North Korea claimed on Wednesday that it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb, leading to concerns about the regime’s nuclear ties with Iran and nuclear proliferation more broadly. The White House disputed North Korea’s claim that it had in fact tested a hydrogen bomb. Major General (Ret.) Robert Scales, a former commandant of the U.S. Army War College, spoke about the Iranian connection: “We know that the Iranians were at the last nuclear test a couple of years ago, we know that the Iranians are helping the North Koreans miniaturize their nuclear weapons…What does this say about our nuclear deal with Iran? It says Iran is able to circumvent it by using their technological colleagues in Pakistan and their test site facility in North Korea to push their own nuclear ambitions.” In March of last year, veteran journalist Gordon G. Chang assessed that it was likely that Iran is carrying out nuclear work inside of North Korea, concluding, “Inspections inside the borders of Iran will not give the international community the assurance it needs…while the international community inspects Iranian facilities pursuant to a framework deal, the Iranians could be busy assembling the components for a bomb elsewhere.” In 2012, Iran stationed military personnel at a military base in North Korea, at which the North Koreans are reportedly working on missiles and nuclear weapons. In light of this, Chang wrote, “[T]here is no point in signing a deal with just one arm of a multi-nation weapons effort. That’s why the P5+1 needs to know what is going on at that isolated military base in the mountains of North Korea.”
Ilan Berman, Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council, wrote in August that Iran appears to be following North Korea’s blueprint: using diplomacy to gain benefits to boost the regime, allowing it to proceed with its program and ultimately backtrack from all of its commitments to the international community.
Iran and North Korea have a long history of cooperation in the nuclear realm, including the above-mentioned attendance of Iranians at North Korea’s last nuclear test; North Korean training of Iranian scientists; North Korean visits to Iranian nuclear facilities; technology transfers, as Iran’s Shahab-3 missile “is a locally produced version of North Korea’s Nodong missile”; North Korea’s assistance in fortifying Iranian nuclear sites against possible military strikes; and North Korea’s provision of nuclear weapons information.
Bahraini authorities say they have broken up an Iran-backed cell that was planning to carry out multiple terror attacks on its territory, Reuters reported on Wednesday.“
A secret terrorist plot aided by the so-called Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Hezbollah terrorist organization was foiled,” Bahrain’s BNA state news agency reported. “It targeted the security of the kingdom of Bahrain by (plotting to) carry out a series of dangerous bombings.” The main suspect in the plot, Ali Ahmed Fakhrawi, allegedly received funding from Iran’s proxy group Hezbollah.The news comes just days after Bahrain ended diplomatic relations with Iran over the torching of the Saudi Arabian embassy in Tehran. Bahrain, along with fellow Saudi allies Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait, either downgraded or cut ties with Iran in the wake of the escalating tension between Riyadh and Tehran.
In July, Bahrain said that it dismantled an Iran-backed terror cell and recalled its ambassador from Tehran. A few days later, after a bomb attack killed two Bahraini policemen and wounded six others, authorities indicated that the explosives used may have originated in Iran
In October, Bahrain expelled an Iranian diplomat whom it accused of “subversion” and arms smuggling. At the time, Bahrain denounced Iran for “supporting subversion, terrorism and incitement to violence through misleading media campaigns as well as assisting terrorist groups in the smuggling of weapons and explosives and training their members and harboring fugitives from justice.”
Deep in the weeds of discussions about the nuclear deal with Iran, which usually focus on whether the price paid in sanctions relief and international legitimacy is sufficiently worth the hoped-for forestallment of an Iran nuclear bomb, one issue has been largely overlooked: the effect this deal is likely to have on the broader nonproliferation regime, with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as its centerpiece. In the wake of what is known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), reached last July 14 between the six leading world powers (known as the P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) on the one hand, and the Islamic Republic of Iran on the other, crucial requirements for effective nonproliferation have been brushed aside and are in danger of being ignored down the road.
The NPT came into force in 1970, setting a global standard for putting a stop to the spread of nuclear weapons and the destabilization that could result. The framers of the JCPOA recognized the importance of the NPT when they included in Article XI of the agreement’s “preamble and general provisions” the stipulation that the JCPOA “should not be considered as setting precedents for any other state or for fundamental principles of international law and the rights and obligations under the NPT….”
Yet despite that disclaimer, in the months since the announcement of the JCPOA, it has become apparent that one of the very pertinent questions regarding the Iran deal is just that: the implications of the agreement for nuclear nonproliferation principles, norms, and standards in the future. The JCPOA has set, and is in the process of further establishing, some new standards for Iran in the nuclear realm that will inevitably affect the nonproliferation regime and the attitudes of other states toward their own nonproliferation requirements and commitments.
Indeed, a careful look at the standards established by the JCPOA, as well as the reactions of the great powers to Iranian behavior in the months that have passed since it was announced, reveals that instead of shoring up the nonproliferation regime, the Iran deal is likely to dangerously undermine it. At issue are three important questions that are central to the long-term effectiveness of the NPT: the right of non-nuclear weapons states that are members of the NPT to work on the fuel cycle (uranium enrichment); the nature and intrusiveness of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections of facilities—nuclear and other—especially in states that are suspected of having violated the terms of the NPT by working on a military capability; and the consequences for states that are found to have violated the terms of the NPT.
The JCPOA has been hailed as a historic, transformative moment—and it may well be so, but not necessarily for the reasons its proponents have given. Whether it succeeds in helping turn Iran itself into a more productive member of the international community—a “successful regional power,” as President Obama put it—is at best debatable. What seems clear, however, is that the deal has introduced cracks in the pillars on which the world’s relatively nuclear-weapons-free history have stood.
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