Iran vs North Korea: Washington’s Double Standard
“Iran’s latest expansion of its nuclear program will lead to further isolation and sanctions.”
On Sunday, July 7, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Secretary Abbas Araqchi told reporters in a press conference that Tehran would produce uranium above 3.67 percent – the maximum level permitted in the Iran Nuclear Deal also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – within a few hours.
Such an enhancement is needed as fuel for Iran’s Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant. Previously, Iran stated it would enhance uranium to five percent.
Araqchi stated that Iran had wanted to salvage the JCPOA, but blamed European countries for not doing enough to protect Tehran from U.S. sanctions applied after the U.S. pulled out of the JCPOA under the Trump administration. He added that Tehran would no longer abide by the provisions of the agreement unless the pact’s signatories found solutions – referring to France, China, Germany, Russia and the U.K., who all signed the treaty along with the U.S. in 2015 under the Barack Obama administration.
An Iranian Atomic Energy Body spokesperson, Behrouz Kamalvandi, confirmed that Iran would not enrich uranium to the 20 percent needed to fuel the Tehran reactor.
“We will enrich uranium based on our needs … right now we don’t need to enrich uranium needed for Tehran reactor,” said Kamalvandi as Euronews wrote.
Iran’s move to increase uranium enrichment is in response to Washington’s withdrawal from the JCPOA in 2018. President Donald Trump argued that the JCPOA was not effective enough in banning Iran from developing nuclear weapons, which need 90 percent enriched uranium.
Reactions to Iran’s Uranium Enrichment
China said it regretted Tehran’s move to surpass the JCPOA’s uranium limit but blamed U.S. intimidation for provoking tension with Iran and creating the current scenario.
“The facts show that unilateral bullying has already become a worsening tumor,” Geng Shuang, spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, told a press briefing in Beijing on Monday.
One of the deal’s signatories, the European Union (E.U.) also expressed deep concern about Tehran’s announcement. The bloc is planning to have an emergency meeting, as Brussels’ spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told the Associated Press.
Aragchi also echoed Kocijancic’s statement by saying talks with European powers are continuing. Aragchi’s superior, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, sent a formal letter to E.U. Foreign Policy Head Federica Mocherini, explaining steps Tehran had taken.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned in a tweet regarding Iran that breaking the nuclear pact would lead to further sanctions.
“Iran’s latest expansion of its nuclear program will lead to further isolation and sanctions. Nations should restore the longstanding standard of no enrichment for Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s regime, armed with nuclear weapons, would pose an even greater danger to the world,” Pompeo tweeted.
Iran vs North Korea: Why the Double-Standard?
Despite the failure of the Trump-Kim summit in Vietnam last February, months later Trump invited North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to meet at the heavily fortified demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates North and South Korea after attending the G-20 summit in Osaka.
During the last-minute summit, Trump said sanctions on North Korea could be lifted as long as Pyongyang dismantles all of its nuclear arsenals. But both sides did not mention the word “denuclearization” in the meeting or elaborate on how a denuclearization process would proceed.
Despite the clear lack of progress in achieving North Korea’s denuclearization, both leaders hailed the meeting a success.
Additionally, the summit came only weeks after North Korea test-fired two missiles, a move that evoked condemnation from countries in Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America, but was largely downplayed by Trump.
“They’re short-range, and I don’t consider that a breach of trust at all. And, you know, at some point I may. But at this point no. These were short-range missiles and very standard stuff. Very standard,” Trump told Politico.
While Trump has extended sanctions against North Korea during his time in office, he continues to insist that if North Korea gave up its nuclear weapons he would remove U.S. sanctions. Notably, he also greeted Kim at the DMZ with open arms, stating, “My friend! … It’s my honor.”
Trump has also repeatedly referred to his special and unique relationship with Kim, despite North Korea’s failure to denuclearize and the recent test-firing of missiles. Trump has never had such kind words for Iran and if Iran test-fired missiles it’s hard to believe the U.S. would downplay the occasion.
