Iran’s nuclear programme and the heated rhetoric of its leadership continued to heighten the tensions in the past weeks. With increased talk of preventive Israeli strikes on the horizon, naval deployments near Iran’s maritime border, negative feedback from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s reports and potential new Security Council sanctions, it seems that things had reached a significant, perhaps boiling point. However yesterday in Istanbul, the P5+1 (US, UK, France, China, Russia, Germany) and Iran broke a 14-month deadlock and reached an agreement on a framework for talks and a date for upcoming negotiations. It is a positive step, but concrete and measurable results will have to be taken quickly by both sides for a significant de-escalation to bear fruit. Russia’s role in this is key and its bridging approach with Iran must be supported.
Teheran can thank the belligerent and reckless leadership in Pyongyang for diverting international attention from its own nuclear activities. It is now very clear that there will not be any reforms, no glasnost any time soon for the leadership of Kim Jong Un, which is still very much in its assertive phase. The face of the leader may have changed, but the military elitist system remains very much in place and it has taken a life of its own under an inexperienced and untested youth. The senseless and illogical botching of the recent US food aid deal over the failed launch of a long-range missile suggests that there may be trouble in the hermit kingdom. As I elaborated in my paper Pre-Emptive Peace, I fundamentally believe that the top of the pyramid of the leadership in North Korea is akin to the incomplete top floors of Pyongyang’s iconic Ryugyong Hotel: chaotic, incoherent and full of holes. It started in the dawning years of the sickly Kim Jong Il and under Un, it is now practically open season: rival old-timer generals vying for power and position in a decaying nation through various acts of faith in contradiction, try to cater the favour of the Dear Leader. Kim Jong Un’s appointment of 70 new generals and the public admission of the launch failure a few days ago is likely a response to his current advisors’ shortcomings (who will likely be severely punished for the pathetic spectacle of the exploding rocket).
South Korean analysts now believe that a new nuclear test by North Korea is a strong possibility, to rally their wounded pride. Should this occur, the international community should twist in the final screws by imposing the toughest sanctions possible and sever all ties with North Korea. Furthermore, China should be actively talked into getting on board, not only to deter Pyongyang from further provocations, but to remind them that they have crossed the line and that they will no longer be supported as an embarrassing client-state.
Iran is monitoring the North Korean situation very closely, and its choice of whether or not to develop a nuclear arsenal to face off with the international community will depend on how Teheran perceives the risks and gains of a standoff like the one in the Korean peninsula.
All of this being considered, I expect the G20 Foreign Ministers to discuss these pressing international security matters should they decide to meet in Mexico in June. All of the world’s strength, world powers and emerging economies alike must be focused on coordination for global peace and security, and it is nations like Russia, China, Brazil, Turkey and Mexico who will be true game changers.