North Korean ties to Middle East regimes come into focus

Stopping North Korea from becoming a nuclear power is the highest priority of US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson.

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Stopping North Korea from becoming a nuclear power is the highest priority of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Despite the Trump administration’s sometimes bellicose rhetoric, the focus of US efforts is diplomatic and economic, aiming to bring North Korea to the negotiating table on US terms.

The US effort has thrown new light on North Korea’s ties with various Middle Eastern countries, including Syria and Iran.

A recent UN report hailed on Thursday by State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert, revealed that two shipments from North Korea to a Syrian government agency associated with chemical weapons production were intercepted over the past six months.

The North Korean facility that sent the material was identified as the Korea Mining Development Trading Company (KOMID), which was already placed on the US sanctions list in 2005 and on the UN sanctions list in 2009.

Nauert told journalists that the UN’s confidential report would be publicly released.

The Syrian regime was supposed to have destroyed its chemical weapons in 2013, as it successfully averted a punitive US strike for a sarin gas attack that killed some 1,400 civilians.

Syria’s subsequent use of chemical weapons—most recently in April—demonstrated that its claim to have destroyed that material was a lie. The UN report provides further evidence of that. It also helps to rebut Russia’s claim that Syria “accidentally hit a stockpile of chemical weapons that belonged to rebels or terrorists.”

Iran also has extensive dealings with North Korea, and KOMID maintains an office in Tehran.

On August 3, the head of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim Yong Nam, arrived in Tehran on a ten-day visit. The 89-year-old Politburo member and former Foreign Minister was, ostensibly, attending the inauguration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for his second term

However, Kim’s extended stay suggests that he was also conducting business.

On August 5, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a US-sponsored resolution imposing tough new sanctions on North Korea that will drastically shrink its sources of hard currency. Among other things, the resolution bans all exports of North Korean coal, iron, and seafood.

More than ever, North Korea needs hard currency, and Iran can provide it, particularly now that UN sanctions against Tehran have been lifted. For its part, Tehran needs Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile expertise.

Iran’s nuclear program is supposedly frozen, but its efforts to develop powerful missiles—which can carry nuclear warheads—continues.

Last month, Iran announced the successful test of a new rocket, capable of launching a satellite into space, the Simorgh (Phoenix.) The new space launch vehicle resembled North Korea’s Unha rocket, according to knowledgeable observers.

The UN Security Council Resolution endorsing the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, UNSCR 2231, limits Iran’s development of ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons.

The same technology that sends a satellite into space can also be used to manufacture a nuclear-capable missile. Hence, following Iran’s Simorgh launch, the State Department denounced it as “a violation of UNSCR 2231.”

Egypt is another Middle East country that has run afoul of Washington for its dealings with North Korea. Earlier this week, the State Department announced that it would cut or withhold nearly $300 million in aid for Cairo, because of human rights violations.

That did not sound right to many observers, as the Trump administration has significantly downgraded human rights as a US concern. Both the New York Times and Washington Post suggested Cairo’s dealings with North Korea played a major role in the US decision.

Egyptian ties to North Korea go back to the 1970s, at least, when Egypt was allied with the Soviet Union.

Today, Egypt cooperates in countering North Korean weapons activities, but it also maintains ties with Pyongyang. Egypt still gets SCUD missile parts from North Korea, and an Egyptian company helped establish its cellular telephone network.

Even America’s Gulf allies are involved in dealings with North Korea that the US seeks to curtail.

Pyongyang sends workers abroad for the hard currency that they earn, working as forced laborers, under very harsh conditions. Most of the money they earn goes into o the coffers of the North Korean regime.

Earlier this month, Kuwait’s Public Authority of Manpower told the Associated Press that the country employs 6,064 North Koreans and had no plans to stop issuing them work visas.

From August 1990 to February 1991, Kuwait was a province of Iraq. Without the 1991 US-led war, Kuwait, most likely, would still be an Iraqi province.

Shortly after AP’s report appeared, Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement, affirming that it was “committed to the UN Security Council resolution on the economic embargo on North Korea.”


Editing by G.H. Renaud