January 18, 2016 14:08
The U.S. and EU on Saturday lifted sanctions against Iran that were imposed when the country aroused international suspicions of pursuing a secret nuclear weapons program. The sanctions were lifted after Iran complied with an international deal limiting its nuclear program, and now the country is emerging from economic isolation for the first time since 2002.
Cuba, another country that had been the target of decades of vindictive U.S.-led sanctions, is also in the process of rejoining the international community after normalizing diplomatic ties with Washington.
That leaves North Korea the only isolated country under international sanctions.
Unlike Iran, whose nuclear arms program was never more than a persuasive rumor avidly stoked by U.S. rightwingers and Israel, North Korea did actually carry out four nuclear tests and has vowed it will never give up its nuclear weapons program. Pyongyang has even included in its constitution the possession of nuclear weapons as its sovereign right.
Of course the North is unique in several ways, including being ruled by a deranged dynasty, whereas Iranians, though ultimately ruled by a band of elderly clerics, elect their leaders in an approximation of democratic process.
Yet it is the radically different approach by the international community, chiefly the U.S. and China, that has led to such different results in North Korea. When suspicions arose over Iran's clandestine nuclear weapons program, the UN Security Council agreed four times to impose economic sanctions on the country, and the U.S. and EU pressured Tehran with their own sanctions, which were broader than anything imposed on North Korea.
A key example is the so-called "secondary boycott" which sanctions companies even in third countries that engaged in business with Iran. The net result was to suffocate Iran, which derives the bulk of its income from oil exports.
The U.S. and Israel also constantly threatened military action should the sanctions prove ineffective, a very real threat until quite recently. No such threats have troubled North Korea.
China is mainly responsible for blocking any really effective sanctions. Beijing is understandably worried that the North Korean regime would collapse if tough sanctions bite, removing a vital buffer against the South Korea-U.S. alliance.
The U.S. is partly reluctant to lock horns with China over North Korea, but it is chiefly not that interested in the North Korean nuclear threat because the North has no oil.
China continues to place higher priority on supporting the North Korean regime, and the U.S. is comfortable blaming Beijing for the ineffectiveness of sanctions. If this continues, any further sanctions against the North will be equally ineffective. That is the reality that must change before the North Korean nuclear threat can be tackled effectively.
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