By Adam Levine
There's no question, the U.S. is approaching the two most pressing nuclear threats differently.
One country, for the time being, seems ready to engage with the U.S. and others on changing its nuclear course. That's North Korea. That's at least for time being.
The other country, Iran, has suggested it would be willing to engage with the international community on its nuclear program to a degree but questions remain about how serious the offer is.
Which leads us to this little noticed question to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on Friday. Speaking to reporters in Hawaii, Panetta was asked, basically, why is everyone so much crazier about Iran than North Korea.
Security Clearance readers, tell us if you agree with Panetta's assessment – is nuclear Iran more destabilizing than North Korea?
As the questioner, not named in the transcript, asked: "I mean, you and your colleagues in the Cabinet and Washington just gets all excited about Iran. The North Koreans, so far as we can make out, are ahead of the Iranians as far as developing nuclear weapons. But we don't get - people don't seem to get so excited about that. Why is that? Why is there that difference?"
"I think - I think we have - certainly we at the Defense Department and I think the administration continue to have concerns about North Korea and their nuclear capability, and that's one of the reasons we continue to press them to suspend their enrichment process and to step back from their continuing efforts at developing a nuclear capability. So we continue to bring pressure against them. We consider that a threat. That's the reason we have our forces in South Korea. It's the reason that we - one of the reasons we have the kind of force projection that we continue in the Pacific.
With regards to Iran, obviously the concern there is the destabilization that would occur in that region if Iran were to obtain a nuclear weapon. Iran is a country that is - does not behave according to international rules, is engaged in spreading terrorism, in destabilizing countries in that part of the world, and a country that operates on that basis becomes extremely dangerous if it obtains a nuclear weapon. So that's the reason the world is unified. There's a strong international community that has come together on sanctions, on diplomatic sanctions, on economic sanctions, to make clear that Iran has to change its ways. And it's having an impact. Iran is growing increasingly isolated as a result of international pressure. And so we ought to continue that effort to keep that pressure on."