Nuclear North Korea: 6 ways it differs from Iran

Military hard-liners in North Korea are believed to view the agreement under which Iran is scaling down its nuclear program as a dangerous precedent. Indeed, they see that deal as the type that North Korea should avoid and advocate a tough policy that precludes meaningful talks on the North’s program for fabricating nuclear warheads, according to analysts here.

Given this stance, are there lessons from the recently negotiated agreement to scale down Iran's nuclear program that can be used in North Korea? Perhaps, but the two differ substantially. Some questions  – and answers – on the North Korean and Iranian programs:

1. What are the central differences between their programs?

Jason Lee/Reuters/File
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves during a parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of a truce in the 1950-1953 Korean War, at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang July 27, 2013.

North Korea’s program is all about building nuclear weapons. By contrast, Iran has always maintained that it only wants to build facilities to produce nuclear energy and has never produced a warhead. Moreover, North Korea has formally withdrawn from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty while Iran remains a signatory. “North Korea can learn nothing from the Iranian deal,” says Paik Hak-soon, director of North Korean studies at the Sejong Institute, a think tank that has often done studies on behalf of the South Korean government. North Korea faces “a totally different situation” when it comes to comparisons with Iran, Mr. Paik says.

The two countries have also pursued different paths. North Korea has produced warheads with plutonium from a five-megawatt experimental reactor at its Yongbyon nuclear complex. Iran’s nuclear energy program is based on highly enriched uranium (HEU). However, North Korea in recent years, has launched its own HEU program. Some analysts believe that North Korea has already built warheads with HEU and that HEU may have detonated the device that North Korea exploded in its most recent underground nuclear test in February 2013. 

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