Why the Iran Deal Is Irrelevant

Nuclear talks with North Korea prove Iran’s program will go forward—deal or no deal.


By Daniel Henninger

Wall Street Journal

April 1, 2015

By the nuclear compliance standards of Barack Obama and John Kerry, North Korea was a model state—in 1992. In 1985, North Korea joined the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. In 1992 it and South Korea jointly declared the “denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula. North Korea next signed a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Within months, the IAEA reported “inconsistencies” in North Korea’s nuclear program.

What follows is a quarter-century summary of arms negotiations with North Korea, based on the chronology assembled by the Arms Control Association. What happens in Lausanne doesn’t matter. No agreement is going to stop Iran. Agreements, and a lot of talk, did not stop North Korea.

After negotiations with North Korea (shortened here to “NK”)—and after the CIA reports that NK has separated enough plutonium for one or two nuclear weapons—the U.S. and NK in 1994 sign the Agreed Framework in Geneva. With NK promising to eliminate its ability to produce nuclear weapons, the Agreed Framework is hailed as a major diplomatic triumph for the Clinton presidency.

Through 1996-97, the U.S. negotiates with NK over ballistic-missile proliferation. On Aug. 31, 1998, NK launches the Taepo Dong-1 missile with a range of about 1,200 miles. The missile flies over Japan. U.S. intelligence admits “surprise” at the new third stage on the Paekdosan-1 launch vehicle.

Nonetheless, talks are held in December over a suspected underground nuclear factory. A U.S. inspection team visits the facility at Kumchang-ni and finds no violation of the Agreed Framework.

In 2000, the Clinton administration relaxes economic sanctions. Kim Jong Il tells visiting Secretary of State Madeleine Albright he won’t test the Taepo Dong-1 long-range missile again. The seventh round of missile talks is held in Malaysia.

In 2001, new U.S. President George W. Bush commits to “comprehensive” talks. In October 2002, the U.S. says North Korea has admitted it has had a secret program to enrich weapons-grade uranium. The State Department’s Richard Boucher calls it a “serious violation” of the Agreed Framework.

North Korea then cuts the IAEA seals on its nuclear factories, withdraws from the Non-Proliferation treaty and restarts a nuclear reactor. Talks resume in Beijing in April 2003. North Korea says it possesses nuclear weapons—but will dismantle its “nuclear facility” in return for fuel oil and food.

In February 2005, NK’s foreign ministry says again that it has produced nuclear weapons. Months later, the Koreans now say they are willing to abandon “all nuclear weapons” and rejoin the nonproliferation treaty. A new round of talks begin.

On July 4, 2006, North Korea fires seven ballistic missiles, including the new, long-range Taepo Dong-2. The State Department calls this “provocative.” U.N. Security Council Resolution 1695 condemns the Koreans.

In October, North Korea explodes a nuclear device in an underground test. The Security Council adopts Resolution 1718. Six-party talks resume in Beijing. North Korea says it will stop if it receives massive shipments of fuel oil. It gets the fuel oil.

In March 2007, the U.S. agrees to North Korea’s primary demand: that the U.S. unfreeze $25 million of its assets held in Banco Delta Asia in Macau. In 2008 President Bush removes NK as a state sponsor of terrorism.

In January 2009, North Korea says its stockpile of plutonium is “already weaponized.” We are now into the Obama presidency.

That April, NK launches the Unha-2 long-range ballistic missile, which the Security Council condemns. NK says it is no longer “bound” by any agreements.

On May 25, 2009, North Korea conducts its second underground nuclear test. The Security Council unanimously passes Resolution 1874. The State Department says the U.S. wants “a bilateral discussion with North Korea.” In November 2010, NK announces it has a 2,000-centrifuge uranium enrichment factory.

In early 2012, the Obama administration offers to give 240,000 metric tons of food in return for “strict monitoring.” Late that year, NK launches a long-range ballistic missile, which the Security Council condemns, citing violations of Resolutions 1718 and 1874.

In early 2013, a monitoring group detects activity with “explosion-like characteristics” at North Korea’s underground test site. The Security Council passes Resolution 2094.

Last November, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that North Korea is ready to the resume six-party talks.


Every member of the Senate should read the full 81-page chronology. North Korea proves, irrefutably, that the “talks” model, absent credible measures of coercion or threat, won’t work.

Iran knows it has nuclear negotiators’ immunity: No matter how or when Iran debauches any agreement, the West, abjectly, will request—what else?—more talks. Iran’s nuclear-bomb and ballistic-missile programs will go forward, as North Korea’s obviously did, no matter what.

The next U.S. president has to find an alternative to the existing nuclear negotiations model. Hillary will not. That unavoidable job falls to her opposition.