Iran nuke deal offers a model for North Korea, Kerry says

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( – The “successful” achievement of a nuclear deal with Iran provides a “model” for how the international community should deal with North Korea, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday in Beijing.

He was speaking on the same day the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that satellite imagery appears to confirm the Kim Jong-un regime in North Korea has resumed operations at a previously disabled facility that reprocesses plutonium.

Touting examples of U.S.-China cooperation, Kerry said the two had helped to negotiate the agreement that “resolved the international community’s 10-year-long concern about Iran’s nuclear program, and we together removed a major threat to the stability of the Middle East and to the danger of proliferation.”

Kerry said the U.S. and China need to “stand firmly and strongly together in the same way” in dealing with North Korea. In fact, the U.S., China, Britain, France, Russia and Germany formed a diplomatic group to negotiate the Iran deal.

Noting that the U.N. Security Council had adopted tough sanctions against North Korea earlier this year – in response to a fourth nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch the following month – Kerry said it was vital to keep applying pressure.

“We believe it is imperative to keep the pressure on North Korea in order to halt any and all actions that threaten its neighbors and threaten the peace and security of the region,” he said. “We were able to be successful with Iran. We’ve set the model. We can be successful ultimately with North Korea.”

The Obama administration has declared that the deal with Tehran, which began to be implemented last January, “will block all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon,” and reports that Iran has met its commitments to date.

Critics are more circumspect, and some independent experts caution that the agreement could lay the groundwork for Iran to pursue a nuclear weapons capability once sunset provisions expire in 10 to 15 years.

Meanwhile in Vienna on Monday. the atomic energy agency – whose monitoring in North Korea has been limited to satellite observation since it was expelled in 2009 – said it looks like the nation’s five-megawatt nuclear reactor at Yongbyon is again operational.

Agency Director-General Yukiya Amano said recent images show a resumption of “activities related to the five-megawatt reactor, expansion of enrichment facilities and activities related to reprocessing.”

Experts estimate the reactor, some 60 miles north of Pyongyang, is capable of producing enough plutonium for about one nuclear bomb a year.

It was decommissioned in 2007, in what was a high point of a drawn-out “six-party talks” process: North Korea pledged to disable the Yongbyon reactor, as well as an associated reprocessing plant and nuclear fuel rod fabrication facility, in exchange for economic and diplomatic concessions.

But the agreement stalled in 2008, amid disagreements over how to verify compliance. No further talks in the effort involving the U.S., China, Russia, South Korea, Japan and North Korea have been held during President Barack Obama’s tenure.

In 2013, weeks after carrying out a nuclear test – its third since 2006 – North Korea announced it would restart the Yongbyon reactor. It claimed last year to have done so, and Amano’s comments Monday indicate that that seems to be true.

Speaking to reporters during a quarterly meeting of the agency’s board of governors, Amano pointed out that the assessment was based on satellite pictures only because they don’t have inspectors on the ground.

“We cannot say for sure,” he said. “But we have indications of certain activities through the satellite imagery.”

In a statement to the board, Amano said he was “seriously concerned” about North Korea’s program, using an acronym for the country’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“It is deeply regrettable that the DPRK has shown no indication that it is willing to comply with the Security Council resolution adopted in response to its nuclear test earlier this year,” he said.

Amano urged North Korea to comply fully with its obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions and resume cooperation with the atomic agency.

The agency, he said, was “ready to contribute to the peaceful resolution of the DPRK nuclear issue by resuming its verification activities once a political agreement is reached among countries concerned.”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a congressional committee in February that the intelligence community believed North Korea had restarted its reactor at Yongbyon, as it said it would. He predicted the North Koreans would be able to start recovering plutonium from spent fuel within “weeks to months.”

Written by Patrick Goodenough