North Korea and Iran: How the two states test US diplomacy
North Korea is seen as an unpredictable 'spoiled child.' Iran is seen as a rational but aggressive nation. Each have nuclear programs, but pose unique problems for US security.
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On the other side, America resents Iran for taking 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days starting in 1979. When the highest-ranking envoy in captivity, Bruce Laingen, shouted to one hostage-taker that the action was a "violation of every law of God and man," he was told: "You have no right to complain, because you took our whole country hostage in 1953."Skip to next paragraph
Ironically, Iran has one of the most pro-American populations in the Middle East. But any Iranian can also list events that reinforced the regime's belief that America was a "Great Satan" determined to overthrow it. They range from US support for Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War – the American satellite intelligence given to the Iraqis, for example, made chemical weapons attacks against Iranian troops more deadly – to the US Navy's downing of a commercial Iranian jetliner in 1988 to imposing more and more sanctions.
Echoing Boston University's Bacevich, USC's Mr. Sahimi says, "If you put yourself in their shoes and take a look around ... there is at least some credibility to their concerns about Iranian national security and territorial integrity." Making peace with a country that has chanted "Death to America!" for a generation is not easy, he adds, but "we need to look in the mirror at ourselves, and see what we have done that makes these people so angry."
Yet neither side has left behind the rhetoric of conflict. Archconservative President Ahmadinejad has crowed about the "demon" power of America in decline. Mr. Khamenei has said differences with the US are a matter of "life and death."
On the American side, George W. Bush in 2002 famously included Iran (along with North Korea and Iraq) as part of an "axis of evil." And in 2008, the then-chief of US Central Command, Adm. William Fallon, said: "These guys are ants. When the time comes, you crush them."
Add to this mix the view among Iran's hard-line leadership that their country and its Islamic regime are a sacred state with divine backing.
Iran's nuclear program has come to play a central role in this ideological battle. US-led opposition to key aspects of Iran's nuclear program, including uranium enrichment, has turned the fight – in the eyes of the regime – into another example of Western powers trying to deprive it of scientific knowledge and clean nuclear energy.
Yet despite the claims of victory in its battle with the West, Iran finds itself strategically enveloped on three sides: by US forces deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf. It is isolated by a host of sanctions, including four sets imposed by the United Nations Security Council, that are hurting its economy. And leaked US diplomatic cables show that some Arab neighbors, fearing Iran's nuclear plans and regional ambitions, argue for a military strike.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN on Nov. 28 that the Pentagon had "actually been thinking about military options for a significant period of time." As for Iran's claim that it is not interested in developing nuclear weapons, the admiral said he did not "believe it for a second."