With the prospect of another round of North Korean diplomacy in the air, the United States must take full advantage by insisting that any deal with Kim Jong Un’s regime include full disclosure of everything it knows about the Iranian nuclear program and the decades-long nuclear proliferation abetted by Pakistan’s AQK Network. The president frequently mentions the North Korean and Iranian nuclear threats in the same speech, but he needs to link the two.
As Anthony H. Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies points out, there is “no reliable open-source data on exactly how Iran reached out to North Korea (or vice versa),” but the evidence of cooperation is incontrovertible. From shared Scud missile technology, to Iranian scientists present at North Korean nuclear tests, North Korea knows many of Iran’s secrets and can certainly provide enough evidence to satisfy even the most skeptical members of the international community.
The origin of North Korea’s success as a nuclear power began with assistance of the world’s most prolific proliferator, Abdul Qadeer Khan (AQK), Pakistan’s “Father of the Islamic Bomb” whose underground network sold centrifuge designs and equipment to numerous countries, both known (North Korea, Libya, Iraq and Iran) and unknown.
AQK provided much of the knowledge and materiel necessary for the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs, but there were other connections. The founder of the Kim dynasty, Kim Il-Sung, was among the first to congratulate Ruhollah Khomeini after he seized power from the Shah of Iran. When Iraq invaded Iran in 1980, Kim offered Khomeini Scud missiles and sent military advisors to aid the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Amir Taheri with Gatestone Institute suggests that even the Iranian “swarm attack,” or “human wave attack,” was derived from a tactic Kim used against American forces in the 1950s.
North Korea also helped Iran to make giant leaps forward in its missile program. When the Iraq-Iran War ended, North Korea helped Iran develop its own Shahab missile based on the Scud B design it had obtained from the Soviet Union. Iran’s current long-range Shahab-3 missile is based on the North Korean Nodong-1. Even the submarines used to launch missiles are similar; the Iranian Ghadir-class submarine is a close copy of North Korea’s Ono-class submarine.
Perhaps the most alarming evidence of cooperation came when North Korea tested a nuclear device in February 2013 and Iran’s seldom-seen chief nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, was there to witness the event. Some analysts believe that the cooperation is so complete that Iran actually has moved its most secret nuclear research facilities to North Korea.
With the almost dizzying images and prospects coming out of North Korea, it will be tempting to go down the perilous path toward another bad deal with another Kim. It is encouraging that this round of diplomacy is being led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who does not come from the world of traditional, weak diplomacy. And with John Bolton as national security adviser, we can be sure that President Trump is being advised of the North Korean-Iranian link. Bolton wrote in August of last year, “If Tehran’s long collusion with Pyongyang on ballistic missiles is even partly mirrored in the nuclear field, the Iranian threat is nearly as imminent as North Korea’s.”
If a peace deal with North Korea brings an apology for the murder of Otto Warmbier, return of any of the remains of the thousands of U.S. military personnel who disappeared fighting in the Korean War, or even the return of the USS Pueblo, which has sat in a North Korean harbor for over 50 years, Trump will be applauded.
But information that helps us expose and dismantle the Iranian nuclear threat might be the most important thing to come from any deal. Even if the next generation of Kims cheats and reneges on the deal, as the earlier generation of Kims did, we still will have gotten the goods on Iran.
Congress must urge the administration to push for a full disclosure of the entire history of North Korea’s participation with the Iranian nuclear program and everything it knows about the AQK Network. Adopting the tactics of law enforcement will make it possible to “flip” Kim Jong Un and turn him into an informant in return for his regime’s survival and the fabulous rewards that no doubt await him.
A.J. Caschetta is a Ginsburg-Ingerman Fellow at the Philadelphia-based think tank Middle East Forum and a senior lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.