By Arab News
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh*
The Iranian state-controlled Persian media outlets were filled with warnings and alarm this week. Iranian leaders sent messages to North Korea and lashed out at US President Donald Trump with respect to the Singapore summit.
Iran reacted swiftly to the Trump-Kim summit, with the IRNA news agency quoting the regime’s spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht as saying: “We don’t know what type of person the North Korean leader is negotiating with. It is not clear that he would not cancel the agreement before returning home.”
It is interesting that, while Iranian leaders repeatedly warn other countries, leaders and international organizations not to interfere in Iran’s decisions regarding both domestic and foreign policy issues, Tehran is blatantly interfering in North Korea’s decision to negotiate with the US.
Another paradox that also highlights the Iranian regime’s double standards and hypocrisy is linked to the objective of the US-North Korea summit in light of the vehement opposition of the clerical establishment of Iran to the historic meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un. On the one hand, the objective of this historic summit was nuclear disarmament. On the other hand, the Iranian regime frequently claims that Tehran is not pursuing a path to obtaining nuclear bombs and that it is opposed to nuclear weaponization for religious reasons.
Just a few days after the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei delivered a speech putting significant emphasis on his fatwa against nuclear weapons: “The Americans say they stopped Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. They know it’s not true. We had a fatwa (religious ruling) declaring nuclear weapons to be religiously forbidden under Islamic law. It had nothing to do with the nuclear talks.”
So, if the ruling mullahs are truly against the supply or deployment of nuclear weapons, why is the regime so robustly standing against the US and North Korea’s agreement, efforts and pledges to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula while Washington provides security guarantees to North Korea? Many people would wonder that such an objective ought to be totally in compliance with Khamenei’s declared fatwa of denuclearization. But Khamenei’s fatwa was most likely the exploitation of religion in order to conduct a tactical and political move, while hiding Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
In addition, Iran’s opposition to such a historic agreement for nuclear disarmament suggests that Tehran is against denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and the advancement of peace, security and stability across the world.
Furthermore, Iran’s strong opposition to the rapprochement between the US and North Korea is due to several other reasons.
To begin with, from the Iranian leaders’ perspective, a nuclearized North Korea has been a model to follow for a long time. In fact, Khamenei clearly expressed in a speech why countries that give up their nuclear programs are irrational. Khamenei, who has the final say on major matters of state, previously blamed Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi for giving up his nuclear program and pointed out that Gaddafi’s decision was the paramount factor in his later overthrow. He pointed out after Gaddafi’s fall that the deposed dictator had earlier “wrapped up all his nuclear facilities, packed them on a ship and delivered them to the West and said, ‘Take them’.”
As a result, Iranian leaders have long viewed North Korea as a real example of how and why a country must possess nuclear weapons, not only as a deterrent against “enemies,” but also as a powerful tool to easily pursue the country’s hegemonic ambitions. But the US-North Korea summit has shattered Iran’s argument.
In addition, it is critical to point out that, to Iranian leaders’ eyes, the North Koreans were capable of defying the international community, even frequently conducting nuclear tests without concern about foreign intervention, simply due to the fact Pyongyang is already a nuclear state. Therefore, Iran viewed the North Korean model as an example of how a nuclear program and weapons can bring political success and advance a state’s ambitions.
In addition, for Iranian leaders, North Korea is one of its staunchest allies on the global stage; a nuclear state that would come to the regime’s aid in case it was caught red-handed violating international laws or was pressured by the international community. If North Korea follows up with a nuclear disarmament treaty, Tehran will lose a powerful partner in international politics.
Finally, the “special bond” and the agreement between North Korea and the US is the second significant blow to the Iranian regime this year, after the decision of the Trump administration to withdraw from the JCPOA. Iranian authorities are deeply concerned that they have lost a long-time friend and ally in North Korea to their long-time enemy, the “Great Satan.” This can potentially shift the balance of power against the mullahs. But this does not mean that the Iran regime will halt its attempts at interfering in this historic agreement and the improving relationship between North Korea and the US.
*Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh