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A missile shot for Iran

By Gordon Chang

On Sunday, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea either tested a Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile or attempted to put a satellite into orbit with a multistage rocket. "Whether it is a satellite launch or a missile launch, in our judgment makes no difference," said Stephen Bosworth, the Obama administration's special envoy for North Korea. "It is a provocative act."

"Provocative" is Washington's favorite word these days when it comes to the one-man state run by Kim Jong Il. Mr Obama used the term in his statement issued immediately after the launch, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeated it many times beforehand. The State Department used the word again, only a few hours after the launch. There's no question that "provocative" is particularly apt. So what is the administration going to do now that it has been provoked? The answer will affect not only North Korea, but the buyers for its weapons -- particularly, Iran.

Both before and after the launch, the United States stated it would seek United Nations sanctions against North Korea. Yet China has apparently not enforced Security Council Resolutions 1695 and 1718, adopted after the North's missile and nuclear tests in the second half of 2006. This time, veto-wielding Beijing and Moscow have signaled they will not support any American effort to impose further penalties on Chairman Kim's state. Yesterday, Japan called an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council. In all probability, the efforts of Tokyo and Washington will fail.

What next, then? Clinton late last month hinted that Washington, in the event of a launch, might pull out of the six-party talks to disarm North Korea, but Bosworth on Friday said that America would continue to participate. Worse, the veteran diplomat even held out the possibility of conducting bilateral discussions with Pyongyang. One-on-one negotiations with the U.S. are something that North Korea has sought most of this decade.

So far, the Obama administration's policy has been all carrot and no stick, and, from all appearances, it will remain that way for some time. This approach obviously failed to prevent Sunday's launch and promises no breakthrough in the future. North Korea has been trying to build nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them since the early 1980s and maybe even as early as the mid-1960s. Ineffective American diplomacy has only given the world's most militarized state the one thing it needed most to develop the world's most destructive weapons -- time.

Unfortunately, the consequences of feckless American diplomacy will not be limited to North Asia. As a spokesman for South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said after the launch, North Korea's act constitutes a "serious threat" not just to the Korean peninsula but also the rest of the world. He's right because North Korea is not just about Korea. Sunday's test also impacts Iran. The atomic ayatollahs of the Islamic Republic are surely interpreting ineffective American diplomacy in Korea as a big green light for their own weapons ambitions.

How are the two regimes connected? On March 29, Sankei Shimbun, the conservative-leaning Tokyo paper, reported that 15 Iranians were in North Korea to provide assistance for the then-impending launch. Ten Iranians were in North Korea for the Taepodong-2 test in July 2006 according to the Los Angeles Times, and the State Department's Christopher Hill, then Washington's point man on Korea, confirmed their presence (he later retracted his confirmation). There are also reports that Iranians witnessed North Korea's 1998 Taepodong test. In February, North Korean scientists were spotted in Iran for the launch of an Iranian missile.

Moreover, American intelligence sources indicate Iran tested a North Korean missile for Pyongyang. The North Koreans possibly provided missile flight-test data to Iran. Iran has been financing the North Korean program either by purchasing the North's missiles or by sharing development costs and receiving missiles in return. Iranian support explains how a destitute North Korea has the funds to carry on a sophisticated weapons program.

In view of all these links, it is no surprise that Iran's Shahab-3 is essentially a North Korean Nodong missile and more advanced Iranian missiles, the Shahab-5 and Shahab-6, appear based on the long-range Taepodong models. Ominously, North Korea and Iran could be using Chinese technology as they develop the Taepodong-2.

It is no exaggeration to say the two regimes are conducting a joint missile program in two separate locations, one in North Asia and the other in the Middle East. That is one reason why North Korea should not be viewed in isolation. The North may be isolated, but the threat it poses is most certainly not.

Unfortunately, cooperation between Pyongyang and Tehran is not limited to missiles. Their nuclear weapons programs also seem to be linked. Iranians, for example, are said to have witnessed the North's detonation of an atomic device in October 2006. And there are reports that Iranians traveled to North Korea three times in 2003 to learn how to deceive the weapons inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog. In any event, Henry Sokolski, the American proliferation expert, has written that Iranian officials ask him only one question: How will Washington handle North Korea?

Many analysts make the perfectly correct points that, in all probability, the North Koreans cannot now mate a nuclear weapon onto their longest-range missile and that it will be years before they can land a warhead on American soil. Therefore, some U.S. policymakers may believe that Washington can afford to adopt a carrots-only approach to coax the North into joining the international community.

Perhaps that is so, but failure to stop Kim Jong Il at this moment will inevitably embolden the Iranians to proceed with their missile and nuclear weapons programs. In that case, the U.S. and its allies will soon have to confront two hostile states armed with the most destructive weapon in history. So time is not on America's side.

