For those who are following the latest in the U.S.-North Korea saga, it is clear that the U.S. has its attention fully focused on this Korean dictatorship. Reports have also surfaced that North Korea has mastered a key component to making a nuclear missile. President Trump has indicated that the U.S. is ready to counter any aggression on the part of North Korea, but in the meantime, experts warn that eyes should not waver from Iran.
The Iranian regime could benefit greatly from the North Korean advances, simply because of their economic relationship, which has allowed Iran to give the North Koreans much needed cash in exchange for their military knowledge and expertise.
If North Korea gets away with building a nuclear weapon, in spite of the protests of the U.S. and the international community, then Iran will try to do the same.
“It’s a human and emotional response, but also logical,” said Matt Levitt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The relationship between these two countries began in the 1980s, during the Iran-Iraq war. Iran sold oil to North Korea to raise cash for military supplies and the mutually beneficial relationship was born. Although each of these dictatorships runs on their own ideologies, there appears to be some benefits to maintaining a military friendship of sorts.
While North Korea has a basically closed economy, however, Iran’s is still open to the international community, at least to some degree. The result is that North Korea only has knowledge to trade with Iran, whereas Iran can provide fuel to North Korea. Traditional trading partners they may not be, but what they are both united on is defiance of the United States.
In an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box” last week, Michael O’Hanlon, a Brookings Institution specialist in defense strategy, warned that Iran is watching what’s happening on the Korean Peninsula closely and using it as a test. He asked rhetorically, “What lessons will Iran draw if North Korea gets away with not only getting a bomb, but building up continuously with China and Russia tolerating it?”
Others warn that without strict enforcement of the nuclear agreement with Iran, including inspections, the international community could find itself in a situation similar to the one it is facing in North Korea. They note that North Korea was not under a heavy inspection regime, and they have made significant gains that the world was unable to stop with just sanctions.
The reality is that sanctions are not a strategy, but that the United States needs to remain focused on both of these hot spots, not allowing one to gain all the focus. This could leave space for Iran to grow its nuclear program while eyes are on North Korea.