Cliff May

North Korea may be an economic basket case with a GDP that is less than half that of Ethiopia, and with much of the population malnourished and lacking even an electric light to turn on when darkness falls. Most North Koreans enjoy no freedoms or human rights, and an estimated 200,000 are confined to concentration camps. But North Korea has nuclear weapons and missiles, so when Kim Jong Un, its 29-year-old “Supreme Leader” — a status inherited from his father and grandfather before him — issues threats, the United States and other nations listen up.

There are lessons here, and we should assume that among those learning them is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader. In talks last week in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Khamenei’s negotiators offered no serious compromises to the P5+1, which comprises the United States and five other powers.

The credulous, the irrationally optimistic, and the reflexive appeasers refuse to acknowledge that the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism is determined to get its finger on a nuclear trigger. Others understand that Iran’s theocrats will soon have “critical capability” — the means to produce enough weapons-grade uranium or separated plutonium to make a nuke so quickly that neither the International Atomic Energy Agency nor any Western intelligence service would detect it in advance.

During last week’s talks the Iranians told the P5+1 that they want the economic sanctions lifted as part of a “confidence-building” process. What Iran would do to build confidence was left unclear. Iran’s chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, also demanded recognition of Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium.

No such right exists. On the contrary, by installing advanced centrifuges and enriching uranium, Iran has violated multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions requiring that it suspend “all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities.” Iran is in violation of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement as well.

At the end of the latest round of talks, even such dovish Western negotiators as Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, could see no path to progress. The two sides, she said, remain “far apart in substance.” (What else is there? Style?) They could not even agree on a date to resume talks.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.