IAEA Safeguard inspector checking fuel assembly in a transport container located in the fresh fuel storage of the Mochovce Nuclear Power Plant (NPP). Dean Calma/IAEA

Tillerson Out. Pompeo In. What does this mean for the North Korea Talks and Iran Deal?

UPDATE: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was sacked via Presidential tweet today, with Trump announcing that CIA Director Mike Pompeo would serve as his replacement. Pompeo is a fierce critic of the Iran Nuclear deal, and his ascension could put the final nail in the deal. But here’s the rub: if a deal is reached with North Korea, it would look a lot like the Iran deal, including a key role carved out for the United Nations.

So if Trump and Pompeo are serious about negotiating with North Korea, they may want to think twice about scrapping the Iran deal.

Original Post below 

If Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un do meet (still a big “if”) and if they do strike a deal  (an even bigger “if”) than the United Nations will have a key role to play in shoring it up.

We can be sure that for both political and technical reasons, the United Nations will be at the center of any North Korean nuclear deal.

From a political standpoint, this deal needs the support of the Security Council. North Korea is under heavy sanction from the Security Council, so any easing of the sanctions necessarily requires the consent of the entire Council. Any single veto wielding country could undermine any sanctions relief, so Russia, China, France and the UK need to ultimately sign off on a deal that would includes an easing of the sanctions. Their support is a political–and legal–necessity.

From a technical standpoint, to the extent the deal includes denuclearization, as the United States insists, then the International Atomic Energy Agency will play a key role. IAEA inspectors have not set foot in North Korea since 2002, when they were kicked out of the country following a deterioration of relations between North Korea and the United States that ultimately resulted in the scrapping of a 1994 agreement known as the “Agreed Framework.” (Under that agreement IAEA inspectors had access to some North Korean nuclear sites.) Under any future agreement, a robust IAEA inspection regime will be critical to determining North Korean compliance with with any promises of denuclearization.

A North Korea Agreement Could Look a lot Like the Iran Nuclear Deal

If this all sounds familiar to you, there is good reason. Broadly speaking, this is the structure of the Iran deal; that is, the easing of sanctions in return for intrusive inspections. The big difference, of course, is that North Korea already has nuclear weapons so the job of international inspectors will be to oversee the dismantling of some nuclear programs. The irony here is that the Trump administration has repeatedly trashed the Iran deal. But like it or not any deal that requires an easing of multilateral sanctions in return for increased controls over a countries nuclear program would resemble the Iran deal. It would also require the same political and technical that the United Nations provides to keep that deal successfully intact.