Is Iran studying North Korea's nuclear moves?
There may be no such thing as a North Korea playbook for would-be nuclear proliferators.Skip to next paragraph
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But many Western leaders suspect Iran of trying to emulate North Korea's secretive development of nuclear weapons. And as both nations continue to command international attention for their nuclear programs, it's clear the two countries watch each other for "how to" lessons in nuclear diplomacy.
This week, each of these nations has demonstrated its ability to command attention. North Korea said it might disregard past commitments and test-launch a new intercontinental missile, and Iran set a timetable of mid-August for replying to the US and other countries about their package of incentives – later than the US wants.
For each of the besieged regimes, experts say, an underlying goal is to establish a level of international respect, especially in relations with Washington. To help achieve this, these experts say, the powers of Tehran are no doubt studying the more experienced Kim Jong Il for dos and don'ts, and vice versa.
"Not only do they watch each other, but they may indeed compare notes," says Jonathan Pollack, a North Korea expert at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. Noting that North Korea has supplied Iran with missiles and other technology, he adds, "The North Koreans do have certain on again, off again relations with Iran, so they may do more than just study each other's experiences."
In recent months, North Korea had retreated from the world stage as the spotlight shifted to Iran and international efforts to end its uranium-enrichment program. That changed this week when Pyongyang – miffed by the lack of attention, many analysts say – hinted through diplomatic channels that it might be preparing to test-launch a new intercontinental missile.
The United States had been eyeing North Korea's moves. Earlier this month, it said that satellite photos and other evidence suggested Pyongyang was preparing the test launch. The long-range missile is particularly disconcerting to the US and other countries because a successful one could reach well beyond North Korea's immediate neighborhood – potentially to Hawaii or Alaska.
If nothing else, North Korea's actions got it back to where many analysts say it wants to be – the focus of international attention. At a US-European Union summit in Austria this week, President Bush and European leaders concentrated on North Korea, as well as Iran: They called on Pyongyang not to carry out any destabilizing missile test, while pressing Tehran to respond soon to a package of enticements to suspend its enrichment program.
"Iran has been getting a lot of attention lately, and this may have provoked the North Koreans to take some action, because they don't like to be ignored," says Robert Einhorn, a former assistant secretary of State for nonproliferation, now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "They may see this [test launch] as a way to put themselves back on the international agenda."
Of course, North Korea's rumblings about a prospective missile launch may be about more than a desire to rival Iran for attention, Mr. Einhorn says. For one thing, he notes that Pyongyang has not carried out a missile test since the late 1990s, so the regime may be under internal pressures to advance its technology.