An international system that cannot defend its most fundamental interest against one of its weakest members cannot last. Sunday's launch is not just about Korea.

Gordon Chang is the author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes On the World" (Random House, 2006).

© The Wall Street Journal Asia Editorial Page

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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I still do not understand the double standards! Why are we allowed to shoot missiles but others cannot. Seems quite selfish.

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Because "we" do it in the name of "peace"

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And when was the last time the US launched a ballistic (not anti ballistic missile)in a test? And when has the US ever launched any ballistic or anit ballistic missile in a test over another sovereign territory without their express permission?

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dennins - for your information "WE" launched a sh#tload of military satellites, and I can't see what kind of "peace" are those supposed to represent. NK's skies are always scanned and observed by those satellites. So "we" - whichever "we" are - don't launch only in the name of peace.

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( To Yelnats )

I know you are not an American who is upset at his own country as you try to portray .You people do this all the time as you try to fool the American people into doubting it's own government ,but you fool very few ,as we are secure as we have ever been . You know as we do that these two nations do not have leadership with an ounce of wisdom .The leadership they both have announces loudly of destroying anyone around them !!! They are very much anti=peace ,and a big reason that the U.S. has to go around the world fixing all the chaos that they creat !!! There is your answer !
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If anyone wants me to, I can deconstruct this article line by line. But for now I'll just say it: This is a string of unsupported tentative statements (often qualified as such) to prove an Iran-North Korean conspiracy. This is Bush-vintage crud and should be dismissed as such.

Iran has one problem that North Korea does not have: a trigger-happy Israel ready to bomb it into oblivion. This is besides the fact that Islamic Iran has no real interests in dealing with North Korea, a secular Communist state.

Chang writes: "An international system that cannot defend its most fundamental interest against one of its weakest members cannot last." I say: rubbish. If anything brings down the international system it will be the Bernie Madoffs, not the Kim Jong Ils.

Has it occurred to anyone that North Korea's poverty is its greatest defense? Being poor it has nothing to lose. When you reach rock bottom a miracle happens: you realize you can still live and even thrive.

Anyway, this fizzled missile launch has caused a lot of unnecessary hysteria. Even Obama's usually calm voice got shrill when talking about this. Well now it is over. Nothing awful has happened. There is not even a North Korean musical satellite orbiting the Earth in chorus with all the American and other spy satellites. It will be years before the North Koreans can crank up another launch of this kind.

If you are inspired to be hysterical after the fact and after reading this article, consider this: If by some weird chance a piece of space debris falls out of the sky and spatters Chang's brains all over the floor of whatever right-wing organization he works for you can bet the farm that said debris will not be North Korea's. If you want to get paranoid about missile launches you should do so about those of countries that do them most often.

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I dont get all this hype and rage from Obama and Japan. He shot a rocket, whether its was a test or to get a satellite in space, it doesnt matter. Telling a child not to do something is like asking them to go do it. They are making a big deal out of nothing. I bet Kim wouldn't have even fired it if Obama said "Go ahead, do whatever you want".

Stop giving the little kid attention and he will stop doing stupid things it is that simple. And even if he did "manage" to hit something with his rocket, even China wouldnt stand for it. The Chinese are just dying for a reason to get Kim killed and place a puppet in that country.

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The Chinese are just dying for a reason to get Kim killed and place a >puppet in that country.

What makes you so sure they don't already? Have you ever seen China fully support resolutions or sanctions against NKorea?

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Because if they had a puppet as the leader they wouldn't need to things such as this. Having a nation rather close to yours rise military alarms as a puppet government does not a good puppeteer make. N.Korea is just a buffer between westernization, culturely and militarily. They just dont want that buffer to fall, but they don't want to be the one giving it all its resources, i.e. doesn't want sanctions against N.Korea.

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Jean Colmar: You are right: just like after 9-11 when america was trying to connect Iraq with Afghanistan for the war on terror.

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Sorry, I didn't mean 'war on terror', I meant 'war for terror'.

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Watch it now, you can't afford to slip out of your little alternate reality...

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Because if they had a puppet as the leader they wouldn't need to things >such as this. Having a nation rather close to yours rise military alarms >as a puppet government does not a good puppeteer make. N.Korea is just a >buffer between westernization, culturely and militarily. They just dont >want that buffer to fall, but they don't want to be the one giving it >all its resources, i.e. doesn't want sanctions against N.Korea.

Sorry but I'm not convinced. A good puppet government is one which will stay absolutely loyal and has little to no risk of being overturned internally and being taken out of power. The "Kim Dynasty" fits that bill. This of course assumes that everthing NKorea does is with the tacit approval of Beijing, including missle launches like this last one.

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