Iran Watching How World Deals With North Korea

Daily News Article   —   Posted on October 10, 2006

(by Julie Stahl, JERUSALEM – A weak international response to North Korea’s nuclear test could encourage Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, analysts here said.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has so far defied the international calls to stop enriching uranium, has said his country will not be deterred by international sanctions.

International attention quickly shifted from Iran to North Korea when that communist country proudly announced on Monday that it had conducted its first underground nuclear weapons test. (As of early Tuesday morning, intelligence agencies were still trying to verify North Korea’s claim.)

In its initial reaction, Iran said it wanted a world “free of nuclear weapons” but Iranian state radio also blamed Washington’s sanctions and diplomatic pressure for North Korea’s test.

“North Korea’s nuclear test was a reaction to America’s threats and humiliation,” a commentary on Iranian state radio said.

Israel joined the rest of the world in condemning the Korean nuclear test, calling it an “irresponsible and provocative act that could pose a serious threat to the regional stability of northeast Asia and to global and international security.”

Sources in Jerusalem were quoted in local media reports on Tuesday as saying they feared that North Korea could pass its know-how and technology on to Tehran, speeding up the process of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is set to discuss the ramifications of the North Korean test at a meeting of Israeli intelligence agencies this week, media reports said.

Iran and North Korea — named by Bush as part of an “axis of evil” — have strong military cooperation ties, particularly in the area of ballistic missiles.

Analysts here said the international community’s response to North Korea would likely influence Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran is watching what’s going on and will study any future development very closely, said Dr. Ephraim Asculai, a senior researcher at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies.

“What will happen now will determine [in] a significant way what happens with Iran. If they [the international community] let this event go unanswered with no major reply to the test, then Iran can feel much better about its program,” said Asculai, a 40-year veteran of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission and appointee to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.

According to Asculai, boycotting North Korea from every direction could have an impact on the country. “Complete isolation sends a very strong message,” Asculai said in a telephone interview.

But it should be coupled with a way out of the impasse for North Korea by offering some “serious benefits” in exchange for dismantling its nuclear capabilities, he added.

North Korea’s defiance of the international community “will reinforce Iran’s resistance against the diplomatic efforts to foil it own nuclear program,” said Dr. Eitan Barak, an expert in arms control and disarmament at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

“It will look carefully [at] the international community’s response in the following days,” Barak said in an interview.

North Korea is the first country to (supposedly) conduct a nuclear test since India and Pakistan did so in 1998. It is a serious blow to the international campaign to ban nuclear tests, said Barak.

Uzi Eilam, former head of Israel’s Atomic Energy Agency said it is possible that North Korea could share its knowledge with Iran “in return for a sizable financial reward,” the Jerusalem Post reported on Tuesday. Eilam said that North Korea’s nuclear program was far more advanced than Iran’s is.

Labor parliamentarian Ephraim Sneh, who is part of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said that North Korea’s test could end up being a “good thing” because it could persuade the world to do something about Iran.

The state-run North Korean news agency said the test had been carried out “with indigenous wisdom and technology,” marking a “historic event.” The announcement set off a round of condemnations throughout the world.

President Bush called the test a “threat to international peace and security” and urged an “immediate response” by the United Nations Security Council. Japan, China and South Korea also had strong reactions against the reported test.

The U.N. condemned the test and was discussing the possibility of imposing sanctions on North Korea.

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