North Korea-Iran Foreign Relations
Reaction to June 2009 Iranian Presidential Election:
In June 2009, the North Korean government congratulated Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his re-election. The de facto head of state, Kim Yong-Nam, said that he “sincerely wished [Ahmadinejad] success in his responsible work to frustrate pressure and interference of outsiders and build [an] independent and prosperous Iran." Kim also said that Ahmadinejad's electoral victory demonstrated the people’s support of the Iranian president and expressed his hope that Iran would succeed in countering foreign interference in its domestic affairs.
According to Kim Chong Ryong, North Korea’s ambassador to Tehran, Pyongyang supports Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear technology and recognizes that Iran has played a very positive and constructive role in restoring stability to the region. According to officials from the U.S. State Department, North Korea has also provided Iran with technical advice and materials sales to develop ballistic missiles, including the Iranian Shahab-3. North Korea also reportedly provided Iran with assistance for its nuclear program and agreed to share data and experience with Iran’s nuclear scientists. In December 2008, however, North Korean diplomats stationed in Iran claimed that Pyongyang has not agreed to any military or technical cooperation with Iran and accused Japan and the United States of distorting news to politicize the nuclear issue.[5
In December 2009, Thai authorities intercepted a North Korean Il-76 transport aircraft reportedly bound for Iran. After searching the plane, officials discovered rocket launchers, ammunition, other small arms, and components for a surface-to-air missile system. Though the official flight plan indicated that the plane's destination was Colombo, Sri Lanka, a report issued to the United Nations Security Council suggested that it may have instead been bound for Iran, although the Iranian Foreign Ministry has denied such accusations. All five of the airplane crewmembers were subsequently released by authorities. In May 2010, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated that the shipment of weapons was intended for Hezbollah, not Iran.
On March 5, 2010, Jane’ s Information Group announced that, according to its analysis, the Iranian regime has likely been cooperating with North Korea to construct a new rocket launch facility near the city of Semnan, east of Tehran. The launch pad could reportedly accommodate an intercontinental ballistic missile carrying a nuclear warhead. According to the report, "the development of the Semnan facility and the Simorgh Space Launch Vehicle both demonstrate the likelihood of collaboration with North Korea in Iran's missile program.”
Although the two countries have understandably expressed sympathy for each other’s nuclear program, Gholam Ali Khushroo, a former Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for International Affairs, has stated that there is no commonality between Iran and North Korea’s programs. In May 2010, critiquing the United States Nuclear Posture Review, Khushroo indicated that the main differences were that “North Korea has withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty…It does not follow it and does not wish to return to it [and] it has even produced nuclear bombs." Khushroo added that "North Korea has been threatening other countries, but in the past few years we have been witnessing Iran as a target of threats made by other countries."
Much of the trade relations between Iran and North Korea have included missile sales, mainly from North Korea to Iran. Since 1989, North Korea has sold missiles and parts to Iran, including the Scud-B in 1989 and the Nodong 1 medium range ballistic missile in 1993 which became the basis for the Iranian Shehab 3. Beyond missile technology and parts, North Korea and Iran have also discussed energy cooperation. Iranian Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri Hamaneh said in April 2007 that “both nations can cooperate in the fields of exploration, production, and other fields of the energy sector…Since both Nations are in the front row of the fight against imperialism, and now political relations are at the highest level, North Korea is to get oil from Iran, and to provide Iran with a surplus of its own refined petrol.”
In June 2009, the United States approved sanctions against an Iranian based firm in North Korea, an action that may be aimed at restricting Iran’s access to hard currency.
North Korea has had political relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. During the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1989, Pyongyang supplied Iran with conventional military hardware. In July 2007, Japanese newspapers reported that North Korea agreed to supply submarines to Iran as payment for outstanding government debts. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Kim Yong Il during the latter’s visit to Tehran in May 2007 that "the Iranian government is interested in expansion of ties with North Korea in various political, economic and cultural fields." Despite reports that North Korea has helped develop Iran’s nuclear program, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has denied all allegations that Iran agreed to any military cooperation with Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Beyond military cooperation, Iran and North Korea have worked to cement their diplomatic relations over recent years. In a meeting with North Korea’s top legislator Kim Yong Nam in Pyongyang November 2008, Iranian Vice President Mohammad Akbari said that the two countries are cooperating with and supporting one another in international arenas.
In May 2009, Pyongyang hosted the Iranian Cultural Week. At the festival’s opening ceremonies, Iranian Ambassador to North Korea Morteza Moradian said that the event aims to deepen cooperation between the two countries. In a July 2009 meeting with North Korean Ambassador to Iran So Se-pyong, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani stated that "[t]he two countries enjoy abundant capacities to strengthen and expand bilateral friendly ties, which must be utilized within the framework of common interests,” and announced the Iranian parliament’s readiness to engage North Korea in economic and political issues. Larijani also highlighted the many commonalities between Iran and North Korea on several international issues.
In August 2009, the Financial Times reported that the United Arab Emirates had seized a ship bound for Iran after discovering several containers of North Korean weapons. The vessel, the Bahamian-flagged ANL-Australia, was carrying rocket-propelled grenades and ammunition supposedly ordered by an Iranian company linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The ship was searched in accordance with United Nations Security Council resolution 1874, which widened earlier prohibitions on arms imports and exports to and from North Korea.
In November 2009, Iran announced that it was prepared to mediate in resolving the Korean peninsula crisis. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that his country welcomes mutual understanding and agreement between South and North Korea in the direction of peace and stability.
Cho'ng Yo'ng-ch'o'l, the director general of information and Media for North Korea’s Foreign Ministry met in May 2010 with Deputy Managing Director of the Islamic Republic News Agency Gholam-Hussein Eslami-Fard. The two discussed the need to correct perceived Western media bias against their countries. According to Eslami-Fard, "development of relations between the two news agencies and other media inside Iran and North Korea can help promote political, economic, and cultural relations between Tehran and Pyongyang.”[22