Emboldened by Iran Deal, North Korea May Have Restarted Nuclear Reactor

Emboldened by Iran Deal, North Korea May Have Restarted Nuclear Reactor

It didn’t take long for concerns that the Iranian nuclear deal could embolden other rogue nations to materialize. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced Thursday satellite footage strongly indicates that North Korea has restarted a formerly shut down plutonium plant.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which governs regulations for nuclear activity internationally and works with and under the United Nations, said Thursday that it has seen images showing steam, water, and other signs of life over the Yongbyon nuclear complex that had closed years ago, its cooling tower destroyed in 2008 as part of a multilateral deal to slow North Korea’s nuclear development. “I remain seriously concerned,” said IAEA head Yukiya Amano of the situation, noting that they have only overhead images as North Korea removed any UN inspectors from the country in 2009. 

North Korea had indicated it had intentions of restarting Yongbyon last April, but this is the first evidence that it is actively seeking to carry out that threat.

The restart of the Yongbyon complex is not the only post-Iran deal red flag from Pyongyang this week. The Johns Hopkins research institute specializing in U.S.-Korea relations published a report this week that overhead activity also indicated movements at an old missile launch control center in the Korean city of Tonghae. This news comes after yet another report this week shows evidence of Iran sending missile technicians to North Korea, which is especially alarming given that American intelligence indicates North Korea and Iran are both two years away from building a missile that could reach the United States.

North Korea’s rhetoric has aligned with these increasingly belligerent actions. The communist state has also reacted belligerently to comments by U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea Glyn Davies’ comment that the rogue nation was “out of step” with the rest of the world on nuclear policy.

More than any other country on the globe, North Korea understands the benefits that come from haggling a sweet nuclear deal out of the West. From the 1990s through to the Obama administration, North Korea routinely signed onto and subsequently broke a number of agreements to stop its nuclear program in exchange for diminished sanctions and humanitarian aid. It milked the system to the best of its ability until, in 2009, it kicked UN inspectors out of the country and openly asserted its intention to develop nuclear weapons. 

Many have noticed the deal brokered with Iran bore some similarity to the deals with North Korea in the 1990s and have wondered whether Iran is following in North Korea’s footsteps. It’s possible, but what is irrefutable from the data on the table is that DPRK has taken the Iranian deal as a sign that it, too, can rekindle diplomatic fires long since diffused, restart nuclear plants, and ally with Iran to advance their agenda of mutually strengthening their military might against the West. 

The Iran deal did not just fail the West because of the impending threats to Israel’s existence Benjamin Netanyahu so artfully articulated; it failed the civilized world because it expanded the scope of what is or isn’t acceptable from unstable, aggressive states. It gave the green light to countries like North Korea to challenge the United States’ authority on nuclear power and expect sanctions to be lowered and threats diminished if they agree to a meaningless diplomatic dance and ambiguous de-weaponization. 

That road is long, troubled, and riddled with danger for both negotiating Western nations and the neighboring states North Korea already has the technology to attack.