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Iran, North Korea, China and Russia By Dr. Sridhar Krishnaswami

C3S  Fortnightly Column No. F006 /2015

There is a lot of news coming out of North Korea these days, the first and foremost perhaps of the revival of the “pleasure troupes” now that the three year mourning period of Kim Jong Un’s father is over. Apparently orders have been served for the re-start of recruiting girls as young as thirteen to serve Kim Jong Un and his elite entourage. The present leader in Pyongyang is not starting anything new, merely continuing a tradition that has seen its days since the time of his grand father. Naturally terrified parents in that cultist state have no option but to go along with the cruel practice.

North Korea in the last few days has been firing off missiles at the shores of South Korea and Japan—again not an uncommon policy given what Pyongyang has excelled at in the last several decades. And to make matters worse, the reclusive Stalinist state has been mouthing every now and then it is getting ready for yet another nuclear test knowing full well that this will undoubtedly bring about new tensions in the region besides the West looking over to slap with “left over” sanctions.

But the real news from the Korean peninsula should be something very different—the impact of the Iranian nuclear deal, if one may say so, on North Korea and the extent to which China is going to start the business of bringing back to life the stalled six party talks that stumbled some seven years ago. But here is the key difference between Tehran and Pyongyang: the leadership in Iran was looking at ways to undo the economic damage that has been brought on by the sanctions of the West; but the stubborn North Korean leadership will refuse to buckle even if it means that the entire country is gripped in famine which is what the situation now is to a large extent.

Teheran and Pyongyang have long been in the clandestine nuclear and missile business and deals with or without Pakistan and Dr. A.Q. Khan. It is generally argued by specialists that aside from the fact that North Korean expertise and labour is at Iran’s nuclear facilities the two countries have had a long cooperation on missiles—Iran helping North Korea with fine tuning long range missiles with North Korea returning the favour in short and medium range missiles. And if Iran has been harping on its desire to go after nuclear energy for “peaceful purposes”, North Korea has been blunt and straight forward with its objective—only for warheads!

Nuclear specialists in the United States see no parallels between the so-called Iranian deal with that of North Korea for the simple reason that Pyongyang refuses to see the positive fallouts from an agreement of sorts. In one sense then an argument can be made that North Korea would not really mind to be as the only “odd” person out in this nuclear game; but the larger question to be posed is if China and Russia—both key players in Iran—would want to lose an opportunity in reigning in Kim Jong Un.

China has the economic cards to be played against North Korea—large amounts of food and oil is being shipped to Kim Jong Un’s country; and Beijing has shown its displeasure in a number of ways of the current going on in the peninsula. Not realizing that it was creating a monster through nuclear weapons and missiles, the Chinese now seem to be extremely uncomfortable in finding a highly mercurial leader sitting next door with all the wherewithal that can be imagined.

To Russia and President Vladimir Putin, here is an opportunity to open up a subject when Kim Jong Un makes his first overseas trip supposedly soon—that hanging tough on nuclear weapons and producing bombs is unlikely to bring the west or the east to their knees. Rather just as how Russia was useful and instrumental in bringing about a deal with Iran, Moscow can play the same role but only if Pyongyang pipes down a little. And President Putin can impress his visitor with the kinds of military hardware goodies that Iran benefitted from having a close relationship with Russia. Scaling down the nuclear weapons programme will not certainly undo the sanctions regime on North Korea but will easen the situation, Kim Jong Un must be told.

(A former senior journalist with the The Hindu in Chennai, Singapore and Washington, Dr. Sridhar Krishnaswami presently is the Head of the Departments of Journalism and Mass Communications and International Relations of the Faculty of Science and Humanities at SRM University, Chennai and can be reached at Views expressed are personal.)

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