By Yi Whan-woo
The landmark agreement Tuesday between Iran and U.S.-led negotiators to curb Tehran's nuclear program may help in denuclearizing Pyongyang in the long-term if Washington takes an "open-minded" approach toward the reclusive country, analysts said Wednesday.
North Korea and Iran are not quite alike in their nuclear ambitions — the two Koreas are still technically at war, with South Korea backed by the United States.
Analysts said Washington should refrain from insisting on Pyongyang's nuclear disarmament as a pre-condition for any bilateral dialogue, citing U.S. Department of State spokesman John Kirby's comments on the issue.
Kirby said Tuesday that the U.S. is ready to engage even countries with "long-standing differences."
However, he added, "Pyongyang's attempts to engage in dialogue while keeping critical elements of its weapons program running are unacceptable."
"The Tuesday deal gives room for Washington to focus on North Korea to fulfill U.S. President Barack Obama's utopian vision for a nuclear-free world," said Park Won-gon, an international studies professor at Handong University.
Park cited Obama's speech in Prague on April 5, 2009, when he unveiled a doctrine to strengthen the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by ratifying a treaty banning nuclear tests, and to convene a global summit the for the eventual elimination of nuclear stockpiles.
Back then, Obama warned that North Korea stands in the way of fulfilling this vision, which he said is a goal that might not be realized in his lifetime.
Paik Hak-soon, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute, agreed with Park.
"Washington should re-consider Pyongyang's demand for a change in its hostility to the Kim Jong-un regime," he said.
An Chan-il, the head of the World Institute for North Korea Studies, suggested that the U.S. take a more diverse approach, such as offering economic incentives for North Korea.
The deal between Iran and the P5+1, a group comprised of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, centers on curbing Tehran's nuclear program, such as inspection of military sites, in return for lifting economic sanctions progressively.
The experts said the U.S. should also acknowledge that the North is a de facto nuclear-armed state along with countries recognized under the terms of the NPT. They include the U.S., China, the United Kingdom, France and Russia.
"I understand it sounds unrealistic, but Washington should accept the fact that North Korea is capable of starting a nuclear arms race as the major powers have done," Paik said.
North Korea carried out nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2012. It has purportedly claimed it can build nuclear armed devices, including miniaturized warheads that are small enough to be mounted on ballistic missiles.
Park pointed out that North Korea, compared to Iran, has been more desperate to build nuclear arms for self-defense because it is surrounded by four powerful neighbors — the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.
"The U.S. may be able to dismantle the nuclear program if it keeps in mind that Pyongyang turned into a nuclear-weapon state for such reasons and takes measures accordingly," he said.