal without any annoying inspectors forcing them to hide their work.
This is the sort of development that should cause the Obama administration to drop the air of complacency about the other nuclear talks being held with Iran by the P5+1 group whose goal is to talk the regime out of its nuclear weapons dream. The Iranians have already used those talks to stall the West for over a year and there is nothing to indicate that they view the next round of discussions as anything but another opportunity to buy more time until their bomb is ready.
If that isn’t scary enough, as Lee Smith writes today in Tablet, there is yet another reason to believe that the belated sanctions imposed by the West won’t be enough to stop Iran: North Korea.
As Smith notes, the nuclear test conducted by the North Koreans is more than a threat to South Korea, Japan and the rest of the Far East. Given the close ties between Pyongyang and Tehran, it could be, as one U.S. government told the Times earlier this week that “the North Koreans are testing for two countries.”
Smith makes a strong case for belief that Iran already has access to the North Korean nuclear program and that if they were able to pay for that, there’s no reason why they won’t be able to buy a bomb. Despite the problems the sanctions have imposed on Iran, they still have more than enough cash, oil and other commodities to pay a poverty-stricken and isolated North Korean regime anything they want in exchange for what they need. The fact that this is the third such North Korean test has conducted also raises suspicions that what they are doing is at Iran’s behest rather than for their own nuclear ambitions.
Given the secretive nature of both North Korean and Iranian society, there is much that we don’t know about what either country is up to. But informed speculation about the history of cooperation between the two regimes is pointing toward the North Koreans assisting the Iranian effort to match their success in creating a bomb despite the determination of the international community to prevent them from doing so.
The North Korean precedent by which a rogue regime gulled the United States into thinking they would abide by agreements to stop their nuclear program already was a strong argument against the sort of compromise that the European Union has been pushing for in the P5+1 talks. But if the North Koreans are actively aiding the Iranian effort, the mindset in Washington that there is plenty of time to wait and negotiate before a red line is crossed by Tehran may turn out to be terribly wrong.
The notion that President Obama’s implied threat of the use of force against Iran would be enough to convince the ayatollahs to give up was always something of a fantasy. But when you combine Iran’s progress with the help the North Koreans may be providing them, the scenario starts looking very grim. If, as Smith rightly notes, the president owes the Israelis an apology for working so hard to restrain them from forestalling the Iranian threat, that will be cold comfort for a world that has become a lot more dangerous on his watch.