SecState John Kerry has put his foot in his mouth, again: Reuters reports on some recent comments he made in Seoul about the weapons programs in North Korea, where negotiations have failed to keep a lid on the country’s nuclear development. Kerry suggested a deal with Iran could change that:
“I think never has the international community been as united as we are now, that, number one North Korea needs to denuclearize,” Kerry said, adding a pending nuclear deal with Iran could serve as an example to the North.
Secretary Kerry is right that there are analogous features between the two countries that may make negotiations with one a lesson for the other. Both countries, after all, are rogue, despotic states that work hard to foster a hatred of America in their subjects even as they sponsor terrorism, and each consistently commits crimes against humanity. But somehow, Kerry has managed to get both the order and the argument completely backwards.
It is North Korea that should serve as a warning to Kerry about Iran, not the other way around. In 2005, more than a decade of negotiations with Pyongyang ended in failure and a year later geologists recorded the seismic activity of the North’s first underground nuclear test. Pyongyang is now said to have at least ten nuclear weapons, likely including some sufficiently miniaturized to fit on a warhead. This example shows exactly why we cannot assume that powers we negotiate with will act in good faith, rather than use the process itself to buy time and sanctions relief. Indeed, the fact that the U.S. and the international community have never really been able to stop a state from going nuclear—think the Soviet Union, Pakistan, or China—should be a reminder about how hard it is to control proliferation.
One truly hopes that Kerry is just playing politics here, and doing so poorly. If he really believes what he says, that the way this administration has handled Iran has been such an impressive story of success as to be a model for future denuclearization efforts, he’s lost touch with reality.