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June 11, 2018 11:58 am

Iran Urges Ally North Korea to Be ‘Vigilant’ in Looming Talks With US

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Iranian and North Korean military officials gathered in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. Photo: File.

As US and North Korean officials laid the final groundwork for Tuesday’s summit meeting in Singapore between US President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, Iran urged its close ally in Pyongyang to exercise severe caution around American negotiators.

“We still look at Trump and the US behavior with pessimism and we cannot be optimistic about the US behavior,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Behram Qassemi said on Monday, in a reference to the US president’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA — the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran — on May 8.

“The Korean government should keep vigilant,” Qassemi said.

The Iranian and North Korean regimes have a history of nuclear and military cooperation stretching back to the 1980s. Both countries nuclear programs were assisted by the Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan, and have involved the sharing nuclear centrifuge technologies and expert personnel. In 2011, Iran and North Korea were reported to have agreed on a $100 million nuclear know-how exchange deal — a package that included a US-designed computer simulation program stolen by the North Koreans, MCNPX 2.6.0, that calculates to a high degree of precision whether a nuclear bomb will explode.

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It is in the area of ballistic missile cooperation that Iran and North Korean efforts have borne the greatest results. According to Tal Inbar, an Israeli defense analyst, “Iran purchased North Korea’s technical know-how on ballistic missile production, upgraded the DPRK missiles’ forward section, and distributed these advancements back to North Korea.” Both countries also provided extensive assistance to Syrian President Bashar-al Assad’s attempt to develop a nuclear weapons program.

Successful negotiations in Singapore between Trump and Kim will likely jeopardize any further nuclear cooperation between Iran and North Korea, already in decline since 2016, according to US intelligence experts. Trump administration officials have even suggested that the negotiations with North Korea will be boosted by the US decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. National Security Advisory John Bolton disclosed on May 9 that “another aspect” of the withdrawal decision was to “establish positions of strength for the United States.”

“It sends a very clear signal that the United States will not accept inadequate deals,” Bolton said.

One former Iranian nuclear negotiator believes, however, that North Korea is entering the negotiations with the US in a far stronger position.

North Korea has “a formidable arsenal of nuclear weapons coupled with versatile and long-range delivery vehicles,” Seyed Hossein Mousavian — a former Iranian government official now in exile in the US — wrote in a piece for subscription-based website NK News.

North Korea must therefore “seek a phased deal that requires each side to implement its commitments in a step-by-step fashion with proportional reciprocation,” rather than surrendering its nuclear weapons upfront, he argued.

Significantly, Mousavian also advised the North Koreans not to ignore the US Congress should a deal be reached.

“The JCPOA was unsatisfactory for large parts of the American political establishment, with unanimous Republican opposition and some Democratic opposition to the deal when it was reached in 2015,” he wrote. “Therefore, Pyongyang should make sure any potential deal cannot become the victim of US domestic political fights.”

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