North Korea, Iran, and the NPT

Correcting an earlier post.
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The "Great Successor," via Kyodo and NPR.

A few days ago I recommended an article on China by Shlomo Ben-Ami and one on Iran by Robert Hunter, both of which hold up well and which, if you missed them, I again suggest you read. And if you'd like a little more in Ben-Ami's vein, you might check out this dispatch today from China's state-controlled Global Times, about why Westerners should stop lecturing China about press freedom and so on:

Information security is among China's core security concerns. China is willing to communicate with the world, but it won't yield its own agenda-setting rights to the Western media... 

Chinese authorities are breaching their duty if they allow Western media to work in China unchecked.

Wow. Or Sigh, depending on your mood. The "reform" administration of Xi Jinping really is digging in its heels. It is going to be a tough time ahead.

In that same earlier post I also quoted a reader, Carlyn Meyer, who was worried that North Korea's rush to nuclear armament was being used as the main historical analogy for thinking and worrying about Iran. The situations were different for many reasons, she argued, importantly among them that Iran had signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and North Korea "never had."

That last claim is wrong. North Korea had in fact signed the treaty, but then withdrew as part of advancing its nuclear plans. Here is a sample of many messages I received on that point:

This is just to add a small - but EXTREMELY critical - correction. North Korea did in fact sign the nuclear NPT in the mid eighties, but then withdrew during the tensions of the mid-nineties. They are the only country to have done this, a point which extremely undercuts the argument your reader was attempting to make....

For what it's worth, I doubt there will ever be anything remotely like a 'next North Korea.' Another rogue state with weapons of mass destruction? Sure. But one that kidnaps actors and actresses from other countries in order to make domestic films, reverse engineers Mercedes for the ruling elite, and invites Dennis Rodman to visit? I don't think so.

And, from another reader who is in the nuclear-policy business:

Perhaps Meyer's point is right overall, even though the reason is wrong. Others have pointed out the differences in the two situations. But at the time of the Agreed Framework, North Korea was a signatory to the NPT. It withdrew because of US failure to hold up its end of the bargain, as you will see if you click that link, or perhaps it would have anyway. 

In response here is a note from Carlyn Meyer:

I apologize for the factual mistake.  But it doesn't change my premise.  The comparisons by some politicians equating the current Iran situation with the current N.Korea status are still invalid.  

North Korea is not a current signer of the NPT.  Iran is.  North Korea has no inspectors on the ground, Iran does.  North Korea is open about having a nuclear weapons program.  US intelligence says Iran hasn't made that committment.  Iran, like North Korea, could certainly pull out of the NPT, stop the current negotiations and kick inspectors out. Then the situations would be comprable.  But that doesn't seem to be Iran's intent.  

It is still my understanding that the sanctions and P5+1 negotiations are legitimized by Iran's signing and continued acceptance of the NPT.  The situations are not equal.

This is to close an open loop. Tomorrow morning, will dig into more updates on what's really on my mind, the surprises that await when you visit, as a reporter, a place you thought you "knew" by virtue of having grown up there. It turns out that you Can Go Home Again, mainly to discover that the place is not exactly what you thought. More ahead.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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