So why the apparent double-standard?
First, unlike Iran, the U.S. and North Korea have a much simpler history. The Korean War drew a line in U.S.-North Korean relations that has been relatively straightforward ever since.
Iran and the U.S., however, have a complicated history beginning with the U.S. and U.K.-led coup and overthrowal of Iran’s democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq in 1953. The ousting of the popular leader fomented an anti-U.S. ideology that has been rooted in Iranian politics since the 1979 Iranian Revolution that overthrew the U.S. backed monarchical rule of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Supporters of the Iranian Revolution kidnapped 52 American citizens and held them hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran for 444 days from 1979-1981. The hostage crisis unified Americans in their opposition to Iranians with one scholar describing it as “one of the most devastating non-war related events to have ever occurred between two nations.”
Additionally, the U.S.’ involvement and support of Iraq during the eight-year-long Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) worsened relations between Iran and the U.S.
U.S. and Iranian history was also further complicated when a U.S. naval ship shot down Iran Air Flight 655, a passenger airline that was carrying 290 people, including 66 children, in 1988 while the plane was flying over Iranian airspace in the Persian Gulf.
The tumultuous relationship between the two countries has never normalized.
Secondly, Saudi Arabia and Israel factor into the relationship between the U.S. and Iran. Both countries are close allies of the U.S. and see Iran as a major threat and rival in the Middle East.
While Saudi Arabia is considered Sunni Muslim and Iran Shia Muslim – the two major sects of Islam – much of Saudi Arabia’s dislike of Iran traces back to the 1979 Iranian Revolution which overthrew the Iranian monarchy. Saudi Arabia has a long history of monarchical rule and the Iranian Revolution threatened to export a new type of Islam that threatened Saudi Arabia’s own monarchy.
Isreal and Iran were friendly for years before relations worsened between the two countries after the Cold War. During the Iran-Iraq War, Isreal sold Iran $75 million worth of arms, despite Iran cutting off relations with Israel after the Iranian Revolution.
After the end of the Cold War, and the amidst the changing nature of the Middle East, Iran began to consider Isreal a “cancer” in the Middle East and disapproved of Isreal’s position on Palestine, ramping up support for the Palestinian cause. Isreal condemns Iran for its involvement and support of Hamas, the governing authority if the Gaza Strip since 2007, and Hezbollah, a Shia Islamist group based in Lebanon.
Notably, Washington has not imposed sanctions on Israel, which has an estimated 200 nuclear bombs as stated in a leaked email of former U.S. Foreign Secretary Colin Powell in 2016. The U.S. has also bypassed the necessary congressional approval to sell highly sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.
A crucial third factor influencing Trump’s hostility towards Iran is the hawkish, pro-war aides Trump is surrounded by in his cabinet (National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo). The national security team Trump established has repeatedly advocated a hardline Iranian stance and has exaggerated the Iranian threat.
John Bolton, in particular, has a long and well-documented history of emphasizing the urgency of the “Iranian threat” to the U.S.
Last May, in a classified briefing, Congress member Ruben Gallego claimed that Republicans had irresponsibly hyperbolized the Iranian threat.
“What I saw was a lot of misinterpretation and wanting conflict coming from the administration and intelligence community. Intel doesn’t show existential threats. Even what it shows, it doesn’t show threats to U.S. interests,” Gallego said to the Washington Post in a phone interview.
Before Iran’s recent announcement of increasing uranium enrichment, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran was in compliance with the JCPOA. Iran repeatedly insisted it had no nuclear weapons, unlike North Korea, and its nuclear capabilities were for peaceful purposes. The U.S. has never shown proof that Iran was in possession of nuclear weapons.
The confrontation with Iran, in reality, has nothing to do Iran’s failure to comply with the JCPOA or the inherent weakness of the deal, as Trump has repeatedly claimed. The confrontation with Iran is about power and forcing a country to bend to U.S. will. It’s about the overthrowal of an anti-U.S. government in exchange for an Iranian government happy to oblige by U.S. foreign policy.