North Korea and Iran

The Case for Formal Relations

The United States faces twin crises involving nuclear proliferation, as both North Korea and Iran seem poised to barge into the global nuclear-weapons club.  (There are indications that North Korea may have already done so, since she has processed enough plutonium to build as many as 13 weapons.)  U.S. policy toward those two rogue states has followed a familiar pattern.  Washington has no formal diplomatic relations with either country, and it has entered into negotiations with those regimes only with great reluctance and following intense prodding by long-standing U.S. allies.

It may be emotionally satisfying to refuse to recognize the current North Korean and Iranian governments, since one would be hard-pressed to identify two more odious regimes in the international system.  Nevertheless, refusing to maintain any formal relationship with Iran and North Korea when those countries are poised to become nuclear powers is potentially very dangerous.

Washington has never recognized North Korea’s communist regime since it seized power (with Moscow’s assistance) after World War II.  Any chance that U.S. leaders might adopt a more flexible policy disappeared when Pyongyang’s forces attacked noncommunist South Korea in June 1950 in an effort to unify the peninsula under communism.  Although the United States has occasionally negotiated with North Korea (most notably, the 1994 agreement...

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