Analysis & Opinions - The Bangkok Post

Synchronising Policies towards Pyongyang and Teheran

| July 07, 2006

While Iran is still delaying response to an international offer to halt its nuclear programme, North Korea upped its ante again by alleging to test-fire a long-range missile. Pyongyang and Teheran are alternately snatching world attention in this high-stakes nuclear competition.

One viable solution to end the standoff with those two perceived dangerous proliferators is to synchronise policies towards them.

Leaders in Pyongyang and Teheran are carefully watching the US policy towards each of their countries. The incentives offered to Iran recently prompted North Korea to invite the US chief envoy of the stalled six-party talks, Christopher Hill, to visit Pyongyang but was rejected.

Threatening a missile test is just the hint of another invitation. Pyongyang and Teheran are drawing upon each other's strategies and lessons, and they are judging how the international community plans to deal with them.

Therefore, the only way to curb their nuclear ambitions is to synchronise policies towards them.

Failure to deal with Pyongyang and Teheran as a package will only lead to further collapse of the non-proliferation regime.

Washington, which is in direct confrontation with each country, needs to maintain a consistent approach toward the two. US leaders should first of all develop the best practices on both cases.

The agreement on a peaceful denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula last September is a welcome development and bears useful lessons for resolving the Iran issue, which has yet to reach the first crucial stage of reaching a principle agreement on denuclearisation.

In the subsequent substantive negotiations, the gives and takes should be carefully weighed, compared and balanced in the two cases.

In addition, China's role as a mediator in both cases merits more recognition and should be brought into fuller play.

China's perceived fair and flexible manner in both negotiations made it a viable intermediary to mitigate the crisis and broker solutions.

Washington needs to recognise China as a partner on non-proliferation issues. No nuke, no nuke test, no missile test-firing has been the consistent message that China has conveyed to Pyongyang . By showing enough trustfulness, Washington could encourage China to prevent Pyongyang from sliding further down the road and even initiate a road map to solve the problem.

And on the Iran issue, China could remain a middleman for both parties in the tug-of-war.

Washington should also avoid over-using the threat of UN Security Council sanctions on both countries. This is more likely a dead end, given the position of China and Russia not to provoke them unnecessarily. Nor should Washington overflag the military option as the card that has never been taken off the table. The most realistic and practical option is to go back to serious negotiations.

Their intentions may be different—North Korea seeking regime survival and Iran seeking regional security and playing geopolitics—but the same approach and tactics of negations should be applied to both. Only synchronised policies can prevent North Korea and Iran from embracing further an alliance of proliferators.

Anne Wu is a fellow at the Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Wu, Xiaohui (Anne).“Synchronising Policies towards Pyongyang and Teheran.” The Bangkok Post, July 7, 2006.

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