Iran is paying close attention to North Korea’s recent effort to threaten the world into submission via the threat of using primitive (and recently developed) nuclear weapons. The results of this are not in yet, but if the North Korean nuclear intimidation fails, Iran would be more willing to abandon their nuclear ambitions. The reason is cost; the Iranian nuclear weapons program has cost over $100 billion so far (in direct costs and lost revenue from economic sanctions). The biggest domestic threat to the religious dictatorship that controls Iran is popular outrage over rising unemployment, inflation, and shortages. Money is the solution for that and if so much money is going into supporting the nuclear weapons program that you trigger another revolution, then the nukes aren’t worth it. The fate of North Korea’s current use of nuclear blackmail will carry a very important message to Iran.
So far the North Korean intimidation campaign isn’t doing too well. The North Koreans, like the Iranians, have been making threats for years. While the media pays attention to this theater, most people do not. North Korea, like Iran, cannot afford to escalate to a real war because they would lose. Both countries are ruled by dictatorships. In Iran’s case it’s a religious clique while North Korea is run by a hereditary military dynasty (that once pretended it was communist). In both countries the people are not happy with their inept and bellicose rulers. North Korea appears to be trying to goad the U.S. or South Korea into attacking, so that North Korea can declare itself a victim of foreign oppression and call on the world to have pity and send a lot of free stuff. That has worked in the past but even with the presence of some nukes (of questionable effectiveness) the North Korean rants no longer terrify. This time around, the reviews have become dismissive and the North Korean leaders are facing a major internal crisis if their bellowing results only in derisive laughter.
At the same time it should be noted that Iran began working on nuclear technology before the clerics took over the government in the 1980s. In the 1970s Iran sought to obtain a nuclear power plant. This is always the first step in developing nuclear weapons and it was later discovered that this was the Shah’s ultimate goal. This news did not surprise the Arab neighbors (who have been waiting for Iran to makes its move for over forty years) or Iranians themselves (who have long believed that Iran, the local superpower for thousands of years, should have nuclear weapons). Many of the key scientists for Iran’s current nuclear power and weapons program began their training under the Shah’s long range effort to make Iran a state with nuclear power and weapons.
When the clerics tossed out the Shah in 1979, they did examine all that they inherited from the Shah. The math was against the nuclear power program as it was, at the time, cheaper to generate electricity with oil and gas than with nuclear fuel. But eventually the clerics realized that the Shah’s plan for developing nuclear weapons made sense and that program was revived under the guise of a nuclear energy program (which eventually made sense once the price of oil was high enough and the war with Iraq was over). But that effort is costing ordinary Iranians a lot and that is not popular at all.