Can Iran learn something from North Korea?

Iran does not want to accept that, sooner or later, the repercussions of Kim’s change of heart will reach it.
Sunday 29/04/2018
People watch a TV screen showing footage of US President Donald Trump (R) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news programme in Seoul, on April 21. (AP)
Rare overture. People watch a TV screen showing footage of US President Donald Trump (R) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during a news programme in Seoul, on April 21. (AP)

It’s only common sense that North Korea said it would stop testing its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles; such experiments do not feed a hungry population. However, that’s bad news for the so-called Axis of Refusal in the Middle East. It’s going to try to trivialise North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s decision as giving in to American pressure.

The Axis of Refusal will do that because North Korea plays a major role in providing Iran with technology and knowledge to develop its ballistic missiles and nuclear programmes. Both the Syrian and Iranian regimes look to North Korea as a model to emulate in defying Washington and US President Donald Trump in particular.

North Korea’s decision came after CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s secret visit to Pyongyang. With respect to the Iranian file, Pompeo is a hawk in the Trump administration and was sworn in April 26 as secretary of state.

Iran does not want to accept that, sooner or later, the repercussions of Kim’s change of heart will reach it. It would be in Iran’s best interest to follow in the footsteps of Kim and learn from his experience. All this big talk about nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles does not make any sense in a country where citizens die of hunger or are reduced to eating tree roots. Kim’s regime could offer North Korean citizens nothing more than dictatorship.

In the Arab world, the closest regime to the North Korean model is the Syrian regime. Like Kim, Syrian President Bashar Assad inherited power from his father. In that respect, Hafez Assad must have been a very good student to Kim Il-sung, founder of the presidency-by-inheritance regime.

Despite Kim’s strangeness, he still turned out to possess enough common sense to back from his vainglorious boasting and threats and accept the United States’ conditions. That means, among other things, that North Korea must stop supplying ballistic missile technology to rogue states for a pittance.

Strange as he may be, the vain Kim admitted that he needed to save face and cover his regime’s bankruptcy. Pompeo’s visit to North Korea is paving the way for a historic direct meeting between the North Korean leader and Trump in July. A summit between North Korea and South Korea is going to precede the meeting, the first since the beginning of the Cold War, ushering a new era of openness on the Korean Peninsula.

The winds of change are coming to North Korea and the Korean Peninsula. Kim Jong-un’s regime had no choice but to give in to US demands and start building new relations with South Korea, which has become an international economic powerhouse.

If those in power in Syria and Iran had one ounce of common sense, they, too, would have surrendered, not to the United States, but to common sense. Common sense says that no country could have an expansion project if it doesn’t have a solid economic base on the one hand and a model to emulate on the other.

China, as well as the former Soviet Union and then Russia, had for a long time used North Korea as a pawn in their competition with the United States. China was the lifeblood of the North Korean regime for six decades but now it seems that Pyongyang has become a burden to its mighty neighbour.

The timing for the North Korean change of heart is intriguing. It coincides with foreboding mighty changes in the Middle East. Iran, however, continues to ignore the signs of change and pushes forward with its programme to establish military bases in Syria, in addition to those created in Lebanon by its proxy, Hezbollah.

Cooperation between the Iranian regime and North Korea in developing long-range missiles, like those launched from Yemen by the Houthis against Saudi Arabia, is quite well-known. The Syrian regime also cooperates with North Korea in developing internationally banned weapons. In 2007, Israel destroyed installations for a nuclear reactor built by North Korea in the Syrian region of Deir ez-Zor.

Now, in 2018, the world is wondering whether North Korea is truly willing to abandon its vocation of merchant of weapons of mass destruction and turn into a normal state concerned with providing enough food for its 25 million citizens. We will soon find out how far Kim is willing to go on the path of change. The trouble is that it is unknown if his autocratic regime will survive the effects of opening to a modern state such as South Korea.

We’re not sure about the survival of the North Korean regime. What we’re sure of though is that Kim’s move is going to make orphans out of the Axis of Refusal, especially Iran, where the regime does not seem to realise that the population does not need missiles or nuclear bombs or control over Arab capitals such as Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut or Sana’a, as much as it yearns for better living conditions.

Such an objective, of course, implies abandoning hollow slogans and useless acts of aggression and embarking on good relations with the international community at large and the United States in particular. Can the Iranian regime grasp that?