Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2015.03.10

Is Appeasing Iran Pleasing North Korea?

JBpress on March 06, 2015

Israeli Prime Minister delivered a speech to the U.S. Congress on March 3, harshly criticizing a potential deal on Iran's nuclear controversy. Unsurprisingly, the Obama administration did not welcome the timing and venue of the speech. Although Japan is not a direct party to the relevant negotiations, this issue is still relevant and not "a fire on the other side of the river."

Giving the speech in Congress was a political piece of art, both domestically and internationally. The collaboration, if not conspiracy, by the GOP of the United States and the Likud Party of Israel against the Obama administration's handling of the Iran nuclear issue is unprecedented.

Why was President Obama so unhappy? Did the Prime Minister say something wrong? Or would the US-promoted nuclear deal, if accepted by Iran, be a historical breakthrough? Let us independently examine what was said and what was not. The following are excerpts from Benjamin Netanyahu's controversial speech on March 3 to the U.S. Congress.

First of all, he said, "I know that my speech has been the subject of much controversy. I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political." Thus, he strongly rejects the criticism of politicization, stating that, "The remarkable alliance between Israel and the United States has always been above politics." This is fine so far, although nobody believes what he said here.

While he appreciated "all that President Obama has done for Israel," he felt "a profound obligation to speak ... about an issue that could well threaten the survival of my country and the future of my people: Iran's quest for nuclear weapons." OK, here comes Netanyahu's favorite issue, a nuclear-armed Iran, while the Obama administration seems to be more concerned about ISIL.

Then he started criticizing Iran not only for spewing "the oldest hatred of anti-Semitism with the newest technology," but also for the danger of its nuclear weapons, because he believes that the "greatest danger facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons." Although it's unfair to link Iran with ISIL, I agree that extremists should not possess nukes.

Finally, the Israeli Prime Minister asserted that "any deal with Iran will include two major concessions to Iran. The first major concession," he said, "would leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure, providing it with a short breakout time to the bomb," because "not a single nuclear facility would be demolished."

In a nut shell, he believes that, "Because Iran's nuclear program would be left largely intact, Iran's breakout time would be very short - about a year by U.S. assessment, even shorter by Israel's," even if "certain restrictions would be imposed on Iran's nuclear program and Iran's adherence to those restrictions would be supervised by international inspectors."

He also referred to the second major concession that, "Iran could get to the bomb by keeping the deal. Because virtually all the restrictions on Iran's nuclear program will automatically expire in about a decade." That is why he considered the deal to be "so bad" and that it's better off to have no deal rather than a bad deal.

The whole story sounds like déjà vu to me because we have experienced similar negotiations and their failed outcomes for the past two decades in North East Asia. The Clinton Administration, back in 1994, told us that "the time is on our side and North Korea will start to decline." As little as a decade later, we found that we had made a critical mistake about Pyongyang in 1994.

Netanyahu said in his speech that, "If the world powers are not prepared to insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal is signed, at the very least they should insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal expires." I can agree with him based on our historical experience. He is right when he said that, "If Iran changes its behavior, the restrictions would be lifted. If Iran doesn't change its behavior, the restrictions should not be lifted."

The issue is not just confined to the uranium enrichment program because Iran also has a significant missile development program which could easily assist North Korea in developing delivery vehicles for their nuclear warheads, which they might be acquiring now. That is the reason why Japan has to be concerned about the outcome of the Iran negotiations.

Old empires with ugly nationalisms are back and seem to be trying to regain their historical spheres of influence. Iran could be one of these nationalistic empires. If President Obama, despite international and congressional criticisms, is determined to go ahead with a bad deal with Iran, the deal would not only be bad for Israel but potentially bad for Japan as well.